US-Based Airlines Collected Over $4.5 Billion in Baggage Fees in 2017

May 7, 2018

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The statistics are finally out for 2017 air travel, and there are some jaw-dropping numbers. US-based airlines recorded over $15 billion in after-tax profits for the full year — an increase of ~11% over 2016 profits. And a significant portion of the those profits are bolstered by baggage fees, which topped a record $4.5 billion in 2017.

Some airlines collected 25% more fees in 2017 than 2016, while others contracted year-over-year. Despite the wide range in changes, the airline rankings were exactly the same in 2017 as 2016. So, which airlines collected the most baggage fees?

Rank Airline 2017 2016 % Increase
1 American 1,172,728 1,117,473 4.9%
2 Delta 907,626 872,419 4.0%
3 United 794,489 690,404 15.1%
4 Spirit 492,645 434,269 13.4%
5 Frontier 364,142 306,792 18.7%
6 JetBlue 289,839 231,604 25.1%
7 Allegiant 192,583 177,329 8.6%
8 Alaska 147,243 135,614 8.6%
9 Hawaiian 81,156 82,400 -1.5%
10 Virgin America 62,680 64,289 -2.5%
11 Southwest 46,111 43,750 5.4%
Others 25,050 20,792 20.5%
All 4,576,292 4,177,135 9.6%

Baggage fees by airline for 2017 and 2016. Revenue reported in thousands of US dollars. Data courtesy of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

American remains at the top of the list yet again — the world’s largest airline raked in nearly $1.2 billion in baggage fees alone, with only a modest 4.9% increase. Delta notched only a 4% increase to climb over $907 million in fees for the year. United led all airlines by growing its baggage fees by over $104 million — a 15.1% increase over 2016, although its passenger count only grew by 3.4% year-over-year.

JetBlue saw the largest percentage increase with a 25.1% increase despite growing its revenue passengers by only 4.9% from 2016 to 2017. Ultra-low cost carriers Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant take #4, 5 and 7 again in 2017. These three combined to charge over $1 billion in baggage fees.

Want to avoid being part of this massive statistic? Let’s review the ways that you’re able to avoid or have your baggage fees reimbursed…

Get a Co-Branded Credit Card

The easiest way to avoid checked baggage fees on most airlines is by having a credit card for the airline that you check bags on the most. Many carriers offer at least one free checked bag on at least one of their co-branded cards. Here’s the airline-by-airline breakdown of which cards will get you a free checked bag (or two):

  • Alaska: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card
  • Hawaiian: Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard

The baggage allowances vary across these cards, but each provides at least one free checked bag for the cardholder (sometimes only for domestic flights). 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 (Spirit Airlines Mastercard), Frontier (Frontier Airlines World Mastercard) and Allegiant — have co-branded credit cards that don’t offer a free bag.

Fly Southwest

The last major airline to still offer 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 items from 51 to 100 pounds and oversized items in excess of 62 inches but not more than 80 inches will be accepted for an overweight and oversize baggage fee of $75 per item. Those type of bags are how Southwest collected $46 million in checked bag fees during 2017.

Wipe out Baggage Charges 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 (up to $300 per year) and The Platinum Card® from American Express (up to $200 per year). If you weren’t able to avoid baggage fees otherwise, using a travel credit could be a great option.

You can also redeem 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.

Earn Elite Status

This is easier said than done, but many airlines will offer their elite members between 1-3 free checked bags. Base-level elite members (American Gold, Delta Silver and United Silver) are able to check one bag for free on domestic itineraries. Meanwhile, top-tier members can check up to three free checked bags.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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