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Everything you need to know about gate-checking a bag

July 08, 2022
6 min read
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Being part of the last group to board your flight is bad enough. It's only made worse by a flight attendant asking you to check your bag at the gate due to a lack of overhead bin space by the time you reach your seat.

Airlines routinely ask passengers to check bags at the gate. It's a likely scenario on crowded flights or on planes with smaller bins, such as regional jets.

"When overhead bins become full, the flight attendants will notify the gate that we will need to check the remaining larger roller bags that will not fit under the seat," explained a spokesperson for Delta.

You may have questions about what this process looks like and if there are any risks involved.

The good news is that gate-checked bags are treated the same as all other checked bags, and this process does not necessarily increase the likelihood of your bag being lost. (That may still happen, though.)

Here are the ins and outs of gate-checking bags.

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How much does it cost to gate-check a bag?

Unlike bags you check ahead of a flight, an airline will check any otherwise allowed carry-on bag at the gate for free, regardless of your fare type.

However, this allowance does not extend to passengers who try to bring a full-sized carry-on item on board when their fare type does not permit them to do so.

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Sometimes a carrier's lowest class, known as basic economy, does not allow customers to bring a full-sized carry-on on board. In that case, passengers are not eligible to have their bag gate checked for free. This is the case for both JetBlue Blue Basic fares and United's basic economy.

"Regardless of overhead bin space capacity, if a customer flying on a basic economy ticket brings a full-size carry-on bag to the gate, they'll need to check their bag and pay the applicable checked bag fee ($35) and a $25 gate handling charge," a United spokesperson told me.

JetBlue charges passengers with Blue Basic fare types $65 each way to check a full-sized, carry-on bag.

What about oversized and overweight bags?

If you attempt to gate check a bag that violates an airline's weight and size requirements for checked bags, you also might be charged an additional fee. Any additional fees for oversized luggage would be on top of the $30 fee most major U.S. airlines charge passengers each way to check a bag at the time of booking. For example, AA charges travelers with overweight and or oversized bags between $100-$200 each way, depending on the route.

An exception is if you are flying Southwest Airlines, a personal favorite of mine. Their generous baggage policy allows all passengers, regardless of fare types to check two bags for free.

Remember you can avoid baggage fees by holding elite status with a particular airline, purchasing a higher fare class and or using a cobranded airline credit card to purchase your airfare.

For example, Delta, United and American allow all status holders, even at their most entry-level tiers, to check one bag for free, with the baggage allotment going up from there. Elite status also gets you priority boarding with the major airlines, meaning there's more likely to be room in the overhead bin for your bags when your priority group boards.

Where does a gate-checked bag go on the plane?

Employees prepare to load luggage onto a plane at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. (Photo by Koen Van Weel/ANP/AFP/Getty Images)

Gate-checked bags are usually treated essentially the same as all other checked bags. They are stored in a plane's cargo hold (or bins) with the rest of the luggage before being transferred to your final destination. When this happens, you pick up your bag at the baggage claim as you would any other checked bag.

However, sometimes when flying certain regional jets you may have to wait on the jet bridge at the destination gate after you deplane to get your bag.

For example, "Some American Eagle flights have limited overhead bin space. Customers may be asked to valet check larger carry-on bags before boarding smaller regional aircraft," American Airlines said. "In this case, the agent will place a valet tag on the bag, and it will be delivered to customers on the jetbridge after the flight."

Related: 3 ways to avoid checking your bag at the gate

Does this process require me to pass through security again?

If you are on a connecting flight and your bag was gate-checked for the first leg of a trip, be sure to verify with the agent checking your bag whether it needs to be picked up and re-checked or collected at any point along your travel route.

Generally, this shouldn't be the case, but it depends on the airport and the customs requirements of the countries through which you are traveling.

"For example, when entering the U.S., unless arriving from a station that has U.S. Preclearance, customers are required to retrieve their bags, clear U.S. Customs, and re-check the bags at the transfer desk," according to United. "The best advice for your readers is to always double-check with the agent that gate checks the bag."

Is there a risk to gate-checking my bag?

In a situation like this, you might be wondering — is the greater risk checking the bag and having it go missing or carrying it to the gate and finding out there's no room for your bag?

Although that is ultimately your call, there should be no added risk with checking your bag at the gate, since it's no more likely to get lost or misplaced than any other checked bag.

"Once [bags are] tagged, the checked bags are left at the end of the jetway where the ramp agent takes them directly downstairs and loads them into the aircraft bin where all of the checked bags travel," Delta told me. That's the same process for every other checked bag.

Bottom line

It's an extra inconvenience for sure. However, checking your bag at the gate due to lack of space on a full flight is not the end of the world.

Regardless if you check your bag or the airline checks your bag, you should receive a bag tag number with all of the information you need to track your bag on a carrier's website or app.

If you want even more security, consider purchasing something like AirTags. Apple's Bluetooth tracking devices allow you to track your suitcase through nearby Apple devices, such as an iPhone or iPad, whether it be yours or someone else's. Several TPG staffers have had luck locating missing bags this way.

Related: Checking a bag with United? Use the new ‘bag drop shortcut’ to save time

Featured image by Getty Images
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.

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Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

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  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees