TPG reader credit card question: Do I have to pay with my credit card for the free checked bag benefit?
Editor’s note: This article is part of a column to answer your toughest credit card questions. If you would like to ask us a question, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are a lot of benefits to holding a cobranded airline credit card — especially if you are loyal to a specific airline. One of the most common benefits you'll see across many airline cards is a free checked bag for the primary cardholder and a certain number of guests on the same reservation.
But while cobranded credit cards may have more airline-specific benefits for your flight, they don't always offer the best return on purchasing flight tickets. The good news is that you don't always have to pay for the flight using your cobranded card in order to receive some of those benefits — including free checked bags.
[pullquote source="TPG Reader Elizabeth"]With my Alaska Airlines Visa, I know I get a free bag for me and up to 6 guests. Do I have to book the airfare on that credit card to get the free bag or will my Mileage Plan number give me the free bag?[/pullquote]
While Elizabeth asks specifically about Alaska Airlines, this is a great question across the board: Do you have to pay for your flight ticket with your cobranded credit card in order to get the free checked bag benefit offered? The answer differs from airline to airline, so let's walk through popular U.S. airlines' policies — starting with Alaska Airlines.
Want more credit card news and advice from TPG? Sign up for our daily newsletter.
Alaska Airlines doesn't require you to purchase your ticket with your Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card in order to receive the free checked bag benefit that comes with the card.
Here is what's listed on the benefit FAQ page:
If you are the eligible primary Alaska Airlines Visa® cardholder on the account, have entered your Mileage Plan™ number into your reservation, and are traveling on Alaska Airlines, we will waive the first checked bag fee for you and up to 6 other guests on the same reservation. For reservations made with group booking codes or through the group desk, only eligible primary Alaska Airlines Visa® cardholders will receive the free checked bag. The cardholder must be traveling and the cardholder's Mileage Plan™ number must be in the reservation before checking in at alaskaair.com, the Alaska Airlines mobile apps, or at any of our Alaska Airlines airport kiosks.
So as long as you are the primary cardholder and have entered your associated Mileage Plan number into your reservation when you book the Alaska Airlines flight, you and up to six guests on that same reservation will get the first checked bag free benefit. Keep in mind that in order to qualify for the first checked bag free benefit, you have to credit your flight miles to your Mileage Plan account. However, your companions can credit flight miles to other programs.
Related: New alliance, new offer: Alaska Airlines card current offer
If you have a Citi /AAdvantage or Barclays AAdvantage Aviator credit card that comes with a free checked bag benefit, you do not have to purchase your tickets with the card in order to be eligible to use the benefit.
Here is what the terms and conditions say on Citi's website:
For benefit to apply, the Citi® / AAdvantage® account must be open 7 days prior to air travel, and reservation must include the primary credit cardmember’s American Airlines AAdvantage® number 7 days prior to air travel. If your credit card account is closed for any reason, these benefits will be cancelled.
Eligible Citi® / AAdvantage® primary credit cardmembers may check one bag free of charge when traveling on domestic itineraries marketed and operated by American Airlines, or on itineraries marketed by American Airlines and operated as American Eagle® flights by Envoy Air Inc., Republic Airways Inc., SkyWest Airlines, Inc., Mesa Airlines, Inc., PSA Airlines, Inc., or Piedmont Airlines, Inc. All flights on the itinerary must be domestic flights marketed by American Airlines and operated by American Airlines or American Eagle. This benefit will not be available for travel on codeshare flights booked with an American Airlines flight number but operated by another airline. For the Citi® / AAdvantage® credit card, up to four (4) companions traveling with the eligible primary credit cardmember will also get their first checked bag free of charge if they are listed in the same reservation. Waiver does not apply to overweight or oversized bags. This benefit cannot be combined with any existing AAdvantage® elite program benefits, or with First or Business class benefits, including any waiver of baggage charges. Please see aa.com/baggage» for baggage weight and size restrictions. Applicable terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.
Barclays has an almost identical set of terms and conditions listed on its website for the Aviator cards.
Related: Best American Airlines credit cards
Delta Air Lines
If you read the landing page for the free checked bag benefit, Delta says, "As a benefit of Card Membership, you can check your first bag free on Delta flights booked with your Card. You can save up to $60 on a round-trip Delta flight per person," which makes it seem like you have to pay with your eligible card. However, looking at the terms and conditions, it only lists that you need to include your SkyMiles number on the reservation.
Benefit is limited to Basic Card Members (not Additional Card Members) with the Delta SkyMiles Gold, Delta SkyMiles Platinum, Delta SkyMiles Reserve, Delta SkyMiles Gold Business, Delta SkyMiles Platinum Business, and Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business American Express Cards. Reservation must include the Basic Card Member’s SkyMiles number. Fee waiver also available for passengers traveling in the same reservation as the Basic Card Member. Maximum nine waivers per reservation. New Card Members and Card Members upgrading from another Delta SkyMiles American Express Card product will be eligible for the checked baggage fee waiver benefit after receiving their Card from American Express. The first checked bag fee waiver will only be applied on flight segments which originate on a Delta or Delta Connection® carrier when you check-in with Delta for both a Delta marketed and Delta operated flight. Waiver is only for normal bag fee, if any, for the first checked bag that is not overweight and not oversize under Delta’s applicable rules as set forth in Delta’s contract of carriage. Additional terms, conditions and restrictions may apply.
