Airlines Have Revised Baggage Fees, Timing Determines Cost of Checking a Bag

Airlines Have Revised Baggage Fees, Timing Determines Cost of Checking a Bag
Image Source: United Airlines airplanes proceed to a runway at Newark Liberty International Airport | Photo by Gary Hers

Airlines are once again increasing the cost of checking in your luggage. However, the amount you pay will be determined by when you decide to pay for this service. United carriers, American Airlines, and JetBlue Airways are among the carriers that have lately hiked their baggage-check fees. They charge extra to check your bags at the airport or close to your departure time than if you pay online in advance.

Image Source: Photo by Esther | Pexels
Image Source: Photo by Esther | Pexels

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Airlines recommend that consumers pay for their luggage checks before arriving at the airport. They claim that this will assist minimize wait times at check-in counters and let passengers get to their gates faster. American Airlines recently upped its checked bag prices for the first time in over five years. They've implemented a two-tiered price structure, similar to United, JetBlue, and several other budget carriers.

If you book online ahead of time, you may now check a first bag on domestic flights with American Airlines in coach class for $35 but if you choose to purchase this service at the airport, it will cost $40, which is an increase in the prior fee of $30 for both choices. However, there are several exceptions to this new norm. Customers who use a special airline or rewards credit cards, fly in a top-tier class, or have elite frequent flyer status can usually check at least one bag for free on domestic or short international flights.

American Airlines officials observed that boosting bag-check fees permits their staff to focus more on passengers who require additional assistance during their trip. American Airlines also stated this week that they will reduce prices for baggage that are slightly overweight. Previously, some passengers were forced to remove items from their luggage at the airport to fulfill the weight limit. This technique of charging varying fees for luggage is already used by ultra-low-cost carriers.

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Image Source:  A American Airlines flight is seen ahead of departure at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport | Photo by Brandon Bell | Getty Images
Image Source: An American Airlines flight is seen ahead of departure at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport | Photo by Brandon Bell | Getty Images

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Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle stated, "It encourages people to handle the transaction earlier, which is easier for them and for us. There are travelers who genuinely need assistance at the airport."

Prices for these services fluctuate depending on demand and other variables. Biffle stated that most travelers pay the baggage fee before arriving at the airport.

In 2020, United Airlines began charging increased costs for checking luggage at the airport. Now, the airline has announced a $5 hike in bag costs for most North American trips. If passengers pay online at least 24 hours before their flight, the cost is $35. Otherwise, if paid at the airport, it will cost $40. These adjustments will take effect on bookings made beginning February 24th. A second checked bag will cost $50, or $45 if paid 24 hours in advance.

Baggage fees are an important source of revenue for airlines. According to the latest Transportation Department data, U.S. airlines earned more than $5.4 billion in baggage fees in the first nine months of 2023, a 25% increase over the same period in 2019. Airlines justify the increase in luggage fees by rising operating costs such as labor and fuel, which are their most significant expenses.

Image Source: Travelers search for their luggage at the Southwest Airlines Baggage Claim at Midway Airport | Jim Vondruska | Getty Images
Image Source: Travelers search for their luggage at the Southwest Airlines Baggage Claim at Midway Airport | Jim Vondruska | Getty Images

JetBlue explained its recent charge increases, saying, “While we don’t like increasing fees, it’s one step we are taking to get our company back to profitability and cover the increased costs of transporting bags. By adjusting fees for added services that only certain customers use, we can keep base fares low and ensure customer favorites like seatback TVs and high-speed Wi-Fi remain free for everyone.”

Southwest Airlines stands out among major U.S. carriers by allowing customers to check two bags for free, and its Chief Operating Officer, Andrew Watterson, confirmed that this policy will not change. He highlighted that it did not cost the airline $35 or $40 to handle a suitcase. Watterson remarked that while many customers on other airlines choose carry-on baggage to avoid taxes, this may slow down operations.  He feels that asking customers to check their luggage improves operational efficiency while also increasing customer loyalty which allows the customer to return.

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