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Airline Checked Luggage Allowances

Packing lightly is a largely neglected
art for most of us, and the airlines
are cashing in by reducing our free
luggage allowances.

Not long ago, you were allowed
210lbs, now most airlines start
charging right from the very
first bag and pound.

The information below can
save you money and hassle
at the airport.

It is getting harder to avoid paying excess luggage charges these days, as airlines seek more and more ways to take money from you.

At the same time, just about every airline has also reduced the maximum weights and numbers of bags they'll carry for free.

Use this information to understand what you can and can't take with you, for free, on your next flight.

 

Checked Luggage Allowances

Airlines have substantially tightened up on their checked luggage policies. Most airlines now charge extra for suitcases weighing more than 50lbs, whereas until a few years back they'd carry suitcases weighing up to 70 lbs with no surcharge. And - if you're lucky - they will allow two free pieces of luggage, whereas before you'd often be allowed three. If you're not lucky, you'll find yourself traveling with an airline that only allows one free bag, and if you're downright unlucky, you'll be stuck with an airline that charges even for the first bag.

Not only have the airlines tightened up on what they'll carry for free, but they've now much more likely to charge you for the extras. In the past you were unlikely to be asked to pay, especially if the checkin staff were busy, but now you're probably have to pay the extra charges.

It is believed that some airlines pay their counter staff bonuses based on the amount of extra charges they levy on their passengers.

Domestic and International Checked Luggage Policy variations

Strangely, policies are sometimes more generous for the weight of luggage on international flights (but see, eg, ATA which contrarily has much less liberal policies for international flights).

Most flights originating from the US have a 'two piece' limit for luggage - you can check two bags, and you pay extra per bag.  This applies whether the flight is domestic within the US or international.

Most flights that originate from outside the US have a weight limit for total checked baggage - a miserly 20kg/44lbs if you're traveling in coach class, 30kg/66lbs for business class and 40kg/88lbs for first class.  If your luggage weighs more than your allowance, you'll be charged for each extra pound (or kilogram) at exorbitant rates - usually a percentage (about 1% - 2%) of the full fare per extra kg of weight, per flight.

This is a major massive difference in luggage policies.  Although sometimes you might find it cheaper to buy an international ticket from the US to another country, and then a second ticket for travel within that foreign country, or for travel on to other countries, if you do this, your second ticket will probably restrict your luggage to 44lbs, and the cost of the extra weight of luggage you have with you could well be much more than the saving on the ticket to start with.

An empty suitcase weighs 15-20lbs.  If you're traveling with two suitcases, you'll use up most of your 44lb limit just on the empty bags!

Small Plane Limits

If your flight is on a really small plane, you might find that your luggage allowances for both checked and carry-on items are substantially reduced.  For example, some light aircraft operators limit passengers to 20lbs of luggage.

Worse still, some light aircraft can readily be overloaded and so if everyone is taking heavy bags, some luggage (or perhaps some passengers) may be left behind.

General Luggage Policies

Charges are usually per flight, not per roundtrip.

If you're on a ticket that has you flying first one airline to a connecting point and then a second airline from that point to your destination, you might find you have to pay excess charges to both airlines.  But if your bag is being checked through from one airline to the other, you generally won't be charged for the second flight.

Excess luggage is usually carried on a 'space available' basis which means the airline doesn't promise that your luggage will arrive at your destination on the same flight you do.  Nine times out of ten (or more) it does indeed arrive on the same plane, but the airlines have the fine print of accepting it on a space available only basis to give them an excuse if your bags don't arrive with you.

Note that when maximum size measurements are shown as a total number of inches (eg 45") this is the total of the length, width and height of the piece, and you can usually have any reasonable size/shape of bag as long as the total measurements don't exceed this number.

General Notes about the Luggage Information Below

This information has been taken from the various airline websites.

Policies do change.  This information is shown as of 4/26/10.

Baggage rules can be complicated, and what is shown is a simplification and may not apply to your particular flight.  For the absolutely most accurate information, you should phone the airline and get exact confirmation of your luggage entitlements and what the penalty costs might be shortly before your flight.

The appropriate page with baggage polices from each airline website is linked to the airline name in the tables below to make it easy for you to conveniently check the current accuracy of the information shown here.

If you should find something out of date, please let us know so we can correct and update this information.

Special Situation - Traveling with Firearms and Ammunition

Please go to our page that details what is necessary to comply with airline and TSA regulations if you are flying with firearms and ammunition.

An Alternative to Checking Your Bags

A number of companies now offer a wonderfully convenient service.  They'll collect your luggage from your home, office, or anywhere, and then ship it and deliver it to wherever you wish at the other end.  They use air courier services and so this means your luggage generally travels at about the same speed you do.

Wonderfully convenient, but more expensive than free checked luggage with the airline.  However, if you find yourself facing excess baggage charges - or if you just want the convenience of traveling without bothering with luggage at all - these are great services to consider.

We reviewed the Sports Express luggage service a while ago.

The most economical luggage transportation service within the US is - surprise! - the USPS.  Use their Express Mail service - they'll come and collect your bag(s) and overnight deliver them to just about anywhere else in the US, all for very much less than the baggage shipping companies or the courier companies.

Summary of Updates to this Feature

Update July 05 :  Until now, airlines would generally allow a maximum weight of 65lbs - 70lbs per bag on international flights.  In late July, Northwest announced it was now limiting the weight per bag on international flights, bringing it down to the same 50lb limit as on its domestic flights.  We expect other airlines will probably copy and lower their international weight allowances too.

