How to Avoid Baggage Fees on American Airlines

Bag fees can drive up the cost of your plane ticket — here’s how to avoid them.
Last updated May 13, 2021 | By Lindsay Frankel
Young couple laughing together on an airplane

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If you’ve ever snagged a cheap flight only to be surprised by exorbitant bag fees, you’re not alone. The airline industry drained travelers of more than $5.75 billion in baggage fees in 2019 alone.

Before 2008, only discount carriers imposed baggage fees. American Airlines became the first major carrier to charge bag fees in May of 2008, and the cost has only increased since then.

Just a couple of years ago, American and United began providing discount fares on Basic Economy tickets, but there was a catch: Carry-ons cost extra. Now, Southwest is the only major airline to offer both a free carry-on and checked bag.

American Airlines passengers can enjoy a free carry-on in addition to a personal item, including Basic Economy ticket holders. But if you need to check a bag, you’ll need to pay a fee for most destinations. Luckily, there are some ways to avoid paying any fees at all, from the best travel credit cards to loyalty programs.  

In this article

What is American Airlines’ baggage policy?

American Airlines' carry-on policy

American Airlines passengers are permitted to bring one personal item no larger than 18 inches x 14 inches x 8 inches, plus a carry-on bag smaller than 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches. You can also bring a garment bag no larger than 51 inches total (length + width + height).

Musical instruments count as carry-ons so long as they fit in the overhead bin, as do pet kennels — but strollers, car seats, and medical devices can be brought in addition to a personal item and carry-on.

If you opt to bring only a carry-on item, there are several restrictions you’ll need to abide by. For example, you won’t be able to travel with liquids or powder substances above a certain quantity or bring scissors, straight razors, or other cutting devices. See the full list on the American Airlines website.

American Airlines' domestic baggage fees

American Airlines’ checked baggage policy is a bit more nuanced. The fees you pay will depend on the type of ticket you purchase, the number of bags you check, your destination, and when you are flying. For domestic flights, you can expect to pay $30 for your first checked bag, $40 for your second, and $150 to $200 for each bag after that. Business and First Class travelers get their first two checked bags free.

There are size and weight restrictions as well, so don’t count on cramming things into your largest suitcase and only paying $30. American Airlines calculates the total dimensions by adding the length, width, and height of your bag, which cannot exceed 62 inches. The weight limit on your bag is 50 pounds — unless you are flying business or first class, which let you bring a bag weighing up to 70 pounds.

Of course, you can bring an oversize or overweight bag, but you’ll pay a hefty fee. Expect an oversize bag to cost you at least $150 and an overweight bag to cost at least $100. With these prices, you might be better off shipping your items to your destination.

American Airlines' international baggage fees

American Airlines' baggage prices vary on international flights as well. Some international destinations include one or more free checked bags, though there are exceptions depending on your destination and the type of ticket you've purchased. For example, Main Cabin and Basic Economy ticket holders typically have to pay a fee to check a bag on a transatlantic flight. However, if you're traveling to Haiti on a Basic Economy ticket, your first checked bag is complimentary.

American Airlines' oversize and overweight fees for baggage also apply on international flights and could cost you up to $200, depending on your destination. The policy for Business and First Class travelers on international flights is similar to the policy on domestic flights; premium ticket holders get their first two checked bags free.

How to avoid baggage fees on American Airlines

Even just a $30 checked bag fee tacked onto every trip makes traveling a more costly expense. And the fees aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon; in fact, fees have been increasing, and American Airlines made more money from bag fees than any other airline last year.

But that doesn’t mean you have to fork over your hard-earned cash. Here are some ways to avoid baggage fees on American Airlines.

1. Only pack a carry-on

American Airlines is one of the few airlines that lets you bring a free carry-on, even with a Basic Economy ticket. You could bring a backpack to stow underneath the seat along with a carry-on bag for the overhead bin. Generally, that amount of packing space should get you through a weekend trip — or even a week, if you pack light.

2. Join a loyalty program

American Airlines’ frequent flyer program, AAdvantage, is free to join, and you can rack up some serious American Airlines miles if you’re a frequent traveler. In addition to getting five miles per dollar spent on airfare with your basic membership, you can earn Elite Qualifying Dollars and Elite Qualifying Miles or Elite Qualifying Segments for eligible flights on American or oneworld Alliance partners.

These can help you achieve elite status, which makes you eligible for benefits like free bags. You’ll need to achieve AAdvantage Gold status or OneWorld Ruby status to get your first checked bag free. The higher your elite status in these programs, the more baggage benefits you'll typically get. For instance, with AAdvantage Executive Platinum status, you'll get three checked bags free.  

3. Buy a premium ticket

If you want to upgrade your travel experience and bring two checked bags for free, consider buying a premium ticket.

