Airlines Collected More Than $1 Billion in Baggage Fees in Q2

Sep 21, 2016

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.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

We love to help our readers avoid as many fees as possible. Using credit card benefits, checked baggage fees are some of the easiest charges to avoid. However, that hasn’t stopped airlines from hitting another new baggage fee record. From April to June 2016, US-based airlines collected over $1 billion — $1,072,856,000 to be exact — in baggage fees. This tops the old quarterly record by almost $53 million.

Here are the airlines that cashed in the most on baggage fees:

Rank Airline 2Q 2015 2Q 2016 Change
1 American 295,015 288,836 -2%
2 Delta 226,294 232,461 3%
3 United 170,257 175,460 3%
4 Spirit 73,196 111,638 53%
5 Frontier 49,565 71,578 44%
6 JetBlue 21,848 57,625 164%
7 Allegiant 42,463 45,934 8%
8 Alaska 30,215 35,022 16%
9 Hawaiian 21,527 20,994 -2%
10 Virgin America 15,247 16,415 8%
11 Southwest 11,924 11,993 1%
12 Sun Country 4,124 4,078 -1%
13 Island Air Hawaii 744 822 10%
Total 962,419 1,072,856 11%

Baggage fees by airline for 2015 Q2 and 2016 Q2. Revenue reported in 000s. Data courtesy of the Buraeu of Transportation Statistics.

American Airlines has topped the list yet again for collecting the most baggage fees. American — combined with US Airways — has held this top spot for nine straight quarters. However, American Airlines was one of only three airlines that had a reduction in baggage fees over the same time last year, along with Hawaiian and Sun Country.

Baggage fees collected in Q2 2016.
Baggage fees collected in Q2 2016. Infographic by Bruno.

Meanwhile, the airline with the largest jump — a whopping 164% increase from the same time last year — might initially surprise you: JetBlue. Back on June 30, 2015, JetBlue dropped its first free checked bag allowance, leaving Southwest as the only major carrier still offering complimentary checked bags. Not surprisingly, JetBlue’s checked baggage fees have jumped drastically since implementing the change.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
At up to $100 per carry-on bag, Spirit’s baggage fees have added up quickly. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Spirit (+53% year-over-year) and Frontier (+44%) have seen huge jumps in baggage fee revenue as more and more budget-conscious travelers choose these airlines. Hopefully these passengers factored the cost of baggage into the advertised low fares.

Before we get into how you can avoid baggage fees, let’s say a quick thank you to all of those who are paying these fees. It’s likely that airlines would be charging higher airfares to make up for lost revenue if this $1 billion wasn’t collected. So, (silently) thank your less-informed fellow travelers for subsidizing our travels!

With that out of the way, here’s how to avoid paying for checked bags yourself:

1. Get a co-branded credit card

Snag a 30,000-mile sign-up bonus and get a free checked bag using the Alaska . Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Snag a 30,000-mile sign-up bonus and get a free checked bag with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Perhaps the easiest way to avoid baggage fees — at least for your first checked bag — is by having a co-branded credit card, such as:

  • American: Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard and Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
  • Delta: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American ExpressGold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American ExpressPlatinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express
  • United: United MileagePlus Explorer CardUnited MileagePlus Explorer Business CardUnited MileagePlus Club Card (first 2 bags), and United MileagePlus Club Business Card (first 2 bags)
  • JetBlue: The JetBlue Plus Card and The JetBlue Business Card
  • Alaska: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
  • Hawaiian: The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard
  • Virgin America: Virgin America Visa Signature Card and Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card

The baggage allowances vary across these cards, but each allows at least one free checked bag for the cardholder. Some cards offer free checked bags for others booked on your same itinerary as well.

Unfortunately, some of the biggest bag fee collectors — Spirit Airlines, Frontier and Allegiant — have co-branded credit cards that don’t offer a free baggage allowance.

2. Fly Southwest

The last major airline that offers 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, extra-large and additional bags will set you back $75 each.

3. Wipe out baggage fees 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 ($300 per year), the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card ($300 per year), Citi Prestige Card ($250 per year), The Platinum Card® from American Express ($200 per year) and the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express ($100 per year). If you weren’t able to avoid baggage fees otherwise, using a travel credit could be a great option.

Or, you can use points earned on your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to get a statement credit for your baggage fees. However, you’ll likely want to pay for your bags when you purchase your flight if you plan on using points from your Barclaycard Arrival Plus — which has a sign-up bonus of 70,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days  — as the minimum redemption is 10,000 miles ($100).

4. Earn Elite Status

Easier said than done! But, earning elite status on any of the top three bag fee-charging airlines — American, Delta and United — will earn you a free baggage allowance. Even base-level elite members (American Gold, Delta Silver and United Silver) are allowed to check one bag for free on domestic itineraries.

Featured image by Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.