Update Aug 05 :  Continental is now limiting international bags to a 50lb allowance too.

Update Aug 06 :  There have been many changes to airline policies and also to their web page urls.  All links and policies have been checked and updated as necessary.

Update July 08 :  Lots of changes in the last two years, with many airlines now only allowing one free bag and some airlines charging even for the first bag.  Some airlines waive the second bag fee for first class passengers and/or elite members of their frequent flier program - sometimes only for 'very' elite members.

Update March 09 :  Further tightening up of the rules and fees for checked bags.  First bag fees are now common, and fees for overweight/oversize have increased appreciably.

Update April 10 :  Allocations have again been reduced, first bag fees are now almost universal, and most fees increased since the last update a year ago, although some of the more ridiculously high fees (in some cases up to $250) have been brought more in line with other fees.

Domestic Airline/Flight Policies - Checked Luggage

NOTE : Fees are EACH WAY fees - double them for a roundtrip ticket

Airline Allowance Max wt per piece Max size per piece

AirTran

1st bag $15

2nd is $25

$50 per extra piece

50lbs

$49 if 51-70lbs
$79 if 71-100lbs

61"

$49 if 62-70"
$79 if 71-80"

Alaska(and also Horizon)

1-3 bags @ $20 each

4+ bags @ $50 each

Two free for first class and MVP Gold members

50lbs

$50 if 51-100lbs

Either extra weight or extra piece charge applies (whichever is greater) but not both

62"

$50 if 63"-80"
$75 if 81"-115"

Either extra weight or extra piece charge applies (whichever is greater) but not both

Aloha

now ceased operation

American

$25 for first bag

$35 for second bag

3-5 bags @ $100 each
6+ bags @ $200 each

Exceptions for full fare Coach, Business and First class tickets, and for AAdvantage Gold members

50lbs on both domestic and international flights

$50 if 51-70lbs
$100 if 71-100lbs

under 62"

$150 for up to 115" in addition to overweight and/or extra piece charges

ATA

now ceased operation

Continental

1st is free to OnePass Elite and, first and business passengers, otherwise $23/25 for online/airport checkin

2nd is free to OnePass Elite and, first and business passengers, otherwise $32/35

$100 per extra bag

50lbs
70lbs for First class and OnePass Elite

$50 if 51-70lbs

Over 70lbs not accepted

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

62"

$100 for oversize, max size of 115"

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

Delta

$23/25 for first bag for online/airport checkin

$32/35 for second bag

$125 for third bag

$200 each for 4 - 10 bags

First and business class pax can check up to 3 bags, each up to 70lbs, free

50lbs

$90 if 51-70lbs
$175 if 71-100lbs

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

62"

$175 for 63"-80"

$300 for 81" - 115"

Max oversize is 115"

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

Frontier

1st bag $20 or free depending on fare type

2nd bag $30 or free depending on fare type

$50 per extra piece

50lbs

$75 for up to 100lbs

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

62"

$75 for up to 110"

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

Hawaiian

For travel within Hawaii :

1st is $10
2nd is $17
3rd and subsequent are $25

For travel on mainland or to/from Hawaii

1st is $23/25 for online/airport checking
2nd is $32/35
3rd to 6th are $125
7th and extras are $200

50lbs

$50 if 51-70lbs

Over 70lbs not accepted

62"

'The charge for an oversized bag may depend on what you're transporting'.

Max oversize is 80"

JetBlue

One free

$30 for second bag

$75 for extra bags

50lbs

$50 if 51-70lbs

$100 if 71-99lbs

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

62"

$75 for 63"-80"

Max oversize is 80"

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

Midwest

$20 for first bag

$30 for second bag

$50 for each extra bag

50lbs

$75 if 51-100lbs

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

62"

$75 for 63"-110"

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

Northwest

Now merged into Delta

Southwest

Two free

3-9 extra pieces at $50 each

10+ @ $110 each

50lbs

$50 for 51-100lbs

62"

$50 for oversize

Max oversize is 80"

Spirit

$19/25 for first bag for online/airport checkin

$25 for second bag, either online or at airport

3 - 5 pieces $100 each, space available

50lbs

$50 if 51-70lbs

$100 if 71-99lbs

62"

$100 for 63-80"

$150 for 80+"

Max oversize is 160" with no more than 80" in any dimension

United

$25 for first bag

$35 for second bag

Extra bags $100 each

Two bags free for Mileage Plus Premier Associates, and first and business class passengers.

50lbs

70lbs for Global Services, 1K, Premier Executive Mileage Plus members and Star Alliance Gold members on any fare

$100 if 51-100lbs

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

62"

$100 for up to 115"

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

US Airways

$23/25 for first bag for online/airport checkin

$32/35 for second bag

two bags free for Dividend Miles preferred members, Envoy and first class passengers

3rd - 9th bag @ $100 each

50lbs

$50 if 51-70lbs

$100 if 71-100lbs

100lbs max wt

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

62"

$100 for 62-80"

Overweight and oversize and extra bag fees are all cumulative

Virgin America

Up to 10 bags, each for a $25 fee

Full fare and 1st class get one bag free.

50lbs (70lbs for first bag)

$50 if 51-70lbs

$100 if 71-100lbs

62"

$50 for 63-8

Originally published 18 June 2004, last update 15 May 2010
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer
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