Airlines collected $2.8 billion in bag fees in the first half of 2019. Here’s how to avoid them
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
U.S. airlines reported a second-quarter 2019 after-tax net profit of $4.8 billion, and a pre-tax operating profit of $6.9 billion, according to a just-released report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Want to guess where a large chunk of that profit came from? You guessed it, baggage fees. Airlines collected $1.5 billion in baggage fees, or 2.9% of total operating revenue, through the end of the second quarter. Let’s take a look at some of these numbers.
|Airline||Q1 fees collected||Q2 fees collected||Total fees from Q1 + Q2 2019|
Revenue in thousands of US dollars. Data collected and released by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Every airline had an increase in baggage fees between the first and second quarter. But one carrier, American Airlines remains at the top of the list — again, with over $667 million in baggage fees through the end of the second quarter. The airline also topped the list in 2017 and 2018. United comes in at #2 with over $513 million in baggage fees.
The biggest increase in baggage fees between Q1 and Q2 goes to Delta Air Lines. The airline collected nearly $87 million dollars more in baggage fees in Q2 than Q1.
Ultra-low cost carriers Spirit and Frontier maintained #4 and 5, the same as last year. Budget carriers are known for charging astronomical baggage fees, but these two carriers combined charged just $564 million in the first two quarters. That’s still lower than American, and just higher than United.
It’s important to note that while the big three airlines collected the most in fees, Frontier and Spirit’s collection rate is much higher based on a percentage of passengers flown. For example, American flew 36,544,173 passengers in the first quarter of 2019 while Spirit flew 7,647,003 passengers in the same time period.
Spirit’s about a fifth of the size of American in terms of passengers flown, but the fees it collected were more than 50% of those that American did. Note that Spirit has more punitive bag fees overall, it even charges for large carry-on bags (up to $40 when purchasing your ticket online to $65 when at the gate) while American does allow a carry-on and personal item even in its cheapest basic economy fare.
Want to avoid being part of this massive statistic? Let’s review the ways that you’re able to avoid or have your baggage fees reimbursed.
Get a co-branded credit card
The easiest way to avoid checked baggage fees on most airlines is by having a credit card for the airline that you check bags on the most. Many carriers offer at least one free checked bag on at least one of their co-branded cards. Here’s the airline-by-airline breakdown of which cards will get you a free checked bag (or two):
- American: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®, Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard
- Delta: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card
- United: United Explorer Card; United Explorer Business Card, United Club Card (first 2 bags), United Club Business Card (first 2 bags)
- Hawaiian: Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard and Hawaiian Airlines Business Mastercard
The information for the United Club, United Club Business has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
The baggage allowances vary across these cards, but each provides at least one free checked bag for the cardholder (sometimes only for domestic flights). Some cards offer free checked bags for others booked on your same itinerary as well.
Unfortunately, some of the biggest bag fee collectors have co-branded credit cards that don’t offer a free bag: Spirit Airlines (Spirit Airlines Mastercard), Frontier (Frontier Airlines World Mastercard) and Allegiant (Allegiant World Mastercard).
The last major airline to still offer complimentary checked bags is Southwest. Each passenger can check two free bags — including golf bags and skis — up to 50 pounds and total dimensions of 62 inches. Overweight items from 51 to 100 pounds and oversized items in excess of 62 inches but not more than 80 inches will be accepted for overweight and oversize baggage fee of $75 per item. Those type of bags is how Southwest collected nearly $50 million in checked bag fees during 2018.
Wipe out baggage charges with a credit card fee reimbursement
Some premium credit cards offer travel fee credits that can be used toward airline fees such as baggage costs. These include the Chase Sapphire Reserve (up to $300 per year), the Citi Prestige® Card (up to $250 per year), Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (up to $250 per year), The Platinum Card® from American Express (up to $200 per year) and the Bank of America®️ Premium Rewards®️ Visa®️ credit card. If you weren’t able to avoid baggage fees otherwise, using a travel credit could be a great option.
Earn elite status
This is easier said than done, but many airlines will offer their elite members between one and three free checked bags. Base-level elite members (American Gold, Delta Silver, United Silver and Alaska MVP) are able to check one bag for free on domestic itineraries. Top-tier members can check up to three free checked bags.
The information for the United Club, United Club Business, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Additional reporting provided by JT Genter
Featured image courtesy of Patrick T. Fallon for The Points Guy
NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees