Get the Credit Card for the Airline You Fly the Most (2020)

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Fees for checked bags may seem small, but they can really add up. For example, a couple or family checking two bags will typically need to pay $120 per round trip. Multiple by a few trips per year, and you are spending hundreds of extra dollars on bag fees.

Often, the best way to avoid paying these fees is to avoid checking bags in the first place, relying on the overhead bins. But sometimes that just isn’t going to work—the stuff you need for the trip just won’t fit, or you need to bring items that can't be taken aboard in carry-on luggage.

Most airline credit cards allow the cardholder (and some number of travelling companions) to bring a free suitcase. If you are someone who checks bags somewhat frequently, and tends to fly the same airline multiple times per year, you should consider getting that airline’s credit card.

We don't recommend actually using the airline card for your credit card spending. Once your done earning its signup bonus, you'll earn more valuable rewards with a better card, like the Freedom Unlimited card.

You just want to hold onto it, so that you can take advantage of its ongoing benefits. At $30 per bag per direction, you'll quickly save more than the typical $95 annual fee.

Along with free checked bags, airline credit cards usually provide some other minor benefits, such as priority boarding. And a few cards come with very valuable additional benefits, such as the Alaska Airlines card's annual companion certificate.

Airline credit cards that include a free bag benefit

While most airline credit cards include a checked bag benefit, the Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant credit cards don't.

The Alaska Airlines card provides a free bag for up to 7 passengers. Authorized cardholders also get the free bag benefit (even when they aren't travelling with the primary cardholder). The Alaska credit card also provides a potentially very valuable annual companion certificate. $75 annual fee.

American Airlines credit cards provide a free bag for up to 5 passengers (with the AAdvantage Platinum card or Aviator Red card) and up to 9 passengers (with the Aadvantage Executive or Aviator Silver card). The less expensive AAdvantage MileUp card doesn't provide this benefit.

There isn't much difference between the Citibank Aadvantage Platinum card or the Barclays Aviator Red Card. Both cards give you preferred boarding, 10% of your mileage back when you redeem awards, a 25% discount on inflight purchases, and provide access to reduced-mileage awards. Get whichever card is currently providing the best signup bonus, factoring in the fact that the Citibank version waives the $99 annual fee.

The Delta Gold card provides a free bag for up to 9 passengers. In addition, the card’s early boarding benefit will help basic economy fliers board early enough to be able to find room for their bags. The card also provides a 20% discount for inflight purchases. $99 annual fee, waived first year. The Delta Platinum version costs $250 per year, but includes a potentially valuable companion certificate.

The Hawaiian Airlines card provides a free bag for the primary card holder, but only if the ticket is purchased directly from Hawaiian airlines, and paid for with the card. It also gives you $100 off a companion ticket and a discount on economy class award redemptions. $99 annual fee.

The JetBlue Plus card provides a free bag for up to 4 passengers. The card also gives you 50% off inflight food and beverages purchases, a 10% rebate on award redemptions, 5,000 anniversary points each year, and a $100 statement credit for a JetBlue vacation package. To get the free bag benefit, you'll need to pay for your tickets with the JetBlue card. $99 annual fee.

A special shout-out to Southwest Airlines, which still doesn’t charge ANYONE for checking bags. But, if you fly Southwest frequently, it is still worth getting the Southwest Priority card. It costs $149, but comes with a $75 travel credit for Southwest purchases, 7,500 anniversary points worth around $110, a 20% discount on inflight purchases, four free upgraded boarding passes each year, and the ability to earn extra tier qualifying points. It is subject to the Chase 5/24 rule.

The United card provides a free bag for up to 2 passengers, but only if you use the card to purchase your tickets. You'll also get access to overhead bins (or free checked bags), even when you are flying on Basic Economy fares. In addition, the card gives you priority boarding, two United Club passes, and increased access to award availability. Unfortunately it is subject to the Chase 5/24 rule. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.

When you are travelling internationally, you'll generally get a free bag allowance. So, you usually won't have to pay a fee when you are flying on foreign airlines.

For most people, signing up for credit cards, just to receive travel benefits, good reward earning rates, or lucrative signup bonuses, isn't an irresponsible thing to do. It won't kill your credit rating—it just might improve it. But, if you have a problem with credit, or you aren't organized enough to avoid unwanted credit card fees, you'll need to stick to our other strategies for discounted travel. For more information, see our Credit Cards 101 guide.

Benefit details

  • Credit card checked bag benefits DON'T add an additional bag to the ones you are entitled to from other sources. For example, if you are normally entitled to a free bag because you are an elite member of the airline's frequent flyer program, or because you are flying internationally, these credit cards don't let you take an additional bag. They just guarantee that you won't pay for your first bag.
  • You can only count on getting free bags when your trip is flown entirely on the associated airline. If you are connecting to a different airline, you may still be required to pay a checked bag fee, or you might not. If you are starting on a different airline, you will almost always need to pay any applicable baggage fees.
  • Most of the time, you don't have to actually pay for the tickets with the airline credit card in order to receive the free bag benefit—you just need to possess the card. When you get the card, your benefits are associated with your frequent flyer account number, and automatically applied whenever you make a reservation (using that number). Since you don’t need to use the airline card to make the purchase, you can often earn better rewards by using a card that earns a more valuable reward rate on airfare purchases, or has more valuable flight and baggage protections, such as the Sapphire Reserve card.
  • However, a few airlines require that the airfare purchase are made using their card, as indicated in the list above. If you need to use the airline credit card to make the purchase, and you are travelling on an award reservation, you’ll still get the free bag benefit, as long as you pay the fees and taxes with the required card.

  • Even though it is not technically necessary to receive your free bag benefit, it is always better to take the card with you when you travel. Sometimes the airline system doesn't flag your reservation for the free bag benefit. If you have the physical card, you'll have the ability to show it to an agent, if necessary.
  • The primary cardholder must usually make the reservation. However, a couple of cards extend the benefit to authorized card holders (who are flying without the primary cardholder).
  • If your baggage is overweight, or otherwise doesn’t qualify for the standard checked bag fee, you won’t be able to check it for free with this benefit.  The benefit only applies to "standard" bags.

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