JetBlue Is Charging Surge Pricing for Checked Bags—Here’s What That Means for Passengers

Checking a bag has just become more expensive—and more confusing—for JetBlue fliers.

A closed JetBlue check-in counter

Checking luggage with JetBlue just got a lot more complicated.

Photo by Tada Images/Shutterstock

Recently, JetBlue quietly increased its fees for checked luggage. It also introduced what may be the industry’s first surge pricing model for baggage, adding an extra charge for checked luggage during “peak” travel periods.

Starting on April 11, JetBlue will begin adding an extra $5 fee for any bag checked during these peak travel dates—which the airline defines as most of spring, pretty much all summer, the fall and winter holidays, and even mid-February. The peak dates include a total of 145 days, or about 40 percent of the year.

To make matters more confusing, JetBlue’s baggage page has introduced a matrix with eight different pricing scenarios for a single checked bag when flying on a basic fare. The variable price depends how far in advance you check the bag, the date(s) of travel, and your destination. Different fare classes also have different luggage fees or waivers.

Checked bag prices range from $35 for the first bag (one-way) when checked more than 24-hours in advance during an off-peak period for a domestic flight, to $70 when checked at the airport for a transatlantic flight—with four other potential prices in between. A second bag begins at $50 and reaches an astounding $125 per bag one-way at the top pricing tier. A third checked bag (think a family ski trip) can cost you $210 per flight, at which point you may want to just stay home.

While airlines have used demand-based pricing for tickets for years, this array of bag charges may be too much for some customers, according to at least one industry analyst. “Dynamic pricing depends on the ability to change prices in a manner that is transparent to the consumer,” Jay Sorensen, president of the airline consulting firm IdeaWorksCompany, said in an email to AFAR. “Any revenue initiative which fails to respect consumers, and the ability to make informed choices, will not perform optimally. . . . I’m not a fan of these increases and believe it will create more issues with carry-ons.”

JetBlue justified these variable baggage fee increases in an emailed statement to AFAR. “While we don’t like increasing fees, we are making these adjustments to help get our company back to profitability and cover the increased costs. By adjusting fees for added services that only certain customers use, especially during periods of highest demand for limited space in the cargo hold, we can keep base fares as low as possible,” the airline stated.

But an “as low as possible” JetBlue base fare to Europe could now come with a $390 round-trip surcharge if you’re checking two bags.

JetBlue certainly isn’t alone in adding costs to baggage fees this year, with multiple airlines having recently raised rates. In 2023, U.S. airlines collected more than $5.5 billion in baggage fees from customers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, making it a significant part of airlines’ revenue stream.

Because baggage fees do not apply to every ticket, the cost is not included in the airfares that are listed online, making it difficult for consumers to compare end prices, especially versus Southwest Airlines, which continues to be the sole industry holdout without baggage fees.

Customers do have some options to avoid checked bag charges (like branded credit cards, and frequent flier status) with the most obvious being not to check a bag. But airlines are making this more difficult with base budget fares that don’t allow carry-ons, tighter restrictions on size and weight for carry-on bags, and the regular chaos of people fighting for carry-on space during the boarding process. “I advise my airline clients to clean up the existing baggage process before changing the fee structure,” said IdeaWorks’ Sorenson, “and airlines are a long way from carry-on baggage nirvana.”

While the debate is open about whether surge pricing for luggage will become the norm, we can all agree that “carry-on baggage nirvana” is a long way from arrival.

Bill Fink is a freelance travel writer for outlets including AARP, BBC Travel, Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Outside, SF Chronicle, and Yahoo Travel. Among many writing awards, Bill won Lowell Thomas Golds for Investigative Journalism and Newspaper Travel, and his stories have been included in The Best of Lonely Planet Travel Writing, Travelers’ Tales Best Travel Writing, and The Best American Travel Writing.
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