Delta will apply the free checked bag benefit even if you don't pay for your ticket with your card as long as the SkyMiles number associated with your card account is on your reservation.
Related: Best Delta credit cards
Unfortunately, Hawaiian Airlines does require you to purchase your tickets with your eligible Hawaiian Airlines credit card in order to take advantage of the free checked bag benefit.
Here's what the terms and conditions say:
The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard primary cardmember is eligible to receive one (1) free checked bag on Hawaiian Airlines operated flights. Authorized users of the primary cardmembers’ Account do not qualify for the free first checked bag benefit. This is only for travel between North America and Hawaii and between Neighbor Islands (interisland). International flights are excluded.
All ticket purchases (original and exchanges) must be made with your Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard.
Ticket purchases must be made directly from Hawaiian Airlines (HawaiianAirlines.com, Hawaiian Airlines Reservations department and Hawaiian Airlines airport ticket counters) to qualify for one free checked bag. Tickets purchased from third parties (i.e. ID90, travel agencies, etc.) are not eligible.
The primary cardmember must provide their HawaiianMiles account number associated with the Account within their reservations any time prior to check-in. You must be a current primary cardmember upon check-in to be eligible.
Offer is not valid on codeshare flight segments operated by Hawaiian Airlines and marketed by other airline partners. Please refer to the Hawaiian Airlines website: http://help.hawaiianairlines.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/403/related/1 regarding codeshare baggage restrictions.
Pualani Platinum, Pualani Gold and Premier Club Primary Cardmembers will receive an additional (1) free checked bag in addition to their existing membership baggage allowance.
Checked bag fee waiver is limited to the first bag for the primary cardmember only. Applicable overweight and excess baggage fees will apply. Please refer to www.HawaiianAirlines.com/bag-fees/ for more information on Hawaiian Airlines baggage policy.
JetBlue's terms and conditions also state that you have to pay for your ticket with your eligible JetBlue Plus Mastercard in order to receive the checked bag free benefit.
The primary cardmember and up to 3 travel companions on the same reservation each receive their first checked bag free on JetBlue-operated flights that do not include their first checked bag free. All ticket purchases (original and exchanges) must be made with the JetBlue Plus Mastercard Card Account and the cardmember’s Membership Account number must be entered at the time of booking. This benefit will not be available for travel on codeshare flights booked with a JetBlue flight number but operated by another airline. Applicable overweight and excess baggage fees will apply. For benefit to apply, the Card Account must be open 7 days prior to air travel AND reservation must include the primary cardmember’s Membership Account number 7 days prior to air travel. If your Card Account is closed for any reason, these benefits will be cancelled. Applicable terms and conditions are subject to change without notice. JetBlue Plus Mastercard primary cardmembers will get their first checked bag free of charge for flights operated by JetBlue that do not include first checked bag free. In addition, up to 3 companions traveling with the eligible primary cardmember will also get their first checked bag free of charge if they are listed in the same reservation. This benefit will not be available for travel on codeshare flights booked with a JetBlue flight number but operated by another airline. Waiver of bag fee does not apply to overweight or oversized bags. This benefit cannot be combined with any existing TrueBlue Program benefits, including any waiver of baggage charges. Please see jetblue.com/travel/baggage/ more information on JetBlue’s checked baggage policy including eligible fares, for baggage weight and size restrictions. Applicable terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.
However, data points suggest that JetBlue will honor the free checked bag benefit so long as you have the card and have your JetBlue TrueBlue number listed on your flight. This is a risk, though, because if you don't receive the free bag benefit because you booked with a different card, there will be no way to argue it with JetBlue, since its terms and conditions are clear. For JetBlue flights, I would say it's better to be safe than sorry and use your cobranded card to book the flights when you want to take advantage of the free checked bag benefit.
Unfortunately, United is another airline that requires you to purchase your flight ticket with your eligible United credit card in order to receive the free checked bag benefit.
The primary Cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation are each eligible to receive their applicable standard checked bag(s) free. To receive the applicable standard checked bag(s) free, the primary Cardmember must include their MileagePlus account number in their reservation and use their qualifying United Chase Credit Card to purchase their ticket(s).
However, if you are a United MileagePlus Premier member, you do get free checked bags through your elite status. So if you are a cardholder and hold eligible elite status, you would be able to pay with any card and still get the benefit when you include your MileagePlus number on the reservation.
Related: Best cards for flying United
For some U.S. airlines — including Alaska Airlines — you aren't required to pay for your flights with your cobranded credit card in order to receive the free checked bag benefit. But with others — notably United and JetBlue — the terms and conditions state otherwise.
Make sure you check the terms and conditions of your card's benefits before booking your flights to make sure you'll be eligible for benefits. For example, if you book through a third-party website or through a group codeshare, you may not be eligible for the benefit whether you use your card to book the tickets or not.
Related: How to avoid checked baggage frees on major domestic airlines