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.
10/13/19 | 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 $4.8 billion in baggage fees last year 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 travel rewards credit cards to loyalty programs.

What is American Airlines’ baggage policy?

Carry-ons

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, there are several item 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.

Checked bags

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 many destinations, including 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. Some international destinations include one or more free checked bags. For business and first-class travelers, the first two checked bags are complimentary.

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. Your bag can weigh no more than 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 oversized or overweight bag, but you’ll pay a hefty fee. Expect an oversized 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.

How to avoid baggage fees on American Airlines

Even just $30 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 bag 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 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 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.

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 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.

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
$99
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 for first year)
CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite 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
$450

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, there are other credit cards to choose from.

They may not provide free bags, but several American Express cards provide airline travel credits that can be used to cover the cost of baggage. For example, the Amex Platinum Card gets you a $200 credit toward airline fees, which could cover the cost of baggage on American.

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

Admirals Club Membership and More

Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

Benefits

  • 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles sign-up offer
  • 2X miles on American Airlines purchases
  • First checked bag free
  • Admirals Club membership and priority check-in
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