Will JetBlue waive baggage fees for noncardholders?

If you buy tickets for family members but don't fly yourself, they'll likely have to pay for bags

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 CreditCards.com

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Question Dear Cashing In,
My JetBlue Plus credit card includes free bags for me plus three companions. I’m buying my parents’ flights for their anniversary but not going with them. Can they still get free bags if they have my card? – Joanne

Answer Dear Joanne,
When we think of airline reward cards, we usually think of the miles that come with them, and how we will use those miles for free trips. 

But some of the other perks that come with airline cards can actually be worth more than miles, depending on how much you fly. That’s the case with the free checked bags that come with having an airline card. (It’s not really “free,” of course – more like included in the cost of the card.) 

Typically, checking a bag on a domestic flight on a U.S. airline will cost you $25. Airlines will waive that fee for certain elite frequent flyers, and for people who have the right credit cards affiliated with the airline. Note that Southwest is alone among major U.S. airlines in that it does not charge fees for the first two checked bags. 

If you have an airline card that has the free-bag perk, you can receive a free checked bag. People traveling with you on the same reservation can receive free bags, too, so you can see that those savings can really add up if you travel and check bags a lot on one particular airline. Airline credit cards typically come with annual fees of less than $100, so you can quickly save more than that with just a couple of family vacations a year. 

However, to receive the free checked bags, you have to follow the airline’s rules. A few years ago, most major airlines required you to buy the ticket (or pay the fees on an award ticket) with the airline credit card in order to receive the free checked bag. Now, though, many airlines only require you to enter your frequent flyer number. As they improve their computer systems, the airlines can tell who has the card and who does not. JetBlue, though, still wants you to buy the ticket with the Barclaycard JetBlue Plus card (annual fee: $99) to receive the free checked bag. 

In addition, airlines typically require you to be one of the passengers. Among the benefits of the JetBlue Plus card is a “free first checked bag for you and up to three companions on JetBlue-operated flights when you use your JetBlue Plus card.” When you go to book the tickets, the reservation system will determine if you are eligible for free checked bags or not. In my experience, ticket agents are usually unwilling to waive baggage fees if the computer system tells them you owe the fees.

JetBlue confirms that your parents will have to pay for their bags, since the benefit is tied to the cardholder’s frequent flyer account. In an email to CreditCards.com, JetBlue spokeswoman Tamara Young wrote: “If the cardholder is not traveling/is not on the same itinerary as the customers that are traveling, then the free bag benefit does not apply. Cardholder must be on the same itinerary in order for the free bags to apply.”

That means that you are probably out of luck in trying to get free checked bags for your parents for a trip on which you are not flying. But it might be worth a shot. In some cases, there is a difference between the theoretical answer and the what-actually-happens answer.

But if I were your parents, I would show up at the airport with the expectation that JetBlue will not waive its baggage fees. Those fees add up to big money for the airline, and it probably won’t drop them for passengers who are not entitled to have them waived.

Checked bag perks of different airlines
Airline Credit card Bag perk
Jet Blue Barclaycard JetBlue Plus ($99/year) First free checked bag for you and up to three companions on JetBlue-operated flights when you use your JetBlue Plus card.
American Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard ($450/year); Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard ($95/year, waived first year); Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard ($95/year) One free checked bag for you and up to four companions on same reservation. Credit card account must be open seven days before travel, and reservation must include AAdvantage number seven days before travel.
United Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card ($95/year), Chase United MileagePlus Club card ($450/year) One free checked bag for you and up to one companion on same reservation. Tickets must be purchased using the credit card, and frequent flyer number must be on reservation. Club card holders and traveling companies receive two free checked bags each.
Delta American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles card ($95/year, waived first year); American Express Platinum Delta SkyMiles ($195/year); American Express Delta Reserve card ($450/year) One free checked bag for you and up to eight companions on same reservation. Frequent flyer number must be on reservation.
Alaska Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card ($75/year) One free checked bag for you and up to six companions on same reservation. Frequent flyer number must be on reservation before check-in.

See related: Avoid companions’ checked bag fees with wise card use, Which travel card perk is the most popular? 

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Updated: 02-19-2019