American Airlines scraps oversize bag fees for certain items

What It Costs An Airline to Fly Your Luggage

American Airlines scraps oversize bag fees for certain items

As you head off on your Thanksgiving travels this week and prepare to pay airline baggage fees, you may wonder what it actually costs the airline to fly your 40-pound suitcase.

our own estimate derived from consultations with industry executives and other sources, the cost to carry checked luggage comes to roughly $15 a bag. That, it turns out, is what most big airlines — including AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and Continental Airlines Inc.

— are charging fliers to check their first bag. But those who check multiple bags, ski equipment or oversized or overweight luggage are paying much, much more — allowing airlines to make a tidy profit.

In those instances, baggage fees may yield more profit for the airline than what the carrier is making on the basic passenger ticket.

Airlines don't break out the expense of transporting passenger baggage, and they are tight-lipped about baggage because they know many customers are angry about the new fees.

Airlines aren't always so opaque when it comes to their cost data — American once famously counted the savings from removing olives from salads.

But, several airlines contacted declined to discuss breakdowns of baggage costs; some were downright defensive.

“I hope you would agree we are allowed to make a profit,” said one airline spokesman, adding his carrier doesn't know what it costs to provide baggage service.

We all know how frustrating airline baggage service can be. At least one passenger per planeload arrives without his or her checked suitcase, and others are left to discover damage to their luggage, or even theft. But airlines do spend a lot of money moving luggage.

Until recently, soaring oil prices were adding to that cost. That's why earlier this year, UAL Corp.'s United Airlines imposed a $25 fee to check a second bag on domestic flights, soon matched by most big U.S.

carriers. In May, American became the first major carrier to impose a $15 fee on the first piece of checked luggage, also widely matched.

Airlines also increased fees for large bags, heavy bags and people with more than two bags.

Today, most major airlines charge $15 each way to check one bag; $25 each way for a second bag; and as much as $125 each way for a third bag or any bag that weighs more than 50 pounds. Notable exceptions: Southwest Airlines Co. allows two free bags; JetBlue Airways Corp. and Alaska Air Group Inc. transport one bag free.

A La Carte Pricing

Even though oil prices have receded, airlines say baggage fees remain because they are boosting the industry's usually dismal finances and moving customers to “a la carte” pricing — passengers pay for the services they use, whether it's a sandwich bought on board, a checked bag or assistance from a telephone reservationist.

United, for example, has said it expects to collect $275 million annually from the first- and second-bag fees. AirTran Airways, which will begin charging $15 to check one bag next week, said it expects to take in $50 million to $100 million annually in fees.

Moving passenger baggage is an intensely manual operation, requiring lots of workers. On average, each bag gets touched by about 10 workers during its journey, airlines say.

Once bags are , they are sorted and placed on carts, then driven planeside, where a crew loads them into the belly of a jet. The unloading process is more labor-intensive: Bags are sorted into luggage to be delivered to the carousel for passengers to collect and luggage that needs to be routed to connecting flights and has to be sorted and driven to lots of different planes.

“The art, or science, of handling bags is really more complex than people realize,” said Kerry Hester, vice president of customer service planning at US Airways Group Inc.

Not all of an airport ground worker's time is spent on baggage, of course. Baggage handlers move cargo, direct airplanes into and gates and have other duties preparing flights.

At the same time, there are expenses for workers beyond salaries and benefits: Baggage handlers have to be trained in hazardous materials, for example, and airlines run into millions of dollars in annual costs for on-the-job injuries related to baggage.

Add to that some portion of the duties of check-in personnel who tag the bags, service clerks who help customers with lost luggage, workers who maintain equipment and baggage service managers.

US Airways Chief Executive Douglas Parker said earlier this year that his airline spends $250 million on labor just to handle baggage. That was about 11% of the airline's payroll last year, and works out to something close to $9 per bag.

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In addition to labor expenses, airlines say they spend millions of dollars annually on baggage equipment, facilities and sorting systems, paying rent to airports for bag rooms, carousels and offices and buying carts, tractors and conveyors. They also pay to deliver lost bags to customers and pay claims for items never found. Airline executives suggest that boils down to about one-third to half as much as the labor cost; figure another $4 roughly per bag.

