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 Checked Luggage?

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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 on even domestic flight, 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, bringing up an important question: 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, starting with Delta – which has the most generous baggage policy among the airlines – and moving onto its fellow U.S. carriers.


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.

For you Delta flyers, all of the airline’s co-branded American Express cards include that free luggage perk. That includes the 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. Delta and American Express made some major changes to this suite of cards in January, including some modest annual fee increases. But the free baggage benefit stays intact. 

Gold Delta SkyMiles Card

Click Here to learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card. 

Better yet, you can technically apply the free bag waiver to up to eight other passengers under your reservation. But do you have to pay with your Delta American Express card to get your baggage fees waived?


Skip the Card

Keep that Delta card in your wallet. You don’t need it to get a free checked bag.

Your SkyMiles account and whichever co-branded Delta cards you hold are permanently linked. That means the free checked baggage waiver will kick in automatically when you book on with your SkyMiles account. This also applies when you book an award ticket with SkyMiles.

This is relevant because paying for your airfare with credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Platinum Card from American Express will earn you far more points when purchasing airfare.

Free Checked Luggage
Delta’s policies mean you don’t need to use your co-branded American Express card when booking to get the free baggage benefit.

If you book a Delta flight through another website, such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal, the free checked bag should also carry through. Just be sure to include your Delta SkyMiles account number when you are booking.

Keep in mind that this benefit does not carry over to flights on Delta’s SkyTeam partners. If you book an Air France or Korean Air flight through Delta, you’ll pay that airline’s baggage fees.

Thrifty Tip: Holding one of Delta’s co-branded cards is our favorite way to beat basic economy.

<34>What About Other Airlines?

Not every airline treats this free baggage benefit the same.

Flying American or Alaska Airlines? You’re in luck.

If you’re flying American Airlines, you don’t need to pay with your CitiBank AAdvantage or Barclay’s Aviator card to get a free checked bag. Though again, that perk only applies to American Airlines flights and not flights on their OneWorld alliance partners. And it only works for domestic flights.

That’s also the case on Alaska Airlines – no need to pay with your Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card. So long as your frequent flyer number is attached to your card and your flight, you’re in luck.

Flying United or JetBlue? It’s a different story.

Unfortunately, United requires you to pay with your United MileagePlus card in order to get the baggage fee waived when you book. The same is true of the JetBlue Plus Barclay’s MasterCard.


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.

24 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.

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