My head is swimming. I’ve been scouring flight search engines like Dohop and Skyscanner for the flights every which way across the United States. Just when I think I’ve found a cheap flight, I look up the baggage fees for the airline and realize these fees will sometimes add over $100 to each ticket.

To make my life easier I created this table detailing the baggage fees for airlines in the US. It’s a lot easier to compare the cost of a flight when you know what each airline charges for baggage.

Baggage Fees for Airlines in the US (2013)

Airline First Bag Second Bag Carry On
Air Tran $25 $35 Free
Alaska Airlines $20 $20 Free
Allegiant Air $35 $35 $30
American Airlines $25 $35 Free
Delta $25 $35 Free
Frontier Airlines $20 $20 Free
Hawaiian Airlines $25 $35 Free
Jet Blue Free $40 Free
Southwest Free Free Free
Spirit $30 $40 $35
United Airlines $25 $35 Free
US Airways $25 $35 Free
Virgin America $25 $25 Free

 

From this table you can clearly see that some airlines make life simple by keeping their baggage free (Southwest) and some like to gauge you for every last penny.

Southwest are the real winners, offering two checked bags and carry on completely free of charge. They don’t show up on flight aggregators like Skyscanner though so you need to remember to check their website for specific routes. We flew Southwest from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and they were great. While the seats are basic, checking in is easy and passengers are offered free drinks and snacks on board.

Spirit, on the other hand, will “nickel & dime” you throughout your journey and it starts with their baggage policy. Checking two bags and carrying one on board will cost you a whopping $105 more than the sticker fare! I’ve heard horror stories from people who have flown Spirit. Just read their reviews on AirlineQuality.com. There are one or two routes where we may have to fly them as they’re significantly cheaper than other airlines.

It’s worth noting that carry on allowance are a lot more generous in the US than they are in other parts of the world. Airlines policies vary but generally they allow either 25 lbs or 35 lbs. Virgin America places no weight limit on their carry on baggage. Carry on baggage should be less than 50 linear inches (height + width + depth of the bag).

Charging for carry on bags stinks! The airlines that charge you for carry on baggage will still allow you to take one small personal item, like a handbag or laptop bag, on board for free. Baby gear and mobility devices are of course free on all airlines.

In addition to charging for carry on, both Spirit and Allegiant will only allow you 40 lbs (18 kgs) per checked baggage instead of the standard 50 lbs (23 kgs) that other airlines offer.

Most people don’t travel with more than one or two checked bags but, for those that do, the cost of a third bag is significantly more. Virgin were the only airline I noticed that didn’t do this, anything up to 10 bags is still $25 per bag.

 

Bookmark this post if you’re planning any domestic flights within the US soon. I guarantee it will come in handy when working out the cheapest fare!

 

 

Cover image source: Wiki Images 

Bethaney Davies
A traveller for over ten years, Bethaney started blogging here on Flashpacker Family in early 2012. She founded the site to encourage and inspire travel and travel with small children and to share her own stories from the road.
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Showing 17 comments
  • Travel with Bender (Erin)
    Reply

    We just bought Spirit fares and save a fare bit by becoming a member. We also are carrying on no bags and checking them all for $20 each. I like Jetblue, something about free bags makes you feel good. i didnt know that about SOuthwest on skyscanner, interesting.

  • Reply

    very interesting that Spirit charges more for carry on than for a checked bag. Very good to keep in mind! I wonder if other airlines will follow this trend in the future to cut down on all those roller bags in the overhead.

  • Kathryn
    Reply

    Since I sometimes travel with a bike I have to remember to check the bike fees for different airlines which can vary widely from reasonable (same cost as a bag) to astronomical. From memory, Delta fees were the worst.

  • Thomas
    Reply

    I can’t believe they’re charging for carry on luggage in the US now! I read another article about a $100 fee with one airline, how ridiculous is that! Thanks for the table, i’m heading to the states soon so that should come in handy with all the prices.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Reply

    We always tried to fly Southwest back in the States whenever we could. It never used to be a hardship, but in the past year or so, their prices have skyrocketed and we find they are rarely the cheapest carrier anymore. That said, we always traveled carry-on only, which is much easier in the States as they don’t ever seem to have weight restrictions on carry on (or if they do, they don’t even try to enforce them). The great thing is in the States they rarely if ever ask to see your bag and most places offer “skycheck” if your bag happens to be smallish, but not small enough to fit in the overhead compartment…you just take your bag to the gate and they put in on the plane there and this never costs a cent!

    I wish more places only charged $25 to check one bag! We were looking at RyanAir flights and to check your first bag, it’s $40US! Given their ridiculous weight restrictions, we’d have to check our bags, but at $80US for the two of us, I’ll just be looking into other airlines!

  • Kimmy @ AfterGlobe
    Reply

    Welcome to the US- The land of charging a fee for every little thing to fly. Because of this, in the continental US, we usually fly JeyBlue or Southwest. Both have cheap tickets and don’t charge to check that first bag. JetBlue also gives out lots of good snacks, drinks and has TVs for each seat.

  • Izy Berry
    Reply

    Thanks for the info! It is really a challenge to find cheap airlines with free or cheap baggage fees!

  • Reply

    Insane! My, how things have changed since my family and I used to fly SW on standby for $25 bucks a pop! I’ve become an expert packer living in Europe, though, ha!

  • wandering educators
    Reply

    oh my GOSH. this is asinine.

  • Nicole @ Suitcase Stories
    Reply

    Ill definitely try and book with Southwest when I can! I think its total BS that you pay for baggage. It never used to be like that on any flight! How times are changin!

  • Jenna
    Reply

    I know–it’s crazy. And then people try to bring on huge carry-ons!

  • Charli l Wanderlusters
    Reply

    Not having to pay for your baggage makes such a difference to the cost of a flight. Thanks for this savvy guide Bethaney. Booking marking now!

  • the lazy travelers
    Reply

    oh my god, spirit. i flew them to mexico once and NEVER EVER EVER AGAIN. soo not worth it. seriously. run away.

  • Larissa
    Reply

    A great summary, Bethany.

    Sigh. This, alas, is airline travel in the US. It has become a point of pride for Southwest to offer free bags, and is a major part of their advertising campaign. They are a very well-run airline as well. Nothing fancy, just good, reliable travel.

    I will say that I think the real culprit in this trend is RyanAir in Europe. It’s great to get a fare for 1 euro, but then you have to pay taxes, fees, more taxes, more fees, and if you forget to pre-print your boarding pass at home it might cost an additional 40 or 50 euros at the airport!

    The lesson for us all is to know exactly what (and what not) is included in the price. Only THEN can we make an informed decision. 🙂

  • Reply

    Never been to the US but everywhere I travel, I always try to pack light so that I don’t have to pay the baggage fees. It can save you a lot of money if you fly often!

  • lola
    Reply

    UGH! i hate the baggage fees. i actually hate all the stupid airline fees. between Southwest & Jet Blue, Jet Blue is my overall favorite.

  • TammyOnTheMove
    Reply

    These fees are actually similar to the ones of low cost carriers in Europe. I hate the fact that they charge you so much for luggage now. It just encourages passengers to take more hand luggage with them, which in return causes problems to store your hand luggage properly, as the overheadlockers are often already full when you board a plane later.

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