I recently flew one airline on a deeply discounted fare that charged $50 per checked bag. Overstuffed luggage that exceeds the weight limit will cost you considerably more.
But, thanks to the dozen credit cards that offer free checked bags reviewed here, we can stop bag-check fees (and other in-flight fees) in their tracks. On family trips, that can easily save you hundreds of dollars each way.
So, plant a flag, take a stand, and get yourself one of these little beauties — the money saved on a few trips per year may easily pay even the most expensive annual fee.
These cards offer travelers the most flexibility because they aren’t co-branded to any one airline. Therefore, you receive benefits no matter which carrier you choose. That means you can select the flight that suits you best without sacrifice.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® card packs a wealth of valuable travel perks, starting with a $300 annual statement credit to reimburse travel purchases each account anniversary year. That credit will put a nice dent in any baggage-check fees you pay.
In addition, you’re insured against incidental costs arising from baggage delays of over six hours, up to $100 a day for five days. And if the airline damages or loses your bag, you are covered up to $3,000 per passenger.
The Discover it® Miles card is a no-annual-fee card that offers unlimited 1.5x miles for each $1 spent on purchases. The card lets you redeem miles as a statement credit for travel purchases, which you can use to cover baggage-check fees.
You can redeem your miles at any time and in any amount. The miles never expire, even if your account closes. Furthermore, there are no blackout dates when you use the card to pay for airline flights, hotel stays, or car rentals.
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers unlimited 2X miles per $1 spent on all purchases and waives its annual fee for the first year. You can redeem your miles, in any amount and at any time, for airline purchases and accompanying fees, including baggage-check fees.
You can boost your mileage rewards to 5X by booking your hotel stays and car rentals through Capital One Travel. Use Purchase Eraser® online to redeem your miles for travel or book new travel reservations using redeemed miles. Miles don’t expire while the account remains open.
The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards card lets you earn unlimited 1.25x miles per $1 spent on purchases and charges no annual fee. You can redeem your miles to reimburse for baggage-check fees and other travel purchases.
If you prefer, you can transfer your miles to any of 10+ travel partners. As long as the account remains open, your miles will never expire. You can redeem your miles whenever you like, with no minimum redemption amount.
Co-branded airline cards offer many travel perks, with one catch: You get the perks only on the branded airline (or affiliate). That’s great if you have a favorite airline.
If you want more flexibility, consider getting several different cards so that all your bases are covered. All the following cards provide free checked bags and other goodies.
The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express lets you check your first bag for free on Delta flights you book with the card. The waived fee, up to $60 per round trip, also applies to the first bag of passengers traveling with the cardmember on the same reservation.
The card provides you with Priority Boarding on Delta flights. Checked-in baggage is covered against loss or damage up to $500 per person per trip. If you prefer to carry your bag, you automatically receive baggage loss/damage coverage of up to $1,250 per person. You can earn a $100 Delta flight credit by spending $10,000 in purchases in a calendar year.
The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express provides free checking of your first bag for cardmembers and companions traveling on the same reservation. That can save each person up to $60 per round-trip Delta flight.
You also get Priority Boarding and a statement credit for 20% back on in-flight purchases you make with the card. Additionally, the card gives you and two guests Delta Sky Club Access for $39 per person. Loss or damage to passenger luggage is covered, up to $500 for checked bags and $1,250 for carry-on bags, per person per trip.
The UnitedSM Explorer Card offers the primary cardmember and one companion free checking of their first bag. This can save $30 per person each way. You also get two free United ClubSM one-time passes each anniversary year.
The card gives you priority boarding, allowing you to stow your gear while there’s still room. Once on board, you’re entitled to 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of Wi-Fi, beverages, and food. You can redeem your miles for travel on any Star Alliance™ airline.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® gives you the first checked bag free on domestic flights for you and up to four companions sharing the same reservation. In addition, you’ll get on the plane sooner thanks to priority boarding.
You’ll fly happily by saving 25% on inflight beverage and food purchases. You earn double miles on American Airlines purchases, as well as on purchases at restaurants and gas stations. When you spend $20,000 or more on purchases in an anniversary year, you’ll receive a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount certificate.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® covers your first checked bag on domestic American Airlines flights for you and eight of your closest buds traveling on the same reservation. You and two family members also get free access to Admirals Club lounges while traveling.
The card enhances your airport experience by giving you priority security screening, priority check-in and early boarding on your American Airlines flight. You earn 2X AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on American Airlines purchases.
The JetBlue Plus Card earns you 6X points on JetBlue purchases. You and up to three companions check your first bags for free. Onboard, enjoy 50% inflight savings on purchases of food and delightful cocktails.
You receive an annual $100 statement credit when you purchase a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more. You can redeem points for travel on JetBlue, and points remain active unless you close the account. This card is co-branded with Barclays Bank.
