Airline Baggage Fees: Know the Different Fees for Different Bags

Avoid Baggage Fees with Carry-on Bags

Longtime visitors to the FareCompare site know my personal golden rule when it comes to baggage fees and avoiding additional airline fees: always use a carry-on bag. A quick glance at our Domestic Airline Baggage Fee Chart will tell you why: a single checked-bag can add $50 to the cost of your trip.

Note:“Airlines can and do change fees without warning or notice; for example,”in February of 2011, US Airways quietly increased fees”for overweight and oversized checked-bags. While we do update the information on our chart regularly, always check with your carrier for the very latest information.

For those times when you feel you must check a bag – when you’re going on a very long vacation or a business trip requires baggage you just can’t carry comfortably -“unless you fly free-bag airlines like JetBlue and Southwest, you will pay additional airline baggage fees.

There are five major classifications for baggage fees: the regular checked-bag fees which most are familiar with by now, plus double baggage fees, overweight baggage fees, oversize baggage fees and excess baggage fees.

Double Baggage Fees

Fees for overweight and/or oversize checked baggage are expensive, and these baggage fees are in addition to the checked-bag fee; in other words a big or heavy bag will cost you two separate fees. If you don’t travel much, this may take you by surprise – and there’s a reason for that, says Chris McGinnis of the Travel Skills Group: “The airlines had enforced payment of the overweight/ oversize fees willy-nilly until recently, when they realized these fees were a pot of gold.” By staying aware of your airline’s checked-baggage weight allowances, you can avoid adding to the pot.

Most airlines charge a fee for overweight bags, and the weight allowance can vary depending on the carrier:

  • Most U.S. and international carriers allow 50 lbs per bag before adding overweight fees
  • Smaller carriers tend to have stricter weight allowances: Ryanair 33 lbs, Spirit 40 lbs

Overweight Baggage Fees

Overweight baggage fees vary by airline. “Check your airline carrier’s website for the latest information. Following are some examples:

  • Delta overweight baggage fee charge: Up to $175 each-way
  • Southwest overweight baggage fee charge: $50 each-way (though no checked-bag fee)
  • United overweight baggage fee charge: $100 each-way

Oversize Baggage Fees

Check with your airline since oversize fees, and the size and/or specific items that constitute “oversize” bags can vary greatly from carrier to carrier. The rules can be complicated, too. For example, United allows passengers one snow board or pair of skies as a regular checked- bag item, but a second set is considered oversize.

If you’re transporting pole vaulting poles, the oversize fee is per pole. A rack of antlers is considered a “special item” that carries a fee of $100 each-way.

Excess Baggage Fees

Most airlines allow passengers two checked-bags, and most charge a fee for each one; check more than two bags and you’ll pay an “excess baggag fee” that varies by airline.

How to Avoid Additional Baggage Fees

There are a few things you can do to avoid steep additional baggage fees:

  • Use a hand-held luggage scale: Weigh your bag at home (scales available for under $20)
  • Wear your heaviest items: Don yor boots and coat and fill up those coat pockets
  • Redistribute weight: If your bag is too heavy by a pound or two, put more items in your carryon, or place them in a family member’s underweight bag

Have you ever been surprised (or shocked) by overweight/oversize/excess bag fees or hidden fees sprung on you at the last minute? Share with us below.


Published: December 21, 2010