Airline Baggage Fee Chart: Don’t Get Gypped

Baggage

Travelers rejoice! Airline baggage fees are one of the most confusing ways to lose money–until now. The recent release of NerdWallet’s airline fee comparison tool is ushering in a new age of clarity. We used the tool to generate a simplified table of basic baggage fees for domestic airlines. These numbers are brand new and verified as of Spring 2012. We’ll further expound on this data momentarily, but here’s a quick look at baggage fees across domestic airlines.

Keep in mind, these rate are per round trip ticket. So if you have 3 checked bags across 3 tickets, you should look at the price of 1 checked bags 3 times, not the price of 3 check bags 1 time. Make sense? Basically, the cost resets with each new ticket. Also, please note this chart assumes the highest possible price for each item.

1 Carry-on 1 Checked Bag 2 Checked Bags 3 Checked Bags 4 Checked Bags 5 Checked Bags
Airtran  FREE  $40  $90  $190  $290  $390
Alaska  FREE  $40  $80  $120  $220  $320
Allegiant  $70  $59.98  $119.96  $219.96  $319.96  N/A
American  FREE  $50  $120  $420  $720  $1,020
Delta  FREE  $50  $120  $370  $770  $1,170
Frontier  FREE  $40  $80  $180  $280  $380
Hawaiian  FREE  $50  $120  $370  $620  $870
Jetblue  FREE  FREE  $80  $230  $380  $530
Southwest  FREE  FREE  FREE  $100  $200  $300
Spirit  $80 $76  $166  $356  $546  $736
United  FREE  $50  $120  $320  $520  $720
US Airways  FREE  $50  $120  $370  $770  $1,170
Virgin  FREE  $50  $100  $150  $200  $250

 

Winners and losers

In most scenarios, Southwest will be your best friend when it comes to luggage. Every ticket gets 1 free carry-on and 2 free checked bags. Each bag beyond your allotted 2 will incur a $100 charge ($50 each way). If you’re flying domestically with 4 or fewer checked bags, you can’t go wrong with Southwest. However, if you’re flying with 5 or more, take a look at Virgin. Virgin only allows 1 free checked bag per ticket, but each additional piece is a mere $50 ($25 each way). When you hit 5 checked bags, Virgin overtakes Southwest as the cheapest baggage option.

You’ll notice Spirit appears the least appealing airline for most travelers. While it’s true they do charge some seemingly outrageous fees, understand they operate on a slightly different business model. Spirit generally charges cheaper fares and compensates with higher fees. This unique structure may be a viable option for budget travelers who don’t require additional services, but the vast majority of us will appreciate not be charged for carry-on items.

By the way, we recently used this data to put together an infographic demonstrating the cheapest airlines for various flyer profiles. Check it out!

Overweight and oversized

Flying with big bags? Airlines will charge you extra if your luggage exceeds specified measurements. Here’s a quick guide to overweight and oversized baggage fees. As with the first table, these are round trip prices. These figures also include the checked bag fee where applicable. If you’d like numbers for a specific weight or size, play with our comparison tool and set your own stipulations!

60 lb. Overweight Bag 80 lb. Overweight Bag 99 lb. Overweight Bag 60 inch Oversized Bag 90 inch Oversized Bag 115 inch Oversized Bag
Airtran  $140  $140  $140  $140  N/A  N/A
Alaska  $140  $140  $140  $40  $190  $190
Allegiant  $159.98  $209.98  $209.98  $59.98  $209.98  $209.98
American  $250  $450  $450  $50  $450  $450
Delta $230  $400  $400  $50  $650  $650
Frontier $190  $190  $190  $40  $190  $380
Hawaiian  $150  $120  $120  $250 N/A  N/A
Jetblue  $100  $200  $200  FREE  N/A  N/A
Southwest  $100  $100  $100  FREE  N/A  N/A
Spirit  $176 $276  $276  $276  $376  $376
United  $250  $450 $450  $50  $250  $250
US Airways  $230  $400  $400  $400  N/A N/A
Virgin $150  $250  $250  $50  $200  $250

*Please note that JetBlue and Southwest do charge oversized bag fees for bags 63″-80″.
 

Unsurprisingly, Southwest is the clear overweight champ (bad pun on “heavyweight”?). United and American are the airlines to avoid if you’re checking overweight bags. You’ll notice a big shift between 60 and 80lbs. but no change between 80 and 99. The big fee increase lurks around 70lbs. As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid hitting the 70lb. mark if possible.

As for oversize bags, you’ll see a lot of N/As in this category. Many airlines impose restrictions that even fees can’t conquer. If your bag is too big, it won’t fly. Many of the airlines drop off around 80 inches. For a single piece of overweight luggage, Allegiant is actually the best choice from 63 to 80 inches because they do not start charging extra until you exceed 80. Most other airline impose overweight fees after 62 inches. In this scenario, stay away from Delta.

For a complete database of domestic airline fees (including baggage, change, pets, unaccompanied minors and more), head over to our airline fee comparison tool as linked to earlier in this article.