Then there's the fuel cost to fly the bag. One rough formula sometimes used in the airline business to approximate fuel costs is that it requires 3% to 5% of the weight of an object in fuel to fly it one hour. That means at current fuel prices, it would cost about $1 to $2 to fly a 40-pound bag on an average three-hour trip.

Add it all up, and the best guess is around $15 per bag in airline costs. Whether coincidence or careful accounting, airlines settled on $15 as the fee to charge for the first checked bag.

American said setting the price at $15 first-bag price was “not precisely cost-based” but more pegged to what the airline thought customers would pay. “The second checked bag fee was already in the marketplace at $25, and we logically felt that the fee needed to be less than that,” spokesman Tim Smith said.

Checking Fewer Bags

Airlines say the fees have already caused passengers to change behavior. Fewer customers are checking multiple bags; fewer are checking any bags, in fact.

The reduction has improved baggage-handling reliability, with lower rates of lost luggage, and created more room for cargo on planes. Cargo rates are considerably more lucrative for airlines than passenger baggage.

At many airlines, for example, the minimum charge for same-day cargo service of a small parcel is about $80.

But the baggage-fee frenzy still makes many airline passengers wonder: Isn't luggage part of the service you get when you buy a ticket?

Initially, senior United executives said they believed one bag would always be included free, then imposed a fee on customers' first bags a few months later. This summer, Delta Air Lines Inc. Chief Executive Richard Anderson said he thought it was fair for the airline to haul one suitcase free for passengers.

But earlier this month, Delta said it, too, would begin charging $15 one-way to haul the first bag, effective Dec. 5. (At most airlines, elite-level frequent fliers, first-class ticket-holders and international passengers are exempt from many of the fees.)

What changed? Customers were paying the fee at other airlines without a backlash. Delta said it wasn't getting any benefit from not charging the fee. So why not charge it?

Write to Scott McCartney at

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8


American Airlines Baggage Fees & Tips To Cover the Expenses

American Airlines scraps oversize bag fees for certain items

American Airlines baggage fees are pretty consistent with the average when it comes to larger U.S.-based carriers.

If you’re flying economy, you’ll pay for all checked baggage on domestic flights and routes to/from Canada and Mexico (excluding some status and credit cardholders). For most international routes, your first checked bag (or 2) is included.

Where you’ll want to be careful is in the excess department of American Airlines’ baggage policy — if your luggage is both overweight and oversize, American will charge you fees for both.

AA Carry-On Allowance

1 personal item: FREE
1 standard carry-on: FREE

Size Restrictions

  • Personal: 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm)
  • Standard: 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm)

Passengers may also take a soft-sided garment bag in place of their carry-on that can measure up to 51 inches (130 cm).

Lap Infant Carry-On Policy

  • 1 diaper bag per child is permitted in addition to the adult’s carry-on allowance

Stroller Check Policy

  • Each customer is allowed 1 stroller and/or 1 car seat to be checked free of charge (only 1 item can be checked at the gate)
  • Strollers over 20 pounds (9 kg) must be checked at the ticket counter

AA Checked Baggage Allowance

All checked bags must adhere to a max weight of 50 pounds (23 kg) for economy and premium economy and 70 pounds (32 kg) for business and first class fares.

The only exclusion is economy and premium economy passengers flying to Australia or New Zealand, where a single checked bag can weigh up to 70 pounds (32 kg).

Checked bags must adhere to maximum linear dimensions of 62 inches (158 cm).

Seasonal Baggage Restrictions

Seasonal pricing applies for travel from June 1, 2021, through August 19, 2021.

  • Main Cabin: Free or for purchase as per the table below
  • Premium Economy: 2 bags included (including passengers traveling to Alaska or Hawaii with tickets booked on or after February 23, 2021); 3+ for purchase as per the table below
  • Business: 2 bags included; 3+ for purchase as per the table below
  • First: 2 to 3 bags included**; 3+ for purchase as per the table below

**The fee for a third bag is charged on a 2-cabin aircraft; there is no charge for the third bag on a 3-cabin aircraft

Main Cabin Checked Baggage Fees:

