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Southwest baggage fees and how to avoid paying them

May 22, 2022
6 min read
Southwest Boeing 737 LAX
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Southwest is all about no fees and that even extends to the Southwest baggage policy. Southwest Airlines is the only domestic airline where every passenger — regardless of status, fare class or even credit cards in their wallet — can check two bags for free.

Additionally, all passengers can bring a carry-on and a personal bag on board for no additional charge. Southwest is your best bet if you're looking for an airline where you won't need to pay extra to bring luggage.

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Southwest carry-on guidelines

Southwest boarding in New York. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

With Southwest's carry-on guidelines, you are allowed up to one carry-on size bag and one small, personal item — all with no fee. Southwest counts pet carriers as either your personal item or carry-on, although you'll need to pay an extra pet-in-cabin fee.

Your carry-on item can be stored in the overhead compartment on the plane and must be no bigger than 24 inches long by 16 inches wide by 10 inches tall.

Personal items include items like purses, briefcases, camera bags and laptop bags. These smaller items can be stored under the seat in front of you and should be no greater than 16.25 inches long by 13.5 inches wide by 8 inches tall — as that is the size of the space underneath Southwest seats.

However, Southwest doesn't count some items as personal items or carry-on items. In addition to your personal and carry-on items, you can also bring the following onboard for no extra cost:

  • A child restraint system.
  • Assistive/mobility devices for individuals with a disability. There is no limit to the number of assistive/mobility devices you can bring onboard.
  • Outer garments or other wearable articles of clothing.
  • Food in disposable packaging.
  • Walking canes or umbrellas.

Related: Keep calm and carry on: TPG shares its favorite travel carry-on bags

Southwest checked bags

View of St. Louis from a Southwest flight. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

With the Southwest baggage rules, your first two checked bags are free as long as they fit within the allowed weight and size limits. Specifically, each checked bag should weigh 50 pounds or less and be 62 inches in size (the sum of the bag's length, width and height) or smaller.

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Southwest Airlines' baggage policy is one of the most favorable policies among the airlines. And even if you are flying on a Southwest Companion Pass, you are still entitled to check up to two bags per person for no additional cost.

Sporting equipment

Southwest allows many sports equipment bags to fly free and count as part of your checked baggage allowance. For example, your skis, golf bags and even surfboards fly for free (including on intra-Hawaii flights). On many other airlines, you might spend hundreds of dollars to travel with these items.

For snow equipment, you are allowed one pair of skis or one snowboard, a set of poles and one pair of ski/snowboard boots. You can put everything in one bag. But, even if the equipment is packed separately and spans two bags, it still counts as one bag toward your allowance. For golf bags and surfboard bags, weight limits do apply.

You can check out Southwest's full policy for sports equipment here.

Related: Everything you need to know about the best seats on Southwest Airlines

Overweight and oversized Southwest baggage fees

If your bag is heavier or larger than allowed, Southwest will charge you a fee of $75 per bag per way. But since you are allowed two bags per passenger, you are better off with two bags that fall within the size and weight allowance than one larger or heavier bag.

There are two times when the Southwest Airlines baggage policy will waive the overweight or oversized baggage fee:

  • If you are military traveling on active duty or permanent change of station orders.
  • If you are checking large media camera equipment.

However, you must ship any bag weighing more than 100 pounds or exceeding 80 inches (the sum of the bag's length, width and height) as cargo.

Excess Southwest baggage fees

After the two complimentary checked bags, each additional checked bag will cost $75 each way. But, if your excess baggage is bigger or heavier than the complimentary allotment, you'll be charged the excess baggage fee of $75 plus the overweight or oversized fee of $75 (for a total of $150).

The only exception is if you are military traveling on active duty or permanent change of station orders; in that scenario, your additional checked baggage will be complimentary. However, no passenger (including active duty military) can check more than 20 pieces of baggage per flight.

Related: Southwest's new fare type is here. What to know about 'Wanna Get Away Plus'

How to avoid Southwest baggage fees

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Fortunately, Southwest's baggage fees are very cut and dry. As long as you are only checking two bags per passenger and your bags are within the size and weight limitations, you won't face any baggage fees.

However, if you need to check more than two bags or a bag that is larger or heavier than the complimentary allowance, there's no way to avoid Southwest baggage fees. You'll need to pay the fees regardless of your Southwest elite status, fare booked or Southwest credit card.

If you need to pay a fee for excess baggage, overweight or oversize baggage, or special sporting equipment, a few travel rewards cards will allow you to use annual statement credits toward the purchase. For example, you can use the Chase Sapphire Reserve's $300 annual travel credit toward any travel-related purchase, including baggage fees. And some American Express cards offer airline fee credits that can cover your baggage fees if you select Southwest as your airline of choice.

Related: How to change or cancel a Southwest Airlines flight

Bottom line

With the Southwest Airlines baggage policy, most travelers will find that their checked bags will fly for free. Whether checking your bags or carrying them on, as long as they fall within the very reasonable limits, you won't need to take out your credit card to pay for baggage fees.

Southwest has one of the best baggage policies by far. Not having to pay baggage fees when flying Southwest can save you a ton of money on your next vacation.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.