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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, United MileagePlus Explorer Card
Most US airlines introduced checked bag fees in 2008, supposedly as a temporary measure in response to high fuel prices. Back then, oil reached a record price of more than $130 per barrel, yet here we are several years later with prices less than one third of that and baggage fees persist for domestic flights on most carriers.
Thankfully, the right credit card will offer you a free checked bag, and possibly even some for your companions. In today’s post, I’ll offer a rundown of credit cards that feature free checked baggage as a benefit.
Alaska charges a $25 fee for the first and second checked bags on all its flights, but if you’re an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature primary cardholder and are traveling on Alaska Airlines or Virgin America, you’ll be able to check a first bag for free for yourself and up to six additional passengers on the same reservation. To use this benefit, just enter your Alaska Mileage Plan number in your reservation.
This card carries a $75 annual fee and currently offers 30,000 bonus miles, after you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening, along with an annual $99 coach companion ticket (plus taxes). Cardholders earn 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska purchases and 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere. For more information about this card, read TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen’s post, One Year of Earning and Burning with the Alaska Visa.
American AAdvantage Cards from Citi
American charges $25 per bag each way for all domestic flights, as well as those to Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. However, it offers Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard and CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard holders a free checked bag on domestic itineraries for the primary cardholder and up to four others traveling on the same itinerary.
The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months of account opening and has a $99 annual fee which is waived the first year. The CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard is offering a sign-up bonus of 70,000 miles to new cardholders who spend $4,000 on their accounts within four months of account opening, and has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year.
The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard offers the same free checked bag benefit, but extends it to up to eight traveling companions on the same reservation. This card features Admirals Club lounge membership and offers 50,000 miles to new cardholders who spend $5,000 on their accounts within three months of account opening. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card.
American Airlines Aviator cards from Barclaycard
American also offers credit cards through Barclaycard, but many are only open to existing holders of the Aviator cards (formerly co-branded with US Airways). The Aviator Red (available to new applicants) and the Aviator Business offer a first bag checked free to the primary cardholder and four companions on domestic itineraries, while the Aviator Silver offers the first bag free for up to eight companions. For more information on the Barclaycard Aviator cards and the Citi AAdvantage cards, read TPG Contributor Richard Kerr’s post, Choosing the Best Card for American Airlines Flyers.
Delta SkyMiles Cards from American Express
Delta normally charges $25 each way for a checked bag on flights within the United States, Canada, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. However, it offers the Gold, Platinum and Reserve (for both consumers and small businesses) credit cards from American Express, each of which offers one free checked bag for the cardholder and up to nine others traveling together on a flight operated or marketed by Delta and its regional partners. To utilize this benefit, be sure to have to have your Delta SkyMiles frequent-flyer number attached to your reservation.
The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express currently offers new applicants a 30,000-mile bonus after making $1,000 in purchases within three months of account opening, as well as a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first three months. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year.
The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express is now offering 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on your card within three months, as well as a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first three months. There’s a $195 annual fee for this card.
The Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express offers 10,000 MQMs and 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months. In addition to a free checked bag, the card features priority boarding and Delta Sky Club access. There’s a $450 annual fee.
Hawaiian charges a $25 bag fee for domestic flights ($15 for HawaiianMiles members on inter-island flights). Holders of the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard from Barclaycard receive a free checked bag (travel companions aren’t included). New cardholders receive 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days, and a one-time 50% off companion discount for round-trip coach flights between Hawaii and North America. The card comes with an $89 annual fee.
United MileagePlus Cards from Chase
United also charges $25 per bag, each way for all domestic flights plus those to Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. The United MileagePlus Explorer Card and the United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card from Chase offer a single checked bag fee waiver for the primary cardholder and one companion traveling on the same reservation. The personal version offers new applicants 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. The business version of the card offers 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. There’s a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year for both cards.
The United MileagePlus Club Card is unique in that it offers two free checked bags for both the primary cardholder and one other companion traveling on the same reservation. Note that you must pay for your travel with this credit card (along with the above two) in order to utilize the benefit. In fact, even if you’re booking an award and paying just the required taxes, you must use this card to receive the free baggage allowance. Other benefits include United Club membership and Premier Access travel services including priority check-in, security screening (where available), boarding and baggage handling services. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card.
1. Free baggage benefits don’t stack. There’s a popular misconception that your credit card will offer an additional free checked bag, rather than the first free checked bag. Unfortunately, these credit cards’ checked bag fee waivers won’t apply if you already receive a free checked bag due to your elite status, class of service or travel to an overseas destination. So you will not receive an additional free checked bag beyond your existing allowance just for holding a credit card that offers this benefit. The exception is Hawaiian, which offers an additional free checked bag for cardholders who already receive a free checked bag due to their elite status in the HawaiianMiles program.
2. Make sure to book your ticket correctly to use this benefit. With most of these offers, you only have to attach your frequent-flyer number to your reservation in order to be given the free checked bag benefit. The exception is United, which requires you to purchase the ticket (or pay taxes and fees on an award ticket) using your airline credit card. In all cases, simply presenting your credit card at check-in is not sufficient.
3. Be careful booking large groups on a single reservation. It’s nice that several of these credit cards offer free baggage for multiple companions, but there’s a potential catch. When you’re searching for flights, airlines will display a single airfare that applies to all tickets, rather than offer lower fares for some passengers. So if only three seats are offered for $300 each, and the next best fare is $400, booking four people together in one reservation will cost $400 each. Clearly, paying the extra $300 will not be worth it in order to receive a free bag worth $50 each, round-trip. So before booking reservations for multiple people, be sure to check the price for a single passenger and take into account your credit card’s bag fee waivers before deciding whether to book your party with multiple reservations.
What’s your favorite card that offers free checked baggage as a benefit?