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 nearly $5.3 billion in baggage fees in 2021 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.
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 American Airlines baggage fees, from the best travel credit cards to loyalty programs.
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-on baggage so long as they fit in the overhead bin, as do pet kennels — but strollers, car seats, diaper bags, and medical devices can be brought in addition to a personal item and carry-on. Certain sports equipment is also allowed as carry-on, though the rules vary depending on what equipment you're traveling with.
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 and international 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. Here are some of the checked bag fees you may encounter:
- First checked bag: International main cabin tickets on American come with one free checked bag. Premium economy and business class travelers get their first two checked bags free on domestic and international flights. American also offers one free checked bag on select routes to and from the U.S., but the baggage allowance may differ if you’re flying on a basic economy ticket.
- Extra bag fee: Extra bag fees will vary. For domestic flights (including U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands), you can expect to pay $30 for your first checked bag, $40 for your second bag, and $150 to $200 for each bag after that.
- Overweight baggage fee: The weight limit on your bag is 50 pounds — unless you are flying business or first class, or to Australia or New Zealand. In those cases, you can bring a bag weighing up to 70 pounds. Bags that weigh 51-70 pounds cost $100 each way between the U.S., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean (excluding Cuba, which costs $200), Central and South America, Europe, Israel, Qatar, China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand, and Australia. Bags heavier than 70 pounds can be flown for $200-$450 depending on your flight.
- Oversize bag fee: American Airlines calculates the total dimensions by adding the length, width, and height of your bag, which cannot exceed 62 inches. Bags sized 62–126 inches will vary in cost depending on your destination. The oversize fee is $150 each way for flights between Europe, Israel, Qatar, and South America (except Guyana or Suriname). They cost $200 each way for flights between the U.S., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, Guyana, Suriname, China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, India, Australia, and New Zealand.
- Sports equipment fee: When traveling with any sports equipment, the maximum size is 126 inches, and the maximum weight is 70 pounds, subject to the airplane's size and available cargo space. Sports items up to 50 pounds will be charged standard checked bag fees. Standard overweight fees apply to bags 51-70 pounds.
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. 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 Loyalty Points 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, you'll get three checked bags free with AAdvantage Executive Platinum Pro or oneworld Emerald status.
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 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®||
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®||
||$99 (waived first year)|
|CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®||
||$99 (waived first year)|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®||
6. Use a general travel rewards card
If you don’t fly American all the time but 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, such as The Business Platinum Card® 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 Airlines. For instance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® gives cardholders a $300 annual travel credit.
Get more details about this card in our Chase Sapphire Reserve card review.
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. The rule also applies to customers with basic economy tickets.
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.
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.
However, it's important to be aware that there are some seasonal limitations — and year-round limitations, for certain cities — on overweight or excess baggage during busy travel seasons. For more information on these limits, visit the aa.com baggage limitations page.
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.
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