Do You Have to Pay With Your Airline Card to Get Free Checked Luggage?
free checked luggage

Do You Have to Pay With Your Airline Card to Get Free Baggage?

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Major airlines all offer co-branded credit cards teasing a valuable benefit: Free checked baggage on every flight.

With airlines charging $30 per bag each way (or more) on even domestic flights, this perk can add up fast, easily outweighing the annual fee on your airline credit card. But every airline handles this benefit a bit differently. And one question comes up frequently:

Do you need to actually pay for your flight with that credit card to get a checked bag for free?

The answer? It depends. We’ll walk you through the basics of how this benefit works on some of the largest U.S. airlines.



The Basics of Free Baggage

From American to Delta to United and even Alaska, every major U.S. airline offers a co-branded credit card. And each of them gives these cardholders a free checked bag on every flight. It’s a worthwhile perk, and one of the many benefits that come with the travel rewards credit cards out there. Seeing as checking a bag costs at least $30 each way, you could save more than $100 on just two round trips.

What’s more, this benefit won’t just get you a free checked bag. It can also get your companions a free bag, too … so long as they’re booked under your reservation. For traveling families, the savings can easily multiply. Just how many companions will get a free bag depends on the airline.

With few exceptions, these cards carry an annual fee of $95 to $100 – though that could be waived for your first year with the card. That means a year of free checked baggage. Once that annual fee kicks in, just two round trips with a checked bag a year (or less) will mean you’ll come out ahead on your annual fee.

But how do you get free baggage with your airline? Do you have to use that card to pay for your flight? Do all flights qualify?


A Breakdown of Free Bag Benefits by Airline

Unfortunately, this is where the simplicity ends.

Exactly what you get with your credit card depends on the airline and which credit card you’ve got in your wallet. So we’ve broken it down, airline-by-airline.


Free Baggage with Alaska Airlines Credit Card

Keep that card in your wallet – you won’t need it to get a free bag flying Alaska Airlines.

So long as the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card is attached to your account when you book, that free baggage benefit kicks in automatically. The card has an annual fee of $75 – but that’s not waived for the first year.

But this benefit is great, as it means you can instead book your flight with a credit card that will earn you more points (or give you travel insurance) like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Platinum Card® from American Express. Just make sure your card is still open, and you’re set.

  • Flights: All Alaska Airlines flights
  • Companions: You and up to six companions on the same reservation will get your first checked bag free.
  • Pay with the card? Not necessary!


Free Baggage with American Airlines Credit Card

The same is true when flying American Airlines. Keep that card tucked away.

You’ve got a few options to score a free bag when you’re flying American Airlines. There’s the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, with a $99 annual fee that is waived in year one. Then there’s the AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard from Barclays, with an annual fee of $99 due upfront. American also has a handful of other, more expensive credit cards.


airlines change and cancellation fees


No matter which card you’ve got, you’ll get your first checked bag free for yourself and up to four companions – and you don’t have to pay for your flight with your card. But there is a catch: Only domestic flights qualify for a free bag.

  • Flights: Domestic American Airlines flights only.
  • Companions: You and up to four companions on the same reservation will get your first checked bag free.
  • Pay with the card? Not necessary!


Free Baggage with Delta Credit Cards

Are you sensing a pattern yet? There’s no need to use that Delta credit card to get a free bag.

For you Delta flyers, all of the airline’s co-branded American Express cards include that free luggage perk – except the no-annual-fee Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card. But you’re set with personal and business versions of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. Annual fees start at $99 on the Gold Card, though it has a $0 introductory fee for the first year (see rates & fees).

Better yet, you can technically apply the free bag waiver to up to eight other passengers under your reservation. And you can use any card you’d like to book your flight, as simply having your Delta card attached to your SkyMiles account will get you the free bag benefit. But it won’t work on flights operated by one of Delta’s partner airlines like Air France or Korean Air. 

  • Flights: All Delta-operated flights
  • Companions: You and up to eight companions on the same reservation will get your first checked bag free.
  • Pay with the card? Not necessary!


delta baggage fees free with credit card
Delta’s policies mean you don’t need to use your co-branded American Express card when booking to get the free baggage benefit.


Read our master guide to Delta baggage fees!


Free Baggage with JetBlue Credit Card

Here’s where the pattern ends.

Unlike many of its competitors, you’ll have to actually pay for your flight with your JetBlue credit card in order to get a free bag. There’s the JetBlue Plus Card and the JetBlue Business Card. Both are operated by Barclays, and both carry an annual fee of $99 starting in year one.

  • Flights: All JetBlue flights
  • Companions: You and up to three companions on the same reservation will get your first checked bag free.
  • Pay with the card? Yes, you must pay with your JetBlue credit card to get a free bag.

See what else you need to know on JetBlue baggage fees!


Free Baggage with Southwest Credit Card


While Southwest has a slew of credit cards to choose from, they won’t get you free baggage … because all flyers get two free checked bags on every Southwest flight. While other airlines started charging for bags years ago, Southwest has resisted. It’s one of the things that sets Southwest apart.


Free Baggage with United Credit Card

We’ve got bad news, United flyers. You’ll have to pay for your United flight with your United credit card to get a free bag.

Unlike its competitors American and Delta, United requires flyers to pay with their co-branded Chase credit card in order to get a free checked bag. Pay with a United Explorer Card, and you’ll get a free checked bag for yourself and one companion on your reservation. That card carries a $95 annual fee, though that’s waived in year one.

