High Baggage Fees Weighing You Down? See Which Airlines Charge the Least

Airline baggage fees
Susan Shain explores Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Fla. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Americans, we have a lot of baggage.

No, I’m not talking figuratively. I’m talking about actual baggage like luggage and suitcases — the stuff airlines love to charge extra fees for when you book a flight.

And apparently, those fees are really fueling profits. According to CNN Money, passengers flying on the 25 largest U.S. airlines collectively paid $4.2 billion in baggage fees last year. That’s nearly a third — about 31% — of the $13.6 billion the airlines collectively made in profits.

The amount paid in baggage fees is up 10% from the year before.

Executives from major airlines discussed — and defended — the fees in a recent hearing before Congress regarding customer service matters across the industry, CNN Money reported.

“We view charging for checked bags as the way to keep other fares low,” said Scott Kirby, United Airlines’ president.

William McGee, a former airline executive testifying on behalf of Consumers Union, spoke in opposition, saying, “Every day there are higher and higher fees. Passengers are getting gouged.”

Airline Baggage Fees at a Glance

So, what should you know about baggage fees — and packing light — so you don’t get charged an arm and a leg trying to tote your shirts and pants to your next desired destination?

First of all, we want to make it easy for you. It’s great to use flight comparison sites like Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity, fly.com or more. But remember, those prices are based on the flight alone. This is how baggage fees tend to sneak up on you.

So, we researched the baggage policies for 12 major U.S. airlines to find out how much they charge for flights within the U.S.

This handy guide is based on standard tickets. Business and first-class passengers, plus members of airlines’ loyalty clubs, may receive discounted rates or free bags in some cases. However, an upgraded ticket or loyalty membership comes at a cost.

Disclaimer: Prices may vary based on when you book your flight.

Choose Your Airline Wisely

Now the next time you book a flight, you’ll be armed with more knowledge about how much you’ll really be spending.

Southwest’s two free checked bags policy is a winner for those with significant luggage to tote. Virgin’s flat rate of $25 per checked bag is also pretty sweet.

If you’re flying on Allegiant, Frontier or Spirit, make sure your personal item will fit under the seat. If its size bumps it to carry-on luggage dimensions, you’ll end up with a charge.

And for Allegiant or Spirit passengers, you also might want to weigh your checked bags before you get to the airport. These airlines have a 40-pound weight limit before doling overweight baggage fees — instead of the 50-pound cap other airlines use.

Pack More Efficiently

Sure, having less suitcases will typically mean paying less to travel, but we can’t all pack light on every trip. Here are a couple packing hacks I use to make the most of limited space.

  1. Roll, not fold. I do this every time I travel now. I don’t exactly know the science behind it, but when you tightly roll up articles of clothing, it seems to take up less space than folding them.

Plus, you usually end up with items that are less wrinkly, which is great, because I know you’re not packing an iron!

I’ll usually roll an entire outfit together or a few tops and then a few bottoms.

  1. Stuff your shoes. Use the space in your shoes to stuff small items — pairs of socks, underwear, a skimpy swimsuit or even tiny toiletries in plastic bags. You’ll save space and your footwear won’t get smashed.
  1. See what you can carry on free. Outside of your personal item or carry-on bag, many airlines won’t charge to take on certain items like reading material, jackets, diaper bags and medical gear.

You’ll have to check your specific airline’s policy, but if that’s the case, be sure to take those items out of your luggage.

And don’t tell TSA, but there may or may not have been occasions where my daughter’s diaper bag held suitcase overflow that was non-baby related.

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She enjoys traveling on Spirit Airlines, even though they have a lot of baggage fees.