Avoid companions' checked-bag fees with wise card use

Travelers can use using reward cards to beat airline luggage charges


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

Ask a question.

'Cashing In' archive

Question Dear Cashing In,
I'm planning to go with my wife and two kids to visit family in Virginia for a week or so over Christmas. But if we check bags on our flights, we would pay a lot in fees. I know that some credit cards can help avoid those fees. Are all those cards pretty much the same? I fly on different airlines (usually whichever one has the lowest fares). Thanks. – Andrew

Answer Dear Andrew,
It used to be that when you paid for a plane ticket, you were finished breaking out your wallet. The airline would serve you snacks or maybe a meal, and of course handle your bag for no extra charge.

Today, though, airlines are constantly trying to outdo each other in finding ways to boost what they call "ancillary revenue" -- additional fees for features that used to be standard but have now been redefined as perks. Now, most major airlines sell meals and snacks, charge extra to reserve more desirable seats and, yes, impose fees for checking bags.

As you point out, Andrew, there are ways around paying extra charges for checked bags. In 2013, airline revenue from baggage fees actually fell 4 percent, to $3.35 billion. As a MarketWatch article put it: "Some of this, experts say, is due to fliers outsmarting baggage fees."

Most airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag per person, each way. If the four of you each checked a bag each way, that's $200 in bag fees. (Note that of the biggest U.S. airlines, only Southwest and JetBlue do not charge for the first checked bag.)

The easiest way to avoid the fees, of course, is to pack less and carry it onboard. But if you're going to be away from home for a while, or you're traveling with children, that isn't always easy to do. Or you could consolidate your clothes into one big bag to reduce the number of bags, but then you have to watch out for weight limits on checked bags, which also could trigger additional fees.

The credit cards affiliated with the major airlines offer some relief, but there are differences -- mainly in the number of people traveling with you who can check bags for free.

For instance, the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card (annual fee: $95, waived first year), allows a free checked bag for you and one traveling companion on United flights. But other cards allow checked bags for more people. The Barclaycard US Airways Premier World MasterCard (annual fee: $89) and the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard (affiliated with American Airlines, annual fee: $95, waived first year) allow a free checked bag for you plus up to four companions. If you're flying Delta and have the American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles card ($95, waived first year), you and up to eight others can get the first bag free.

Make sure to check the restrictions before relying on these. With some, you have to use the card to make the reservation, and to get free bags, your traveling companions must be on the same reservation as you. Also, some airlines track whether you still have the card when you fly, so don't count on free bags if you make the reservation then cancel the card. Note that although US Airways and American are merging, they have not merged this feature on their affiliated credit cards.

Some of these cards also come with priority boarding, so you can board the plane while there's still space for carry-on luggage in the overhead bins.

Saving on luggage fees might not be reason enough to sign up for one of these cards. But if you're accustomed to checking a lot of bags, the savings can really add up.

See related: Which travel card perk is the most popular?

Meet's reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday,'s Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.

Published: May 27, 2014

Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

Follow Us

Updated: 10-23-2016

Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.