RouteFirst BagSecond BagThird Bag4+ Bags
U.S. Domestic (up to 10 bags)$30$40$150$200
Mexico (up to 5 bags)$30$40$150$200
Cuba(only 2 bags permitted at present due to COVID-19)$0/$30***$0/$40$150$200
Caribbean (except Cuba and Haiti) (up to 5 bags)$30$40$150$200
CentralAmerica (except Panama) (up to 5 bags)$30$40/$55**$150$200
SouthAmerica (except Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, and Suriname)(up to 5 bags)Main Cabin: $0 Basic Economy: $45$65$150$200
Transatlantic (up to 10 bags)Main Cabin: $0 Basic Economy: $75$100$200$200
Transpacific (up to 10 bags)$0Booked before  Feb. 23, 2021: $0 Booked on or after Feb. 23, 2021: $100

*Free bag excludes Basic Economy. For travel to/from Panama, Colombia, or Ecuador, a $30 first bag fee applies, and for transatlantic flights, a $75 fee applies.
**For travel to/from Honduras, a $55 fee applies seasonally for the second bag.
***First and second bags are free when departing Cuba for the U.S. or Canada. When departing the U.S. or Canada for Cuba, baggage fees apply.

Additional/Excess Baggage Fees (Per One-Way)

Overweight Fee 51 to 70 pounds (23 to 32 kg): $100
Overweight Fee 71 to 100 pounds (32 to 45 kg): $200* (not accepted to/from Europe or to/from Cuba)
*Flights to/from China, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong will cost $450. Additionally, baggage over 71 pounds is not permitted on transatlantic flights or flights to/from Australia.

Oversized Fees

RegionLarger Than 62 Inches (158 cm)
Between the U.S., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Canada$200
Mexico, Caribbean, and Central and South America (except Panama)*$200
South America and Panama$150
Europe (transatlantic)$150
China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Australia (transpacific)$200

*Seasonal and/or year-round checked bag limitations apply to some cities in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

More than 1 fee may apply per bag — for example, the checked bag fee + oversize fee + overweight fee.

Excess Baggage Seasonal Restrictions

Seasonally, only 2 bags are permitted for select cities in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. You can view the applicable cities with seasonal limitations.

Excess Baggage Year-Round Restrictions

Only 2 bags are permitted for select cities in Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America. You can view the applicable cities with year-round limitations.

Sporting Equipment and Musical Instruments

Hot Tip: American Airlines accepts oversized sporting equipment and musical instruments within the checked luggage allowance, provided the item weighs less than 50 pounds and does not exceed 126 linear inches. This includes equipment such as skis/snowboards and suroards that can now be checked as the first bag from $0 to $75 (fee is route dependent).

Oversized items such as hang gliders, windsurfing equipment, or scuba tanks will still incur the $150 fee due to their specific handling requirements. You can find more information on specific items.

Can I Prepay for Baggage?

American Airlines does allow passengers the ability to prepay for luggage online or via the mobile app for selected domestic and Caribbean flights. This can be done when you check-in and up to 4 hours before departure.

Here are the ways to prepay:

  • Check-in for your booking on the American Airlines website and add up to 3 bags
  • Check-in for your booking on the American Airlines mobile app and add up to 3 bags

When logging in, if the option is not available to add baggage then this must be done at the airport check-in desk.

Credit Cards That Give You a Free Checked Bag With American Airlines

These Citi credit cards provide a free checked bag on your domestic flights with American Airlines. Friends and family can even receive a free checked bag when on your itinerary.

Check out the details of each card’s checked bag benefit below:

Exclusions and Waivers

Hot Tip: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan elites will enjoy baggage benefits when flying on American Airlines starting in summer 2021.

First checked bag is complimentary for:

  • Eligible AAdvantage® Aviator® and Citi® / AAdvantage® cardmembers (on domestic American Airlines-operated flights)
  • AAdvantage Gold
  • Oneworld Ruby

First and second checked bags are complimentary for:

First, second, and third checked bags are complimentary for:

*Executive Platinum and Oneworld Emerald members traveling in first on 3-cabin aircraft may check a fourth bag at no charge.

Active U.S. military and/or dependents with ID traveling on orders: first through fifth bags free of charge

Active U.S. military with ID on personal travel: first through third bags free of charge

To see more airline baggage fees and policies, click here.

Flying American Airlines, you can take on board 1 standard carry-on piece and 1 personal item. Your standard carry-on must not exceed maximum dimensions of 22 x 14 x 9 inches and your personal item must not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches.

If you’re flying American Airlines within the U.S., to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America (excluding Panama), or Colombia then you will be charged $30 per way for your first checked bag. If you’re flying transatlantic in basic economy then you will incur a $75 fee to add a checked bag.

