International Baggage Fees: Don't be Blindsided on International Flights

These days, the purchase of an airline ticket for a domestic flight means you get a seat, and that’s about it. International flights may not fare much better.

U.S. airline fees can include charges for any extras including food, early seat selection, pre-boarding and – checking baggage. These baggage fees vary and you can see the different prices per airline on the FareCompare Domestic Baggage Fee Chart. (We do our best to keep it current, but airlines can and do change their fees with no notice or warning. Be sure to confirm prices when you book your tickets.)

Before you start packing for your international flight, I’ve got a number one rule for international travel to share: don’t bring valuables on a trip. However, if you must, try to keep them in your carry-on baggage and be prepared to declare them to get through customs quickly and painlessly.

As one of my favorite travel packing experts, Farnoosh Brock says, “Never put your electronics or jewelry or other valuables (for me, my tango shoes!) in your checked luggage.” She has more tips on her Prolific Living travel blog.

Also remember to keep medications and important documents with you at all times. Checked bags can easily become lost bags–and the all the more difficult to recover on international flights.

U.S. Airline International Baggage Fees

When it comes to baggage fees for international flights, they’re all over the map. I’m afraid policies vary from airline to airline and from route to route. Let’s use American Airlines as an example. Here is a sampling of some of American’s baggage fees – and some instances of free checked-baggage -for some of AA’s international destinations:

  • American Airlines Flights to Europe: One Free Checked-Bag
  • American flights between the U.S. and Canada: $25 one-way first checked-bag
  • American flights between the U.S. and Mexico: one free checked-bag
  • American flights between the U.S. and Caribbean destinations: varies

Please note, these fees are for coach passengers only. First class travelers, elite miles program members and military travelers generally get a free checked-bag allowance.

American is not the only U.S. carrier that gives travelers to Europe one free checked-bag. Other carriers offering free checked-baggage include Delta, United and US Airways. However, fees generally vary by destination, and by airline. For example, Spirit Airlines charges a baggage fee to all its international destinations, while JetBlue’s one free checked-baggage policy extends to its international destinations as well as its U.S. cities.

Be sure to check your airline’s international baggage fee policies for all the details.

Baggage Fees on International Airlines

Many European airlines allow international travelers one free checked-bag, including British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa. However, charges on some carriers, such as Dublin-based discount carrier Ryanair can be quite steep:

  • Ryanair charges $23 each-way for first checked-bag ($54 each-way at the airport)
  • Ryanair checked-bag weight limit: 33 pounds (compared to 50 pounds for most U.S. carriers)
  • Ryanair baggage fees rise during July and August

Again, don’t be blindsided: check with your individual airline to know the exact baggage fees before you fly.

How to Avoid International Baggage Fees

I always try to avoid baggage fees, and I like to make a quick getaway from the airport. If this sounds good to you, take my advice: Always use a carry-on bag. Yes, it can be done even when traveling internationally. I used a carryon during a recent ten-day trip to Italy and it worked out just fine. Let me know how it works for you.

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Published: December 10, 2010