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Airline Credit Cards’ Unsung Perk: Free Checked Bags

Airline Credit Cards, Credit Cards
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Airline credit cards don’t usually offer as much value as general travel credit cards. Airline cards tend to come with bonus rewards that can only be earned on purchases with the airline, and rewards are typically inflexible, with redemption restricted to that airline and its alliance partners.

But there’s one perk some airline credit cards offer that is often underestimated: free checked bags. Depending on the card and how often you travel, you could save hundreds of dollars in the long run, putting your savings far above what you might earn in rewards with a general travel card. These cards typically charge an annual fee, though, so that can cut into your total savings.

The top airline cards that offer free checked bags

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

With the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, not only can you check your first bag for free, but up to eight other passengers on your itinerary can, too. That’s a potential savings of $450 per round-trip flight.

Though it’s uncommon to fly with that many people, families big and small can benefit from the card’s baggage perk, especially if they’re frequent flyers. The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95.

Learn more about the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express on our full review.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best travel rewards credit cards

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

Though not as valuable as the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express in this regard, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® still offers an above-average bag perk: Get the first checked bag free for you and up to four other people traveling with you. That’s up to $250 worth of savings per round-trip flight.

Again, you may not be able to fully take advantage of the benefit every time you fly, but it’s there if you need it. The card has an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95.

Want to know more? Check out our full review.

A note about Southwest

Since Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge a fee for checked bags, its co-branded credit cards technically qualify as cards that get you free checked bags. Check out that airline’s credit card lineup here.

Airline cards and free checked bags

Credit card Card’s checked baggage allowance* Airline’s regular baggage charge Potential savings per round-trip flight†
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card First bag free for you and up to 6 other passengers on your reservation $25 first bag, $25 second bag $350
(annual fee is $75)
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® First bag free for you and up to 4 other passengers on your reservation $25 first bag, $35 second bag $250
(annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95)
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® First bag free for you and up to 8 other passengers on your reservation $25 first bag, $35 second bag $450
(annual fee is $450)
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® First bag free for you and up to 4 other passengers on your reservation $25 first bag, $35 second bag $250
(annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95)
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express First bag free for you and up to 8 other passengers on your reservation $25 first bag, $35 second bag $450
(annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95)
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card First bag free for you and up to 8 other passengers on your reservation $25 first bag, $25 second bag $450
(annual fee is annual fee is $195)
Delta Reserve Credit Card First bag free for you and up to 8 other passengers on your reservation $25 first bag, $25 second bag $450
(annual fee is $450)
The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard® First bag free for you $25 first bag, $35 second bag within the U.S.; all other destinations free $50
(annual fee is $89)
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card First bag free for you and one other passenger on your reservation $25 first bag, $35 second bag $100
(annual fee is $95)
US Bank AeroMexico Visa® Card First bag free for all AeroMexico customers on domestic flights, no credit card required First bag free, second bag varies by itinerary Up to $50 per person‡
(annual fee is waived the first year and $45 every year thereafter)
US Bank AeroMexico Visa Secured First bag free for all AeroMexico customers on domestic flights, no credit card required First bag free, second bag varies by itinerary Up to $50 per person‡
(annual fee is waived the first year and $25 every year thereafter)
Virgin America Visa Signature® Card First bag free for you and one other passenger on your reservation $25 first bag, $25 second bag $100
(annual fee is $49)

*Typically doesn’t apply to overweight bags (50 lbs. or more)
Calculated by multiplying what you would have spent on baggage by the total number of complimentary bags offered
Based on average baggage costs at major airlines

The bottom line

If you’re a frequent flyer looking to maximize your rewards, general travel credit cards may look better than airline cards because they’re generally more flexible and offer more rewards earning options. But don’t forget the checked bag perks you can find on many airline credit cards. The amount you save could far outpace what you would earn in rewards.

Ben Luthi is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email:bluthi@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @benluthi.


Image via iStock.