Use the new United Quest Card, and you’ll get not one but two free checked bags for yourself and one companion. The Quest Card has a $250 annual fee.


united basic economy


Those savings can add up even faster, as United began charging $35 per bag if you don’t prepay online. And it’s one of the best ways to beat United basic economy, as the airline doesn’t allow basic economy flyers to bring a carry-on bag onboard.

  • Flights: All United and United Express-operated flights
  • Companions: You and one on the same reservation will get your first checked bag free.
  • Pay with the card? Yes, you must pay with your United credit card to get a free bag.

Read more on United Airlines baggage fees!


Bottom Line

Lots of travelers out there love their co-branded airline cards, in large part due to the free checked bag benefit. It gives you a compelling reason to keep that card open for your preferred airline. 

Yet these benefits remain misunderstood. You don’t always have to pay with that credit card in order to get a free bag. It just depends on which airline you’re flying with.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

27 Responses

  • Thanks for the article. Has something changed with Delta’s free baggage policy? I am researching return flights going from PRG to ATL to FSM for travel at end of August to beginning of October. When I just looked at Delta’s site, I saw this

    Looks like the flight must be booked with the Delta branded card now.I already know it must be Delta metal to receive the benefit, but this looks like an additional requirement. Too bad, because I would like to pay for it with my Chase Sapphire Reserve. Perhaps one can pay for everything but the tax with the Amex and then the taxes with the CSR to secure the Chase benefits.

    • Hi Laura, this is definitely confusing but Delta has confirmed that this isn’t the case, despite the wording on their site. You DO NOT need to pay with a Delta card to get the free baggage benefit.

  • Hi. I’m booking the flight today, but will be applying for the credit card next week, will I still get free checked luggage when I fly, if my card is approved and in my possession by the time I fly?

    • It will depend on what card. Airlines like Delta and United, yes – just make sure your frequent flyer number is attached to your card, and that you’ve booked those flights with your frequent flyer account. Other airlines like United require you to actually purchase the fare with your card in order to get the baggage benefit.

  • I paid for my flight with an Alaska Airlines card for an American Flight early Sept 2019 and they did not reciprocate about waiving the $30 dollar checked bag fee and As of ? March 2 ,2020 American won’t let you use your Alaska Miles for their flights either Domestic or International. They are already making it difficult to use Alaska miles as there are very few flights that will work and you have to go on the Alaska site to plug in the flight. But that will all end. Apparently because of Alaska / Virgin merger.

  • I booked an amazing miles-redemtion ticket on American for my family of six for NEXT summer in June of 2020. I bought the ticket with the Citi-Aadvantage card I had at the time, but have since canceled that card. Will I be asked to pay for baggage when I check in? If I happen to have a new CitiAadvantage Mastercard at the time of flight, will that “trigger the waiver” in my American Airlines account? Could I show the “old card” I used to book the ticket and get the benefit, or do I need to have an active card? Thanks so much for navigating such confusion!

  • Great article…Kyle is correct about United’s free checked bags with the co-branded credit card policy and I can share something from my experience. I recently grabbed the United card via a targeted advertisement that I got after booking a United flight. The ad said something along the lines of, “want free checked bags for the flight? Sign up and also get extra United miles blah blah…” The ad implied that I would get checked bags free even though I couldnt have put the flight on the United card (I didnt have it yet). Anyways, maybe I didnt read the fine print (whatever), but I just thought it was a shady bait-and-switch. So when I told United, they rebooked the flight onto the United card once I got it. Hence, free checked bags.
    Huge pain, but there is a work around if you get screwed by this.

  • I used my Delta SkyMiles credit card to book a Delta flight so if you’re saying that only the Delta frequent mile member is needed to get the first checked bag free, then I can cancel my Delta credit card to save the annual fee since the card just turned one year, correct?

  • Has this or will this change with Delta updating their credit card programs in January 2020? Booking a Delta flight for May 2020, wondering if I should book with delta gold or my chase sapphire reserve. Thanks!

    • No changes to this baggage policy that we’re aware of with the new card benefits taking effect later this month! Use whatever card will get you the best return for points – the CSR, in this case.

  • If my daughter books me airline ticket on delta by using her American Express points can I still get a free checked bag ??

  • So I can book an American Airlines flight with my Chase Ultimate Rewards points and then attach my American Airlines account number which is tied to my Citi-Aadvantage card and I will still get the free checked bags perk? That’s awesome! Thanks for the article!

  • I purchased a flight with my unitedVisa, but, I do have a delta skymiles card, will I still get a free checked bag??

    • If you purchased a Delta flight, it doesn’t matter which card you paid with so long as your SkyMiles number is attached to the reservation. You will get a free bag.

  • My dad just purchased a flight for him and my mom using his Delta AmEx card. I am about to book the same flight (as we will be traveling together), but I want to use my own high points card. If I enter in his SkyMiles number when booking with my own card, will I be a part of his reservation to get a free checked bag?

    • No, unfortunately. You needed to book yourself as part of the same reservation as your mom and dad in order to get the free checked bag.

  • What about booking JetBlue flight with points and pay tax with other credit card then JetBlue card? Are bag fees still waved?

  • Kyle,

    How can you say that you don’t have to pay with your Delta Amex card if the blurb from Delta website that you have included clearly states that the benefit is available on Delta flights booked with the card?
    What am I missing?

    • Good question, Matt. We have confirmed with Delta (as well as tested ourselves individually) that the baggage benefit carries over regardless of which card you use, despite what the website says.

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