Airlines making the most from baggage fees
Remember the good old days when you could fly without having to pay to check (or carry-on) a bag? This was the norm before the Great Recession. Like many industries, airlines felt the strain of declining revenues and had to find clever ways to make extra money. Enter baggage fees.
Southwest Airlines is still a unicorn in the industry, staying true to offering low fares and two free checked bags no matter your status. As a result, their per-passenger baggage fee total in 2021 was a mere $0.48 (as a comparison, the 10th entry on this list comes in at $10.46 per passenger), which added up to $58 million in total fees.
Though it's a burden for travelers, airlines have been able to stay afloat because of baggage fees. In 2021, U.S. airlines made about $5.3 billion in baggage fees, a huge leap from $2.8 billion in 2020; however, the number is still down from 2019's $5.8 billion.
Bounce collected data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics to determine which airlines make the most from baggage fees. They looked at data from 2021, the most recent full year available, and calculated the total fees per passenger serviced. The per-passenger figure includes passengers who did not pay for baggage fees, so the average may be lower than each airline charges per bag. Breeze Airways was excluded from the analysis as complete data was not available for 2021.
#10. Alaska Airlines
- Total baggage fees collected: $242,173,000 ($10.46 per passenger)
- Total passengers boarded: 23,153,191
Eligible Alaska Airlines Visa credit card holders may get their first checked bag fee waived, but for everyone else, there's a $30 charge for the first, $40 for the second, and $100 for the third and beyond. There's also a $100 charge for oversized bags, so be mindful of the weight and dimensions of your luggage.
#9. American Airlines
- Total baggage fees collected: $1,224,288,000 ($10.54 per passenger)
- Total passengers boarded: 116,173,259
American Airlines offers several ways to receive a complimentary baggage check depending on various card members and status, but there's a fee on domestic flights for most passengers. The first bag will cost $30; the second, $40; the third, $150; and the fourth or more are $200 apiece. The charges differ depending on the type of flight, so be sure to look at American's website to find the right information for your particular travel plans.
#8. United Airlines
- Total baggage fees collected: $869,626,000 ($12.00 per passenger)
- Total passengers boarded: 72,488,269
If you're flying United Airlines with a heavy bag and you're in First or Business Class or have MileagePlus status, you're in luck: The weight restrictions are 70 pounds rather than the standard 50 pounds. The carrier's checked baggage fees vary depending on your destination and status, so United developed a handy baggage fee calculator to help you prepare for your trip. It also offers baggage delivery at select U.S. destinations for those who don't want to wait at baggage claim.
#7. Eastern Air Lines
- Total baggage fees collected: $1,549,000 ($13.34 per passenger)
- Total passengers boarded: 116,095
With hubs in Miami, New York, and San Juan, Eastern Air Lines primarily runs in the southern and eastern United States (as well as some international destinations). The benefit of flying with Eastern is the baggage size limit (70 pounds no matter your status) and the first bag flies for free. A second checked bag will cost $65; the third and fourth are $100 apiece; and the fifth and sixth come with a $200 charge per bag.
- Total baggage fees collected: $517,202,000 ($17.15 per passenger)
- Total passengers boarded: 30,159,824
Many airlines allow somewhere between six and 10 checked bags per passenger (for a fee, of course), so it's worth pointing out that JetBlue only lets travelers fly with two. The fees are calculated depending on your fare and destination and can be found on the airline's website. If you're a planner, you can save $5 per bag by checking your bags online more than 24 hours before your flight.
#5. Allegiant Air
- Total baggage fees collected: $246,127,000 ($18.09 per passenger)
- Total passengers boarded: 13,607,794
Allegiant Air may save passengers money on low fares, but it recoups some of it with baggage fees. In addition to charging per checked bag (you are allowed up to four), the airline also charges travelers for a carry-on piece of luggage (you can bring a personal item on board for free). This can cost an additional $10-$75 depending on the size of your suitcase and when in your travel plans you decide to pay. A full baggage fee chart can be found on Allegiant Air's website.
#4. Silver Airways
- Total baggage fees collected: $8,535,000 ($18.78 per passenger)
- Total passengers boarded: 454,453
Silver Airways is a regional airline that flies between Florida, the southeastern U.S., and the Bahamas, but if you're going on a tropical vacation, you might want to pack light. The carrier limits two checked bags per guest, with a fee per piece. If you need that third bag, Silver Airways will allow it for a $100 charge. See a full baggage fee chart on the airline's website.
#3. Spirit Airlines
- Total baggage fees collected: $635,038,000 ($20.64 per passenger)
- Total passengers boarded: 30,770,259
Spirit is a budget airline that capitalizes on extra fees. In addition to charging passengers who want to choose their own seats, the carrier also charges for carry-on luggage (aside from a personal item) and all checked bags. Spirit doesn't openly disclose its baggage fees, but its website comes equipped with a baggage fee calculator so you won't be surprised when you get to the airport.
#2. Frontier Airlines
- Total baggage fees collected: $463,388,000 ($22.44 per passenger)
- Total passengers boarded: 20,654,583
Frontier Airlines' slogan might be "Low Fares Done Right," but what customers save in airfare they may lose in extra fees. Like many of the budget airlines, Frontier allows travelers one personal item to fly for free, but everything else comes at a charge. The carrier offers a travel bundle called "the Works" that includes a carry-on and checked bag, seat selection, priority boarding, flight flexibility, and refundability, but the catch is it's only available for purchase during initial booking.
#1. Sun Country Airlines
- Total baggage fees collected: $61,554,000 ($22.58 per passenger)
- Total passengers boarded: 2,726,516
You may see a pattern in the top airlines on this list: They're all billed as "ultra-low-cost," but words can be deceiving. These carriers are great for the minimalist traveler, but there will be extra charges for luggage. Sun Country Airlines charges for carry-on and checked bags. Travelers can save money by choosing bag options when making their reservation. Fees vary depending on where you're flying, so check Sun Country's website for a fee calculator.
This story originally appeared on Bounce and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.