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The thought of flying with sports equipment can be daunting. Besides the obvious hurdle of packing the gear, choosing an airline to fly with is a challenge in and of itself. Every airline has its own set of rules and fees for checking sports equipment — and those often vary based on the sport.

We want to help alleviate some of that stress, so we’ve done the homework, read the fine print and added up the fees involved with flying with sports equipment. The next time you’re planning a trip to shred mountain trails, catch fish, hit the slopes, play golf or ride some waves, you can reference this guide for the full rundown.

All airlines have different policies, but typically, a checked bag can weigh up to 50 pounds and have a combined size (length plus width plus height) of 62 inches before incurring additional fees. If your gear falls within those limits, great, there’s nothing you need to worry about — but unless you’re traveling with a foldable bike or a set of miniature golf clubs, that probably isn’t the case. We’ve estimated the measurements of sports equipment you might be traveling with, including the extra weight from their cases, but of course, your gear might differ. Additionally, you’ll want to keep in mind that while some airlines charge fees for sports equipment outright, others charge the fees in addition to the usual checked baggage fees, again, varying based on the sport.

Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash
Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

In This Post

Bicycles

The bulkiest piece of sports equipment you could fly with is probably a bike. To package it, you could either use a cardboard bicycle box or a custom bike case. Regardless of the method you choose, all airlines require you to remove the pedals and handlebars and fix the handlebars sideways to the frame. To prevent damage, you’ll also want to deflate your tires, so don’t forget to bring a pump as well as all the other tools required to reassemble your bike. For the most part, carriers do not allow you to fly with bicycles that contain a motor or more than two seats.

For our example, we’ll assume that the packed bike measures 90 linear inches and weighs 40 pounds.

Airline Fee Things to remember
Alaska Airlines $0* N/A
Allegiant $75* Overweight fees apply if over 40 pounds.
American Airlines $150 N/A
Delta Air Lines $150* N/A
Frontier Airlines $75 Allow an extra 30 minutes for check-in.
Hawaiian Airlines $100 N/A
JetBlue $50* JetBlue does not accept baggage that measures more than 80 linear inches so the bike from our example would not be permitted.
Southwest $75 N/A
Spirit Airlines $75 N/A
United $150* N/A

*Fee is in addition to usual checked baggage fee, if applicable.

Fishing

Flying with fishing gear is pretty straightforward. Most airlines explicitly define a fishing bag to include two rods, one reel, one landing net, one pair of fishing boots and one tackle box. While we’re focusing on checked baggage for this guide, it’s worth noting that fishing poles (within the size limits) are allowed in carry-ons, though sharp fishing tackle is not.

Although many fishing bags are smaller and fall within the usual size limits, for our example, we’ll assume that the bag of fishing equipment measures 70 linear inches and weighs 30 pounds.

Airline Fee Things to remember
Alaska Airlines $0* N/A
Allegiant $0* N/A
American Airlines $0* N/A
Delta Air Lines $200* No additional fee if below 62 linear inches.
Frontier Airlines $75* No additional fee if below 62 linear inches.
Hawaiian Airlines $0* N/A
JetBlue $0* N/A
Southwest $75 No additional fee if below 62 linear inches.
Spirit Airlines $100 No additional fee if below 62 linear inches.
United $0* Fishing equipment greater than 80 inches in length will not be accepted as checked baggage on any itinerary involving a United Express flight.

*Fee is in addition to usual checked baggage fee, if applicable.

Golf Clubs

Flying with golf equipment is a breeze and probably won’t cost you extra. That said, some airlines have quirky rules you need to be aware of, such as a limit in number of balls which could be in your golf bag. Remember, you should always have head covers on your clubs whenever traveling. Additionally, if you use a soft-sided bag, you’ll want to pack a “stiff arm” to absorb some of the impact from the bag being thrown around and help protect your clubs.

For our example, we’ll assume that the golf bag measures 72 linear inches and weighs 40 pounds.

Airline Fee Things to remember
Alaska Airlines $0* N/A
Allegiant $0* Overweight fees apply if over 40 pounds.
American Airlines $0* One golf bag may contain 14 golf clubs, 12 golf balls and one pair of golf shoes. You may be asked to open your bag at the airport and if there is anything other than the approved items then additional oversize and overweight charges will apply. You cannot travel with swingless golf club load strips.
Delta Air Lines $0* One golf bag may contain one set of golf clubs, golf balls, tees and one pair of golf shoes.
Frontier Airlines $0* One bag may include golf clubs and shoes.
Hawaiian Airlines $0* One golf bag may contain a maximum of 14 clubs and no non-golfing equipment.
JetBlue $0* One golf bag may contain a maximum of 14 golf clubs, 3 golf balls and one pair of golf shoes.
Southwest $0* One bag may include golf clubs, golf balls and shoes.
Spirit Airlines $0* One golf bag may contain a maximum of 14 golf clubs, 12 golf balls, and one pair of golf shoes. You can also bring a pull cart if it is attached to the golf bag.
United $0* One golf bag may contain one set of golf clubs, golf balls and one pair of golf shoes.

*Fee is in addition to usual checked baggage fee, if applicable.

Skis and Snowboards

Skis and snowboards are bulky, but fortunately, there are many airlines which won’t charge you an arm and a leg to bring them. And yes, the rules are the same for water and snow skis.

For our example, we’ll assume that the equipment bag measures 90 linear inches and weighs 20 pounds.