The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard® from Barclays lets you check your first bag for free when tickets are purchased directly from Hawaiian Airlines. You earn 3X miles on eligible Hawaiian Airlines purchases.
You get a one-time 50%-off companion discount and an annual $100 companion discount for round-trip travel between Hawaii and North America. Miles don’t expire as long as there is activity on your account every 18 months.
The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card allows a free checked bag for you and up to six companions flying on the same reservation. You also get a 50% discount on Alaska Lounge day passes and 20% back on inflight purchases.
You earn 3X miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases, and those miles don’t expire as long as the account remains active. Each anniversary year, you earn a discount companion fare, with no blackout dates, for travel booked directly from Alaska Airlines.
The most obvious way to avoid checked baggage charges is to carry your bags onto the flight. You can gate-check a small bag for free, just before you enter the cabin. Or, if small enough, you can stow a bag in overhead storage or beneath the seat in front of you.
Normally, you can bring one small bag and one personal item (i.e., computer, briefcase, etc.) onto the plane. Underseat storage isn’t available if you sit in a bulkhead row.
An obvious way to avoid baggage fees is to carry your luggage onto the flight, but you can opt for a credit card that will cover or reimburse your checked-bag fees.
Many folks travel with large or multiple bags that must be checked. Just about all airlines charge for checked baggage, with fees starting at $30 per bag, more for overweight bags. Some airlines give you one free checked bag if you belong to their frequent-flyer programs.
First- and business-class passengers usually get free baggage check for one or two bags. For the rest of us, the best bet is to use a credit card that covers at least some of the costs. In this review, we’ve separated general-purpose cards that offer indirect coverage versus co-branded airline cards that waive the fee for the first checked bag.
Among the first group, only the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card offers an annual statement credit ($300) to reimburse travel purchases, but the card has a high annual fee. The other general-purpose cards allow you to use your miles to pay for baggage fees.
If you choose one or more of the co-branded credit cards, you’ll get your first bag checked for free only with specific airlines. The number of traveling companions per reservation receiving this perk varies.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® sets the standard by offering free first-bag check-in to the cardmember and up to eight companion travelers on the same reservation. Pulling up the rear is the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®, which waives the fee for the cardmember only.
It costs $75 each to check oversized or overweight bags on Southwest. Bags weighing more than 100 pounds must be shipped separately as air cargo. Active-duty military are exempt from all check-in fees on bags up to 100 pounds each and/or 80 linear inches.
The other domestic airlines charge at least $30 per checked bag, frequently with higher fees for multiple bags. You may receive free check-in if you belong to an airline’s loyalty program. For example, AAdvantage Gold members get one free checked bag on American Airline flights.
If you purchase a deeply-discounted economy ticket, you may have to pay more for checked bags on some domestic airlines.
Kind of puts the domestic carriers to shame, doesn’t it? Naturally, you have to look at the fares and all fees to compare the costs of competing flights. Some airlines may save you money on one fee but sock it to you on another.
Almost all airlines allow you to pre-check your bags online. This simply means that you prepay the baggage fee so that you don’t have to pay at the airport.
We identified only one airline, JetBlue, that rewards pre-checking with lower fees, and some don’t even offer online baggage check.
For example, American Airlines does not provide for online prepayment of baggage fees. At United Airlines, you can prepay your baggage fees, but there is no discount for doing so. Delta, Alaska Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines have the same policy.
jetBlue is the only airline that currently offers discounts for bags checked online at least 24 hours pre-flight.
As of 2020, JetBlue shaved its fee by $5 per bag when you check your bags online or via the JetBlue app at least 24 hours before the flight.
Except for JetBlue, there doesn’t seem to be any monetary incentive to check your bags online. However, you may find that online check-in makes your airport routine simpler.
If you check-in for your flight online and get your boarding passes in advance, you can simply drop off your bags when you arrive at the airport and waltz over to the security line.
If you also have TSA Pre√, you can shortcut the long line and go through security faster. Note that many of the credit cards in this review reimburse you for TSA Pre√ fees.
Our list of credit cards that offer free checked bags evaluated the available card options to consumers that offer waived luggage fees in the form of a statement credit or as a primary benefit of the card. We assessed the total value of the free baggage benefit for each card, the APR and annual fees charged, rewards offered, additional in-flight benefits, and other criteria relevant to this article.
CardRates’ reviews undergo a thorough editorial integrity process to ensure that content is not compromised by advertiser influence.
Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Eric Bank has been covering business and financial topics since 1985, specializing in taking complex subject matters and explaining them in simple terms for consumer audiences. In addition to his work on CardRates.com, Eric has appeared regularly on Credible.com, eHow, WiseBread, The Nest, Get.com, Zacks, Chron and dozens of other outlets. A former software engineer, Eric holds an M.B.A. from New York University and an M.S. in finance from DePaul University.
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