Here Are a Few Ways Around Those Rising Airline Baggage Fees

People walk inside John F. Kennedy International Airport at the Delta Airlines gate in New York City on April 27, 2018. littleny/Getty Images

JetBlue did it first. Then United did it. And now, Delta and American have joined their competitors in hiking fees for checked baggage.

It now costs $30 each way for the first checked bag and $40 for the second bag — up from $25 and $35, respectively.

In a statement, American Airlines said it hadn’t raised the fees since 2010.

That’s cold comfort to passengers, said Douglas Kidd, executive director of the National Association of Airline Passengers. He said Wall Street is pressuring the airlines, whose stocks are publicly traded, to ratchet up fees to maximize profits.

In the first six months of 2018, United reaped nearly $603,000 from baggage fees, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. United took in more than $411,000, Delta $375,000 and JetBlue $150,000.

“Wall Street wants them to upsell,” said Kidd, whose nonprofit advocates for passengers. “We say charge what you need to charge [for a ticket], and don’t nickel-and-dime the passenger to death.”

What You Can Do to Avoid Checked-Baggage Fees

Short of driving or taking a train or bus, passengers have a few options:

  1. Fly Southwest, which still allows passengers to check two bags for free. “Southwest is very proud to offer our Bags Fly Free program,” company spokesman Dan Landson said. “We have no current plans to start charging for checked bags.”
  2. Apply for an airline-branded credit card. Some cards include waived baggage fees. But the terms vary from card to card and annual fees are required, so you’ll have to do the math to make sure the trade-off makes sense for you.
  3. Buy an airline baggage subscription. These pricy plans — United’s start at $349 a year, plus a $50 initiation fee that currently is being waived — are best for people who fly often. For that price, United allows a traveler and up to eight companions on the same reservation to check two bags each.
  4. Travel light. This obviously is the most practical choice for budget travelers. As a general rule, airlines allow one free carry-on bag small enough to fit in an overhead bin and one personal item such as a purse, computer bag or briefcase, Kidd said. (In basic economy class on American, only a personal item is allowed.) He advises flyers to always pack a change of clothes, clean underwear and a few toiletries in a carry-on bag even if they do check other luggage —  just in case it gets lost.
  5. If you need a large bag, price the parcel rate and ship it a few days in advance if it’s cheaper.
  6. Buy stock in the airline you fly (it doesn’t have to be a lot) and complain to shareholder relations as well as consumer relations. Shareholders have more clout, Kidd said.

“Traveling today is enough to test the patience and equanimity of most passengers,” he said

Susan Jacobson is an editor at The Penny Hoarder.