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.

American Airlines Boeing 777
Updated May 13, 2024
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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 $2.84 billion in baggage fees in 2020 alone, even with the pandemic-induced reduction in air travel.

Luckily, to offset your vacation costs, 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. However, there are some ways to avoid paying American Airlines baggage fees, from the best travel credit cards to loyalty programs.  

American Airlines' carry-on policy

mimagephotos/Adobe man traveling with suitcase and cellphone at airport

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 baggage fees

NicoElNino/Adobe Silhouette of family at airport

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 (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. 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, or to Australia or New Zealand. In those cases, you can bring a bag weighing up to 70 pounds.

Of course, you can bring oversize or overweight baggage, 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

aanbetta/Adobe suitcases with airplane in background

American Airlines' baggage pricing varies 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

vitaliymateha/Adobe woman looking at the flight information board

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.

Only pack a carry-on

Have a nice day/Adobe Carry-on luggage on the top shelf over head on airplane

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.

Join a loyalty program

romankosolapov/Adobe businessman handing over air ticket at airline check in counter

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 or oneworld Emerald status, you'll get three checked bags free.  

Buy a premium ticket

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe worker checking documents of female traveler at check-in desk

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.

Bring your military documentation

cunaplus/Adobe soldier in a military uniform looking through the window at an airport

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.

Get an American Airlines credit card

Drobot Dean/Adobe Happy optimistic young girl student holding credit car

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

Use a general travel rewards card

Kenishirotie/Adobe Credit cards

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.

Bottom line

Cerib/Adobe American Airlines Boeing 777

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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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.