You can bring a backpack on board in addition to your carry-on item provided it adheres to the maximum size dimensions of a personal item: 18 x 14 x 8 inches (i.e. a small backpack). Alternatively, you could use your carry-on allowance for the backpack and bring a smaller personal item in addition.

American Airlines does not state a weight limit for carry-on baggage. Typically, you would need to be able to comfortably lift and store the bag without assistance and still adhere to the size restrictions of 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

1 piece of checked baggage is free for eligible AAdvantage® Aviator® and Citi® / AAdvantage cardmembers (on domestic American Airlines-operated flights) and AAdvantage Gold members.

2 pieces of checked baggage are complimentary for AAdvantage Platinum Pro and AAdvantage Platinum members.

3 checked bags are free for AAdvantage Executive Platinum members.

American Airlines accepts cash payments for baggage fees at some airport ticket centers. You can check individual airports for cash acceptance and can also pay by credit or debit card, vouchers, or gift card.

With American Airlines, if your bag is over the weight of the standard checked baggage allowance then you will incur a fee.

If your bag weighs 51 to 70 pounds then you will be charged $100 per way and for bags 71 to 100 pounds, there is a charge of $200 (excluding flights to/from China, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong which will cost $450).

Bags over 71 pounds will not be accepted on transatlantic flights or flights to/from Cuba and Australia.

American Airlines permits passengers to check sporting equipment and musical instruments within their standard baggage allowance, provided the bag does not exceed 50 pounds or 126 linear inches. So if you’re traveling on a route where the first bag costs $30, then this is the fee you will pay to check your ski bag or other sports and musical equipment.

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How to Fly With Bikes, Surf Boards, Skis And Golf Clubs For Less

American Airlines scraps oversize bag fees for certain items

Editorial Note: Forbes may earn a commission on sales made from partner links on this page, but that doesn't affect our editors' opinions or evaluations.

Flying often comes with an array of hidden costs, and that’s true regardless of how you pay for airfare.

Even if you cover all your flights with frequent flyer miles, you’ll face government-mandated airline taxes and fees, and perhaps even fuel surcharges which can easily cost hundreds of dollars.

On top of those unavoidable fees, you may need to pay for other extras airport parking, seat selection and of course checked baggage.

If you wind up having to bring oversized sports equipment bikes, suroards, golf clubs or skis on your trip, you have the potential to face even more added fees. Fortunately, major U.S. carriers have mostly moved away from charging consumers exorbitant charges for sports equipment within the last few years.

For example, Delta Air Lines phased out their $150 specialty sports bag fee for items suroards, bicycles, scuba gear and bicycles in July 2019. From that point forward, customers could check these travel “extras” as part of their standard baggage allowance if certain requirements were met.

As of early 2020, this is also the case with American Airlines and United Airlines—two other major airlines with broad domestic and international networks. With these airlines, you can also treat most sports gear as a checked bag with some exceptions.

For example, all three airlines—Delta, United, and American—allow consumers to check sports gear as a normal checked bag provided it falls under the typical 50-pound weight limit applied to all checked bags. If your sports gear weighs more than that, you’ll get hit with an overweight baggage fee.

Also note that some rules apply to different types of gear. For example, Delta Air Lines limits the size of bicycles that can fly to 115 linear inches including length + width + height. You also cannot bring a bike that weighs more than 100 pounds on the plane, even if you pay an overweight baggage fee.

You should note that, beyond overweight baggage fees, airlines may charge fees for “oversized” baggage that doesn’t meet their requirements for length + width + height. The point at which oversized baggage fees come into play varies from airline to airline.

The following chart includes baggage fee information for major U.S. airlines. Keep in mind that the fees below apply to domestic flights, and that costs can vary dramatically for international itineraries.

How to Fly with Sports Equipment for Less

Here’s the good news: There’s a good chance your sports equipment can be treated as regular checked baggage if your package fits size and weight requirements, which vary by airline. Make sure to check with your airline to find out these details before you fly so you can make adjustments as needed.

Here are some additional steps you can take to fly with bikes, surf boards and other sports equipment for less.

Choose an Airline that Offers Free Checked Bags

If you’re flying a domestic route or to Mexico or the Caribbean, you should consider flying with Southwest Airlines if pricing is the same or better.