Premium Economy ticket holders get two complimentary bags, excluding flights to and from Alaska and Hawaii. Business Class ticket holders can bring two free bags no matter where they’re traveling, and First Class customers get two free bags on a two-cabin airplane or three free bags on a three-cabin airplane.

4. Bring your military documentation

If you are active U.S. military, you and your dependents will get your up to five bags free when traveling on orders. In addition, you’ll get up to three complimentary bags for personal travel. Just make sure to provide your military identification card.

5. Get an American Airlines credit card

With one of these credit cards, you’ll earn miles not only for travel purchases but for everyday purchases as well. Each one also offers a sign-up bonus, helping you earn free flights or other perks faster. You'll want to compare perks and fees to find the best airline credit card for you.

Perks you get on American Annual fee
AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard
  • First checked bag free on domestic itineraries for you and four companions
  • Companion certificate each year
  • 25% off inflight food and beverage purchases
  • $25 credit for inflight WiFi
  • Preferred boarding
  • Other elite travel benefits
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
  • First checked bag free on domestic itineraries for you and four companions
  • 25% off inflight food and beverage purchases
  • Preferred boarding
$99 (waived first year)
CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard
  • First checked bag free on domestic itineraries
  • 25% off inflight food and beverage purchases
  • Preferred boarding
  • Earn a companion certificate after spending $30,000 each year
$99 (waived first year)
Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
  • First checked bag free on domestic itineraries for you and eight companions
  • 25% off inflight food and beverage purchases
  • Priority check-in, airport screening (where available), and boarding privileges for you and eight companions
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • Free Admirals Club membership, which gives you access to airport lounges

Double miles on American Airlines purchases

CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard

CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard

CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard


  • 65,000 bonus mile intro offer
  • 2X miles for American Airlines purchases and across several popular categories
  • Free first checked bag
  • Preferred boarding

6. Use a general travel rewards card

If you don’t fly American all the time but you want the opportunity to earn rewards towards future flights, you can choose from among the best travel credit cards to start racking up rewards.

They may not provide free bags, but several American Express cards, like the Business Platinum from American Express, provide airline travel credits that can be used to cover the cost of baggage. Certain cards from other issuers also offer valuable credits that could be used to offset the cost of baggage fees on American. For instance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve gives cardholders a $300 annual travel credit.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card


  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and at restaurants
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access

FAQs about American Airlines' baggage fees

How many bags can you carry on American Airlines for free?

All passengers on American Airlines can bring one free carry-on in addition to one free personal item. Passengers who have elite status in the AAdvantage loyalty program or who have chosen a premium seat may get up to three checked bags free as well. For Basic Economy passengers, the fee for the first checked bag is at least $30.

What is the baggage allowance for American Airlines flights?

In general, the total baggage allowance for an American Airlines flight will vary based on where you're traveling. For instance, the American Airlines website indicates you can check up to 10 bags on domestic, transatlantic, and transpacific flights. If you're traveling to, from, or through Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, or Brazil, you can check up to five bags total. Standard checked baggage fees apply.

How strict is American Airlines about carry-on size?

American Airlines requires that your carry-on big fit in the sizer at the airport, which means it can’t exceed 22” x 14” x 9”, including handles and wheels. You can also opt to bring a soft-sided garment bag up to 51” in total dimension (length + width + height). A musical instrument counts as a carry-on as well, but it must fit in the overhead bin or the seat in front of you.

Does American Airlines weigh carry-on bags?

American Airlines doesn’t specify weight restrictions for carry-on bags. Checked bags weighing more than 50 pounds will incur an overweight bag charge. If you’re flying First or Business class, you can bring a checked bag weighing up to 70 pounds.

How much do you have to pay if your luggage is over 50 pounds?

Checked bags weighing 51 to 70 pounds will cost an additional $100, and bags weighing 71 to 100 pounds will cost an extra $200-$450, depending on your itinerary. Bags weighing more than 100 pounds are never accepted on American Airlines, and bags weighing more than 70 pounds aren’t accepted on flights to Europe.

Can you check a bag on American Airlines Basic Economy?

Yes. You are allowed to check up to 5-10 bags, depending on your itinerary. However, you’ll pay fees for checking baggage with your Basic Economy ticket, unless you have elite status through a loyalty program or credit card. Your first checked bag will cost $30-$60, depending on your itinerary.

The final word on American Airlines' baggage prices

Baggage and other airline fees may be on the rise, but that doesn’t mean your travel dreams will be crushed. Whether you pack light, purchase a premium ticket, or sign up for a credit card with robust rewards, it’s possible to avoid paying bag fees on American Airlines.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card


  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and at restaurants
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access

Author Details

Lindsay Frankel Lindsay Frankel is a Denver-based freelance writer who specializes in credit cards, travel, budgeting/saving, and shopping. She has been featured in several finance publications, including LendingTree. When she's not writing, you can find her enjoying the great outdoors, playing music, or cuddling with her rescue pup.