How To Avoid Baggage Fees By Using Credit Cards

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Baggage fees are one of the hidden fees that travelers absolutely hate. With fees ranging from $25 to $35 a bag, airlines made a whopping $4.6 billion in baggage fees in 2017. Travelers are more focused than ever on carrying on their luggage so they don’t have to give the airlines any more money than they have to. But there is a better way! Here’s how to avoid baggage fees with credit cards.

How To Avoid Baggage Fees With Credit Cards

Many travelers pick credit cards for their generous sign-up bonuses, but you only receive the bonus the first year. Additionally, banks have continued to tighten their policies to make it harder to jump from card to card to card.

When you factor in benefits like free checked bags and priority boarding, it can make a lot of financial sense to keep a co-branded airline credit card to save hundreds of dollars each year by avoiding checked bag fees.

Airline Credit Cards That Offer Free Checked Bags

One of the best perks of an airline co-branded credit card is that you can check your bags for free. But not all co-branded credit cards are created equally. Most banks offer multiple flavors of the credit cards they offer for their airline partners, each with their own unique benefits.

Let’s take a look at what’s available to avoid baggage fees so we can compare.

American Airlines

American Airlines offers credit cards from two banks – Barclays and Citibank.

Barclays currently offers only one American credit card, the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard. The benefits include one free checked bag for the cardholder and up to 4 additional passengers on the same itinerary.

Citibank offers multiple American Airlines co-branded consumer credit card, plus an option for business owners. The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard and the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard also offer a free checked bag for the cardholder and up to 4 additional passengers. If you upgrade to the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, the benefit increases up to 8 additional passengers traveling on the same itinerary.

A no-fee credit card, called AAdvantage MileUp, was just introduced by Citibank. However, it doesn’t offer free checked bags. If you travel at least once a year and like to check your bags, you’re better off paying the $95 annual fee for the AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard.

Delta Airlines

American Express partners with Delta to offer their credit cards – four consumer and one business credit card. The Gold, Platinum and Reserve Delta SkyMiles credit cards allow checked bag waivers.

Delta recently launched a no annual fee credit card called Blue Delta SkyMiles, but you will not receive a checked bag for free with this card. You will, however, earn 10,000 Bonus Miles after spending $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Miles are redeemable toward travel on Delta and more than 15 airline partners.

JetBlue Airlines

As a JetBlue credit cardholder, you’ll get one free bag every time you fly JetBlue. When you fly JetBlue with others, up to three companions will also get one free bag, as well. For comparison: With a standard “Blue” JetBlue fare (here’s their new baggage price structure), the first bag for non-cardholders is $20 in advance or $25 at check-in, so $40 or $50 per roundtrip.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest prides themselves on not charging for checked bags. In fact, every customer with a ticket can check two bags for each flight for free. Because Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge checked bag fees, there’s no need to include this as a benefit on their Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa card.

United Airlines

The United Airlines co-branded credit cards from Chase also offer free checked bags, but the benefit is less generous than what American and Delta provide. With the United Explorer card for consumers and the United MileagePlus Explorer Business credit cards, free checked bags are only available for the cardholder and one companion.

The premium United Airlines credit card, the United MileagePlus Club Card, also limits the free checked bags to the cardholder and one companion. But, at least each person can check two bags for free. If you’re a family of four traveling together, this is the same as everyone getting one checked bag for free.

United Airlines also recently introduced a no-fee credit card called the United TravelBank Card. Like the no annual fee cards from American and Delta, this credit card also does not provide a free checked bag as a benefit. Although you won’t avoid baggage fees, there are still other benefits to these cards.

avoid baggage fees

Credit Cards That Offer An Annual Travel Credit

Although these credit cards are not aligned with specific airlines, they offer travel credits each year that you can use for checked bag fees, upgrades, food & drinks, and other airline charges.

The American Express Platinum Card (both personal and business) offer a $200 annual reimbursement of airline expenses. The Chase Ritz Carlton and the Chase Sapphire Reserve each offer $300 in annual travel credits. While the Citi Prestige card offers $250 annually. The difference with the Citi Prestige card is that this annual travel credit can also be used towards the cost of purchasing a ticket.

To use these travel credits, charge the checked bag fees to your credit card, then call customer service and request to use your travel credits to pay the fee.

Keep in mind that the annual fees of these premium credit cards range from $450 to $550. You wouldn’t want to apply just for the annual travel credit. Each premium credit card offers a wide array of benefits that make them a worthy investment for the frequent traveler.

Flexible Travel Dollar Credit Cards

There are also credit card options where the points earned from the card can be used to pay for travel expenses. The Capital One Venture Card is a popular choice with it’s “what’s in your wallet?” campaign. Find more information here.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® credit card is another great option to pay for travel expenses, such as checked bag fees. The only downside to their benefits is that there is a $100 minimum redemption requirement. With the average checked bag fee of $25, you would need to be charged for at least four checked bags at once in order to redeem the Arrival points towards checked bag fees.

Free Checked Bag Exceptions

As with everything else in the travel world, there are exceptions to the free checked bag benefits included in your credit card. If your bag is oversized or weighs too much, there will likely be a fee. When flying internationally, your free checked bag benefit may not apply. It’s a good idea to check ahead of time.

Avoid Baggage Fees By Getting The Right Credit Card

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t have to pay to check your bag when you fly. There are multiple credit card options available that can save you money. Most of these credit cards charge an annual fee, but you can be in the positive after just one or two flights with the money you’ll save. Avoid baggage fees and fly safely.

Lee Huffman

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How To Avoid Baggage Fees By Using Credit Cards
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About the Author

Lee Huffman
Lee developed a passion for traveling as a boy, and now he explores the world with his wife & children using miles, points, & the latest travel hacks. He has been teaching others how to travel more, spend less, & live better since 2012.

2 Comments on "How To Avoid Baggage Fees By Using Credit Cards"

  1. Great article, except: JetBlue does offer free bags with their Plus Card ($99 annual fee). From their website:
    Free first checked bag for you and up to 3 companions on the same reservation when you use your JetBlue Plus Card to purchase tickets.
    This works internationally as well; I used it earlier this summer on a trip to the Caribbean.

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