Back in 2008, when checked-bag fees were initiated, many passengers were bringing carry-ons to avoid the fee. It was a real roller-bag derby. Today, more people seem to accept baggage fees as part of the price of the ticket and are willing to pay for one bag, but overhead space can still be tight.
While domestic checked-bag fees have remained steady at $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag on most airlines, many of the fees for extra bags, overweight bags and oversize bags continue to rise.
The overweight fee is now $100 for a bag weighing 51 to 70 pounds on American, US Airways, Delta and United. If you have a 55-pound bag, that extra 5 pounds could cost $100 – so unpack a few heavy items like shoes, or bring a second bag because it can be cheaper to check two bags than one overweight bag.
Oversize luggage also can be expensive. If your bag is over 62 linear inches (length, plus width, plus depth), you will have to pay $200 on American, Delta, United and US Airways. On most airlines, the maximum size of bag you can check is 80 linear inches.
The overweight and oversize fees are in addition to your checked-bag fees. If your bag is overweight and oversize, you could pay $325 for one checked bag.
A third checked bag will cost you $125 each way on Delta and $150 on American and US Airways. Bag four or higher will cost $200 each on those airlines. The third bag or higher is $75 each way on Alaska and Southwest and $125 each way on United.
If you want to bring a lot of luggage, you’ll want to book on select airlines that have lower fees, such as Virgin America, which charges $25 per bag, up to 10 bags.
If you fly on Virgin America from Dallas to San Francisco, you could check 10 bags for a total of $250, as long as they weigh 50 pounds or less. By comparison, if you flew on American or US Airways, you’d pay $1,610 for 10 checked bags. Even though Southwest allows you to check two bags for free, you’d have to pay $600 for the other eight bags.
Most airlines allow you to bring one free checked bag to Europe, South America or on trans-Pacific flights. A second checked bag can cost $100 to Europe on most airlines.
The fees for a second checked bag to South America or trans-Pacific destinations vary, with some being free and some costing up to $100.
If you are an active-duty military member, you may get a free checked-bag allowance, and it can extend to dependents who are traveling with you.
Check with each airline before booking and see which airline is the friendliest.
Many airline affinity credit cards allow you to check one free bag – and that allowance can extend to traveling companions.
Southwest still allows you to check two bags for free, so if they each weigh 50 pounds or less, Southwest wins hands down. Southwest does charge a $75 fee for overweight or oversize items, but it is cheaper than the legacy airline fees. JetBlue is the runner-up, allowing one checked bag for free, but the second bag is $40. Overweight bags are $50 per bag for 51 to 70 pounds, and oversize bags are $75 per bag.
Spirit and Allegiant have a bag weight limit of 40 pounds; if your bag weighs more than that, you’ll have to pay an overweight fee. When flying on these airlines, you’ll need to read each policy before you book.
Most airlines allow travelers to bring one personal item, including a purse, briefcase, laptop bag or small backpack.
There’s a good chance the airlines will become more strict about how many items you bring on board. Travelers who want to bring both a purse and a laptop bag would violate the airline rules because that’s two personal items. Make sure there is room in your carry-on bag for your laptop or bring a small backpack that can fit a laptop and purse. Just make sure it meets your airline’s size limits.
Baggage fees are subject to change, so check the airline’s website for the most up-to-date information on baggage allowances. Knowing the policies will keep you from getting an unpleasant surprise at the airport.
Tom Parsons is CEO of www.bestfares.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.