Is $40 the new standard for airline baggage fees?

ConsumerAffairs

An airline revenue expert says this is necessity, not greed

American Airlines (AA) is upping the price for checked baggage. Joining Alaska and JetBlue – and leaving Southwest Airlines as the only major airline offering free checked bags – AA’s fee is based on when and where you pay for your bags.

If you do it when you purchase the ticket at AA.com, it’ll be $35. If you wait until you get to the airport, it’s $40. And if you want to check a second bag, you’ll be shelling out another $45. 

Those all apply to domestic flights. The new bag fees for Canada and short-haul international flights are $35 for first checked bags and $45 for second checked bags purchased online or at the airport.

Does this qualify as greed or need?

Before you go claiming that this is nothing but greed that falls in line with $5 for a bag of chips, $29.95 for two inches more legroom, and $15 to board before someone else, one airline revenue expert says it’s anything but.

“I think American's increase is more nuanced than a simple grab for more revenue. Their chief commercial officer mentioned the company's desire to move low-fare consumers along this path: buy basic economy, then spend more on a la carte extras to add comfort, then enroll in AAdvantage, and finally to apply for a co-branded credit card,” Jay Sorenson, the president of IdeaWorksCompany, an analyzer of ancillary revenue that airlines use to pump up their bank accounts.

Sorenson says that a higher bag fee encourages consumers to buy Main Cabin or above and to truly consider the checked bag benefit of the credit card.

“The airline must also believe it has the "carry-on problem," an industry-wide issue, under control because these increases discourage checked bags,” he told ConsumerAffairs.

It’s not AA’s only change, though

Starting in May, AA wants its customers to come to it first – not Expedia or Kayak or any other online travel agency. And it says that if you do, they’ll make it worth your while as in earning miles and Loyalty Points on flights when you:

  1. Book directly with American and eligible partner airlines

  2. Book travel anywhere as an AAdvantage Business member or contracted corporate traveler

  3. Book through preferred travel agencies. American will share a list of eligible preferred agencies on aa.com in late April

  4. Basic Economy fare tickets will only earn when booked directly with American and eligible partner airlines

Where do all the airlines stack up on baggage fees now?

Here’s a quick breakdown of how the landscape is changing on baggage fees: 

Airline

First checked bag

Second checked bag

Notes

Alaska Airlines

$35

$45

Fees apply as of Jan 2nd, 2024.

Delta

$30

$40

Standard fees for domestic flights.

Frontier Airlines

$59 (booking)

$74 (before check-in)

$99 (airport)

JetBlue

$35

$50

Cheaper to add bags before check-in or with Mosaic frequent flyer membership.

Spirit Airlines

$44 (booking)

$49 (carry-on)

When you book your bag at the same time as you book your flight, you can save up to $20 per bag compared to waiting until later (like at the airport).
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Spirit Airlines sometimes offers discounts on bags on these days, so it's worth checking their website or app to see if there are any current deals.

Southwest

Free (2 bags)

$125

Free checked bags are a major perk, additional bags and overweight fees apply.

United Airlines

$35

$45

Those fees are standard for most domestic flights.

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