Which Airlines Have the Best (and Worst) Fees in 2024?

Some airlines sneak in extra charges for baggage and seat selection that can bust your travel budget.
Sam Kemmis
By Sam Kemmis 
Updated
Edited by Jeanette Margle
Which Airlines Have the Best (and Worst) Fees

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Editors note: This analysis does not include recent news from United, JetBlue, American and Alaska Airlines about raising bag fees.


Air travel costs come in two parts: the face value of the ticket, and the many fees that airlines attach after the fact. Sometimes, these airline fees can cost more than the fare itself.

This isn’t a mistake. Airlines are vying for the lowest price in travel searches, hoping to make up the cost in hidden fees.

When searching for airfare, it helps to know which airlines tack on more fees. For example, a $100 fare on a budget airline like Frontier Airlines isn't necessarily cheaper than a $159 fare from Delta? Add-on fees for seat assignments and carry-on bags can shrink the difference.

Determining which airlines have the best and worst fees can get complex in a hurry. To help minimize the complexity and make sense of these unexpected costs, we performed an analysis of nine major U.S. airlines across two fee categories: baggage fees and seat assignment fees.

We aimed to answer this question: What are the average additional fees on each airline? That is, how much extra will it cost to select a seat, bring one overhead carry-on and check one bag?

Lowest fees

Winner: Southwest Airlines

Southwest has made low fees a cornerstone of its business, so its winning average result is no surprise. The gap would be even greater had other airlines not followed Southwest’s lead in eliminating change fees.

Southwest is a bit of an odd duck in this analysis. Technically, it doesn't charge for seat selection fees, but it also doesn’t let passengers select their seats. So it’s not necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison with other airlines.

It’s important to keep in mind that these numbers are averages based on a hypothetical customer who selects a seat, carries on one bag and checks one bag. It includes fees for both main cabin and basic economy fares. The fees for any given ticket and situation will vary significantly from this average. If you don’t check a bag or choose a seat, your average fees will be lower.

Lowest baggage fees

Winner: Southwest Airlines

For this part of the analysis, we asked a simple question: How much does it cost to check one bag and bring one full-size carry-on on a main-cabin, domestic flight?

The results are fairly straightforward. Southwest charges absolutely no bag fees. Delta, American, Alaska, JetBlue and United charge $35 for the first checked bag as long as you pay for the bag before at least 24 hours before departure. Hawaiian charges $30 if you're flying within Hawaii, $40 if you're flying to North America. Low-cost airlines Spirit and Frontier separate from the pack here, as they charge customers for all overhead carry-on items (either a la carte or as part of a ticket type upgrade).

Many airlines offer branded credit cards that offset these fees, quickly making up for their annual fee for travelers who fly with bags. So these fees are less of a concern for those with such a credit card, those who have elite status or those who pack light.

Cards with free baggage benefits
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card
United℠ Explorer Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
NerdWallet Rating
Rates & Fees
Barclays JetBlue Plus Credit Card
JetBlue Plus Card
NerdWallet Rating
Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Bank of America's website

Annual fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $150
$0 intro for the first year, then $95
$99
$99
$95
Checked bag benefit

First checked bag free for you and up to eight others on your reservation. Terms apply.

First checked bag free for you and a companion traveling on your reservation.

First checked bag free for you and up to four others traveling on your reservation.

First checked bag free for you and up to three others traveling on your reservation.

First checked bag free for you and up to six others traveling on your reservation.

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Note: We did not include international baggage fees in this analysis. These fees vary by destination, airline and whether partner airlines are involved.

If you want to avoid airline fees

Airline fees are a complicated headache, and it can be easy to give up on trying to understand them. Yet we found that airlines differ significantly in the frequency and cost of baggage and seat selection fees. Choosing to fly with Southwest and avoiding Frontier and Spirit is a good 80/20 solution for avoiding these pesky fees.

If you don’t have much choice in which airline to fly, consider other strategies for avoiding fees: Get a branded airline credit card that covers baggage fees, and opt out of seat selection altogether whenever possible. You might get stuck in a middle seat near the bathroom, but you might also score a seat near the front of the plane without paying a dime.

Note that we did not cover every airline fee in this analysis. Wi-Fi, food and even a bottle of water on some airlines can tack on even more to the base price of your airfare. This “a la carte” approach to pricing means lower costs in travel search engine results but higher overall costs. Savvy customers can take advantage of this system by both understanding it and opting out of the more ludicrous add-ons.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5%-5%

Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

Up to $300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
See more travel cards
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