Bag Fees, Avoid Travel Frustration

Those Fees Add Up!

Airlines in the U.S. collected $3.5 billion dollars in baggage fees in 2012.  That's according to a report released today by the federal government.  That's an increase over the $3.3 billion in bag fees collected in 2011.  Can you guess which airline charged passengers the most in baggage fees?  Delta led the pack, hauling in $865.8 million dollars, that's an increase of 32% from 2011.  United was a second with more than $700 million in bag fees.  Here's the list of airlines and how they rank:

  1. Delta Airlines $865 Million in 2012
  2. United Airlines $705 Million in 2012
  3. American Airlines $550 Million in 2012
  4. US Airways $516 Million in 2012
  5. Spirit $168 Million in 2012
  6. Alaska Airlines $151 Million in 2012
  7. Southwest $144 Million in 2012 (Includes some AirTran fees)
  8. Allegiant $89 Million in 2012
  9. JetBlue $70 Million in 2012
  10. Frontier $70 Million in 2012

How To Avoid The Fees

I traveled more than 80,000 miles in 2012.  How much did I pay in fees?  Nothing.  No, I didn't travel on Southwest where most bags fly free, I flew Delta exclusively in 2012.  Most airlines have programs in place that allow passengers to avoid baggage fees.  You don't even have to be a frequent flier.

Credit cards are one of the easy options.  Many airlines, Delta included, offer a free checked bag to passengers who have their airline credit card.  Often, the free first checked bag extends to other people on your reservation.  For example, if a family of four goes on vacation with Delta, and either mom or dad has a Delta SkyMiles American Express, all four people may check a bag for free.  That is a savings of $100 each way.  Depending on the card, that more than makes up for the credit card's annual fee.

Elite traveler benefits often include free checked bags.  Delta, for example, gives Gold, Platinum and Diamond medallion members two free checked bags on every domestic flight.  You get three free checked bags if you are upgraded in advance of your travel day.  Delta Silver Medallion members get one checked bag.  United gives their Gold, Platinum and 1K fliers three free checked bags.  Other airlines offer similar free bag benefits.

Buying premium cabin tickets is another way to avoid bag fees.  Sure, you're spending more on your ticket, but passengers in business and first class get to check bags for free, not to mention other benefits.

If you don't want to sign up for a credit card, buy first class tickets or travel enough to qualify for elite status, fly an airline that gives you free bags.  This is a rare option these days but two major airlines still give passengers baggage.  Southwest allows customers to check two bags free.  JetBlue offers one free checked bag.

Oversized and Overweight

Did you know airlines charge more if your bag is oversized or over weight?  When the ticket agent has you place your bag on metal platform by the checkin counter that is a scale.  It amazes me how many people don't seem to know this.  (I'm mainly referring to people who don't travel frequently)  Most airlines have a limit of 50 pounds.  Go over and you can hit with huge overage fees.  If you bag is oversized you can be hit with those same fees.

During my recent trip to South Korea a colleague of mine, on another airline, was forced to wear three jackets onto the plane and throw out some toiletries or face $150 in overweight bag fees!  His bag was eight pounds overweight before he pulled out the coats and other items.

Bag Fees By Airline

Here's a list of fees for the first checked bag on some of the biggest U.S. airlines.  Check your airline before booking since fees are subject to change at any time.  TAR is not responsible if you get a shock at the airport.  These fees are for domestic travel.  Check your airlines website for international fees.

  • Alaska $20
  • Allegiant $35
  • American Airlines $25
  • Delta $25
  • Frontier $20
  • JetBlue $0
  • Spirit $30 (Online) $45 (At the Airport)
  • Southwest $0
  • United $25
  • US Airways $25
  • Virgin America $25