Southwest allows consumers to check two bags for free on all of their routes, and this is true whether the flight is paid for with cash or Southwest Rapid Rewards points.

This is easily the most generous baggage policy of any airline that flies popular domestic itineraries, so it’s wise to take advantage if you can.

other U.S. carriers, Southwest Airlines allows flyers to check sports equipment just any other bag, provided your package meets size and weight requirements. Your equipment has to weigh less than 50 pounds and not exceed 62 inches in terms of length plus height plus width. Some sports equipment will work better than others when it comes to meeting these requirements, of course.

Note that a $75 fee applies for overweight baggage and oversized baggage, and you can be charged both if your package is overweight and oversized.

Pick Up an Airline Credit Card that Offers Free Checked Bags

Having the ability to check sports gear without paying a special item fee is always good, but you will still have to pay a checked baggage fee as you normally would. Also keep in mind that you may need to check a regular bag with your clothes and supplies on top of your sports equipment, so it can help to have some sort of baggage benefit that can help soften the blow of these costs.

If you fly with a specific airline often, consider picking up an airline credit card that waives checked baggage fees for your first bag and potentially even guests on your itinerary. Here are some of the top airline credit cards that offer a free checked bag for cardholders:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®*: First checked bag free for you and up to four companions on your domestic itinerary
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®*: First checked bag free for you and up to eight companions on your domestic itinerary
  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold Card from American Express: First checked bag free on Delta flights for you and up to eight companions on the same reservation
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: First checked bag free on Delta flights for you and up to eight companions on the same reservation
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: First checked bag free on Delta flights for you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation
  • United℠ Explorer Card: First checked bag free for cardholder and companion on the same itinerary when you use your card to purchase your ticket
  • United Club℠ Card: First and second checked bag free for cardholder and companion on the same itinerary

Get a Credit Card with an Airline Fee Credit

In addition to co-branded airline credit cards that offer a free checked bag benefit, you should also consider flexible travel credit cards that offer airline fee credits or general travel credits.

While some credit cards that offer this benefit only apply your credits to a specific airline you choose ahead of time, others will apply your benefit to any travel charges that post to your account.

For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers up to $200 in airline fee credits each year that can be applied to seat selection, in-flight meals and internet access, checked baggage and more (see rates and fees).

However, you have to select an eligible airline for this credit to apply to, and you can only change your airline in January of each year.

That makes this perk better for consumers who fly with the same airline all the time, but not so great for people who aren’t loyal to a single carrier.

If you want a credit that’s a lot more flexible, you can consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or even the Citi Prestige® Card*.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a $300 annual travel credit that can be applied to any travel purchase you charge to your credit card each year, including checked baggage fees.

The same applies to the Citi Prestige® travel credit, although you’ll only receive $250 per year.

Keep in mind that travel credit cards that come with airline fee credits tend to charge high annual fees, but they also align with the best travel rewards programs available. The top travel credit cards also offer benefits airport lounge access, credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and more.

With that in mind, make sure you’re considering all the perks you can get in exchange for paying an annual fee. If you check sports equipment all the time and could benefit from an airline fee credit, it’s also possible you would enjoy some of the other premier travel benefits you would receive from a premium travel rewards credit card.

Earn Elite Status with an Airline

Finally, don’t forget about the prospect of earning elite status with an airline. Most frequent flyer programs offer a free checked baggage benefit for their elite members, although the exact details can vary.

With the American AAdvantage program, for example, AAdvantage Gold members receive one free checked bag, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Platinum Pro members receive two checked bags and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members receive three checked bags.

With the United MileagePlus frequent flyer program, however, you’ll receive one complimentary bag up to 70 pounds for free as a Premier Silver member. Premier Gold comes with two complimentary checked bags up to 70 pounds and Premier Platinum comes with three complimentary checked bags up to 70 pounds.

Bottom Line

Different frequent flyer programs extend their own unique free checked baggage benefit to their elite members, so make sure to check with your favorite airline to check on the specific policy.

If you have the ability to earn elite status by pooling all your flights with a single carrier, you could get your first checked bag for free at the very least and save some cash along the way, but even if you can’t you should be able to save on bag fees simply by picking up an airline credit card.

To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please visit this page.

To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, please visit this page.

To view rates and fees of Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Credit Card, please visit this page.

To view rates and fees of Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, please visit this page.


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