Airline Fee Things to remember
Alaska Airlines $0* One piece of ski/snowboard equipment is defined as one pair of skis with poles or one snowboard, plus one boot/helmet bag. If boots/helmet are checked in a bag that also contains clothing or additional items, standard checked baggage fees will apply to the bag.
Allegiant $75* One bag of ski/snowboard equipment may contain one pair of skis or one snow board, one pair of ski boots and one pair of ski poles. No additional fee if below 80 linear inches.
American Airlines $0* One piece of ski/snowboard equipment is defined as one pair of skis or one snowboard, plus one bag containing a pair of ski or snowboard boots. You cannot travel with lighters or torches for applying ski wax.
Delta Air Lines $0* N/A
Frontier Airlines $0* One piece of ski/snowboard equipment is defined as one pair of skis or one snowboard, one pair of ski poles, one set of bindings, and one pair of boots. One pair of boots (in a boot bag) may be checked separately from the snowboard, but still count as one item as long as the boot bag does not exceed 25 pounds.
Hawaiian Airlines $100 One piece of ski/snowboard equipment is defined as one pair of skis or one snowboard, one pair of ski poles, one set of bindings, and one pair of boots. Skiing and snowboard equipment will be considered one item whether the items are checked in as one piece or multiple pieces. No additional fee if below 62 linear inches.
JetBlue $0* One piece of ski/snowboard equipment is defined as one pair of skis or one snowboard, one set of ski poles and one pair of boots. One pair of boots (in a boot bag) may be checked separately from the snowboard. JetBlue does not accept baggage that measures more than 80 linear inches so the equipment bag from our example would not be permitted.
Southwest $0* One piece of ski/snowboard equipment is defined as one pair of skis or one snowboard, one set of ski poles and one pair of boots. Skiing and snowboard equipment will be considered one item whether the items are checked in as one piece or multiple pieces.
Spirit Airlines $100* No additional fee if below 62 linear inches.
United $0* One piece of ski/snowboard equipment is defined as two pairs of skis or two snowboards in one bag and snow boot bag.

*Fee is in addition to usual checked baggage fee, if applicable.

Surfboards

Unfortunately, airlines aren’t as lenient about checking surfboards as they are with snowboards, and most charge extra for doing so. Although baggage-handling staff could tell surfboards apart and know that they’re fragile, you’d be best off covering your board with a surfboard sock (in addition to the carrying case, of course) and possibly even wrap it with some towels. You’ll also want to use a bag that is a few inches longer than your board and remove keels and fins to prevent damage.

For our example, we’ll assume that the surfboard bag measures 90 linear inches and weighs 20 pounds.

Airline Fee Things to remember
Alaska Airlines $0* One item of surfing or paddle equipment is defined as a surfboard or paddleboard case with up to two boards inside.
Allegiant $75* No additional fee if below 80 linear inches.
American Airlines $150 If you pack more than one surfboard in a bag that weighs under 70 pounds, you’ll only be charged for one surfboard.
Delta Air Lines $150* Up to two surfboards are allowed per bag that weighs under 70 pounds.
Frontier Airlines $75* One bag may contain a maximum of one surfboard. Allow an extra 30 minutes for check-in.
Hawaiian Airlines $100* N/A
JetBlue $50* One bag may contain a maximum of one surfboard. JetBlue does not accept baggage that measures more than 80 linear inches so the surfboard from our example would not be permitted.
Southwest $75* N/A
Spirit Airlines $100 Up to two surfboards are allowed per bag.
United $30 – $150** Surfboards longer than 80 inches in length will not be accepted as checked baggage on any itinerary involving a United Express flight.

*Fee is in addition to usual checked baggage fee, if applicable.

**United reduced fees for surfboards, wakeboards and paddleboards effective Oct. 5, 2018 for those traveling to/from California. Travelers connecting through California must still pay the full fee.

Bottom Line

Flying with sports gear doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll cost you more than a standard checked bag. Alaska Airlines took the No. 1 spot for the second consecutive year in TPG’s 2018 Best Airlines in the US rankings, and it may also be highly rated by people traveling with sports equipment as it never charges extra for doing so — the oversize and overweight fees are waived for most types of sports equipment. The next best choice is often Southwest as you get to travel with two checked bags for free and many types of sports equipment don’t incur additional fees. As long as your bags aren’t oversized or overweight, you probably won’t incur any fees for flying with golf equipment, but as noted, there are some carriers that have quirky rules you need to be aware of. If you’re traveling with multiple pairs of skis or snowboards, you’ll probably want to choose United as it’s the only major carrier which allows you to pack two pairs of skis or two snowboards in one bag.

Photo by Dougal Waters / Getty Images.
Photo by Dougal Waters / Getty Images.

Regardless which airline you fly with and whether or not the oversize or overweight fees are waived, their maximum baggage sizes and weights, which are usually around 120 inches and 100 pounds, still apply when flying with sports equipment. Although this isn’t a published benefit, consider leveraging your status with the airline when flying with sports gear. It’s certainly not guaranteed, but there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that some fees associated with flying with sports gear are waived for guests traveling with elite status or who have purchased business- or first-class tickets, so it never hurts to ask. As a reminder, it’s possible to get checked baggage fees waived when traveling in coach by having airline elite status or a co-branded airline credit card

Featured photo by tanyss / Getty Images.

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