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Co-branded airline credit cards might not offer as much rewards value as general travel credit cards for some consumers. After all, airline card rewards and redemptions are with a single airline or its partners.
But one perk of many airline credit cards stands out for even occasional flyers: free checked bags on domestic flights.
Even if you fly just once a year, that benefit alone can often pay for the card's annual fee.
Top cards that offer free checked bags
(Note: Some lower-tier airline cards don’t offer the free-bag benefit and are excluded below, as are co-branded airline cards for small businesses.)
Why bag-fee waivers are valuable
Being a cardholder means you can get a waiver for checked bag fees, typically for you and others traveling on the same reservation. The number of free bags per flight varies among airlines and their cards. For example, a card might offer a bag-fee waiver for you and one other person or eight others, depending on the card.
The bag-waiver perk could save you hundreds of dollars a year, depending on how often you travel with checked bags and how often you travel with others who do the same.
Example: A couple each checking a bag round-trip on an airline that charges $30 bag fees would save $60 going and $60 returning, or $120 on a single trip. Large airlines charge around $100 per year for cards that include the bag-fee perk, so you'd be saving money with such a card.
Nerd tip: Southwest co-branded credit cards are different. Your first two checked bags are already free on that airline; its cards don't offer anything additional on that front.
Things to keep in mind
The best airline credit card for bag benefits is the one for the airline you fly most. But details of the benefit vary by credit card, so it's important to know what your card offers and what other exceptions may be in the fine print.
Typically, for instance, the perk doesn’t apply to overweight bags (usually 50 pounds or more) or international flights, and the cardholder usually must be on the flight itinerary.
Review your card's terms and conditions to make sure.
Information about the following cards has been collected independently by NerdWallet and has not been provided or reviewed by the issuer of the cards:
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®