Get Free Checked Bags with Airline Credit Cards (2021)

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Fees for checked bags can really add up. Checking two bags, when travelling as a couple or family, will typically cost $120 for a round trip flight. On most airlines, the easiest way to avoid paying these fees is to avoid checking bags in the first place. 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 in carry-on luggage.

If you find yourself checking bags somewhat frequently and you tend to fly the same airline multiple times per year, you should consider getting and holding on to the airline’s co-branded credit card. It usually provides free checked bags for you and your travelling companions.

For example, if you typically check bags with American Airlines a few times a year, you should get the American Airlines credit card, which lets you and your fellow passengers check your first bag for free. If you can save $60-120 in baggage fees per round trip, it easily makes sense to pay the card's $95 annual fee instead.

In addition, airline credit cards usually have a few other benefits, such as priority boarding. And a few cards come with very valuable additional benefits. For example, the Alaska Airlines credit card provides an annual companion certificate, which can easily save you hundreds of dollars per year.

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.

Airline credit cards that include a free bag benefit

The no-annual-fee airline cards from American, Delta, and United don't provide a baggage benefit.

The Alaska Airlines card provides a free bag for up to 7 passengers. Authorized cardholders get their own free bag benefit. It also comes with a potentially very valuable annual companion certificate. $75 annual fee.

American Airlines credit cards provide a free bag for up to 5 passengers, and up to 9 passengers with the premium Executive or Aviator Silver card. You also get preferred boarding, a 25% discount on inflight purchases, and access to reduced-mileage awards. $95-99 annual fee for the standard personal or business cards, $195 annual fee for the Aviator Silver card, and $450 annual fee for the Aadvantage Executive card.

The Delta credit cards provide a free bag for up to 9 passengers. You also get a 20% discount for inflight purchases. $95 annual fee, waived the first year. The Delta Platinum version, costs $195 per year, and adds a potentially valuable companion certificate. Takes up one of your four Amex credit card slots.

The Hawaiian Airlines card provides a free bag for the primary cardholder, but only if the ticket is bought directly from Hawaiian airlines and paid for with the card. You also get $100 off a companion ticket and a discount on economy-class award redemptions. $89 annual fee.

The JetBlue card provides a free bag for up to 4 passengers. You also get 50% off inflight food and beverages purchases and a 10% rebate on award redemptions. To get the free bag benefit, you'll need to pay for your tickets with the JetBlue card.

A special shout-out to Southwest Airlines, which still doesn’t charge ANYONE for checking bags. The Southwest credit card gives you 6,000 anniversary points, and points you earn from using the card help qualify you for elite status. The $149 Priority version gives you more value in upgraded check-in reimbursement, a $75 annual travel credit, and extra anniversary points.

The United cards provide a free bag for up to 2 passengers, but only if you use the card to purchase your tickets. The United Quest and United Club cards cost more, provide two free bags per passenger, and come with extra benefits. If you fly United enough to want free bags, you are usually best off with either the Quest version (for its extra benefits) or the business version (to avoid using a 5/24 slot).

The Spirit Airlines Credit Card doesn't provide fee bags. But it does earn 1 status qualifying mile for every $10 you spend. 5,000 status qualifying miles from spending and flying will give you Gold status, which comes with both free checked and carry-on bags.

Bags on Basic Economy Flights

Airline credit cards take some of the sting out of basic economy tickets (which sometimes limit your ability to bring along a carry-on bag).

The free bag benefits still apply to basic economy tickets. As a result, you can always avoid paying baggage fees. In addition to giving you an option for free checked bags, most cards (but not the JetBlue card) let you bypass the basic-economy restrictions on stowing your luggage in the overhead bins and let you board the plane early enough that you are still likely to find room for your bag(s).

Tips & details

  • Credit card free checked bag benefits don't add an extra checked bag to the ones you get from other sources. For example, they don't let you take an additional free bag when you are flying internationally; or let you take two bags, if you could normally take one, because you are an elite member of the airline’s frequent flyer program. They only guarantee that your first bag will be free.
  • You can only count on getting free bags when your trip is entirely on the associated airline. If you are connecting to a different airline, you may still be required to pay for your bags, or you might not. If you are starting on a different airline, you will almost always need to pay the baggage fees.
  • Most of the time, you don't need to actually buy the tickets with the airline credit card to get the free bag benefit—you just need to be a cardholder. The benefit is associated with your frequent flyer number and automatically applied whenever you make the 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 higher reward rate on airfare purchases (or has more valuable flight and baggage protections).
  • However, a few airlines do require that the airfare purchase be made using the 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 by paying for the fees and taxes with the required card.

  • When you are planning to use the free bag benefit, carry the physical credit card with you on your trip. Sometimes the airline system doesn't flag your reservation for the free bag benefit, like it should. If you are travelling with the physical credit card, you can show it to an agent.
  • 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 probably won’t be able to check it for free. The credit card benefits usually only apply to "standard" bags.

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