Checking Your Bags Will Now Cost More if You Fly With These U.S. Airlines

U.S. airlines earned more than $5.5 billion in 2023 in baggage fees alone. Apparently that wasn’t enough.

Five roller bags on a baggage claim carousel

To check or not to check? With fees once again on the rise, perhaps more passengers will opt to carry on.

Photo by Shutterstock

Checking a bag when flying with several U.S. airlines is, once again, getting more expensive. It’s been about five years since the major full-service U.S. carriers collectively raised checked bag fees to $30 and $40 for the first and second checked bags, respectively. Now, some airlines are back at it, making it costlier for passengers to access the plane’s cargo hold.

Alaska Airlines started this latest round of increases in January, bumping the cost of a first checked bag to $35 and a second checked bag to $45 (a $5 increase). The airline blamed “rising operating costs, including high fuel prices” on the price hike.

Then, earlier this month, JetBlue quietly raised checked bag prices for flights within the USA, Latin America, and the Caribbean. This specifically impacts passengers who don’t plan in advance; travelers will now pay $45 for the first checked bag and $60 for the second checked bag—a $10 increase from before—within 24 hours of departure. The airline confirmed that customers who prepay for bags before the 24-hour mark will continue to pay $35 for their first bag and $50 for their second.

“While we don’t like increasing fees, it’s one step we are taking to return our company back to profitability and cover the increased costs of transporting bags,” the airline shared in a statement. The New York City–based airline posted a $104 million loss in the last quarter of 2023.

Earlier this week, American Airlines became the latest carrier to increase checked bag costs. Similar to JetBlue, there’s a tiered approach: a fee for bags prepaid in advance and another, even higher fee, for bags paid for at the airport. A passenger’s first checked bag on American’s domestic flights will cost $35, up from $30, when purchased online. Meanwhile, that same first checked bag paid for at the airport will now cost $40, a $10 bump. The second bag is $45, up from $40, regardless of where it’s purchased.

And as of February 24, United Airlines says it too will raise its baggage fees by $5 in most markets. United had been charging between $30 and $35 for a first checked bag, and between $40 and $45 for a second bag, which means an increase to between $35 and $40 for the first bag and between $45 and $50 for the second bag.

Here’s a full breakdown of how much each airline is charging with the new fee increases.

AirlineFirst checked bagSecond checked bag
Alaska Airlines$35$45
American Airlines$35–$40$45
Delta Air Lines$30$40
Southwest AirlinesFreeFree
United Airlines$35–$40$45–$50

That means the only U.S. legacy carrier left standing without a bag fee increase—at least since 2018—is Delta Air Lines. While Delta hadn’t yet announced any upcoming changes as of press time, if history is any indicator, increases are to be expected. “Airlines often mimic each other when it comes to ancillary fee changes,” says Stella Shon, a consumer travel expert for travel site Upgraded Points.

However, unlike in years past, American and JetBlue are setting different checked bag rates based on when passengers purchase. Both airlines are forcing customers to plan ahead if they want to pay less for baggage.

All of this comes as airlines earned a combined $5.5 billion in baggage fees alone during the first three quarters of 2023, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation.

Don’t want to pay a checked bag fee? One option is to fly Southwest with its industry-defying policy that allows every customer to travel with two free checked bags. Additionally, American, Delta, JetBlue, and United all waive the cost of a first checked bag on domestic itineraries for certain customers with elite status, cobranded credit cardholders, those seated in premium cabins, and active duty military.

For instance, while Delta wouldn’t comment on any potential bag fee changes, an airline spokesperson shared that passengers with an American Express SkyMiles card, Silver Medallion status or higher, a confirmed first class or Delta One booking, or member of the U.S. military traveling on orders won’t pay for a first checked bag.

For everyone else, these moves will likely push travelers in one of two directions. On the one hand, passengers may cram even more into their carry-ons, lugging them into the cabin in lieu of paying to check. Thankfully, airlines are finally making more room for everyone’s carry-on roller bag (as long as travelers stow carry-ons on their side and put only one item per person in the overhead bins). And that likely means taking more time to board.

On the other hand, passengers may be more likely to apply for a cobranded credit card. With many offering annual fees under $100, it can make more sense for even occasional travelers who check their bags. A waived first checked bag for the cardholder and everyone in the reservation can be a major cost savings. And locking travelers in with an airline credit card is exactly what carriers want.

Chris Dong is a freelance travel writer and editor with a focus on timely travel trends, points and miles, hot new hotels, and all things that go (he’s a proud aviation geek and transit nerd).
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