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Get Free Luggage with the Right Cards (Whether or Not You Pay with Them)

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From Alaska Airlines down to United, all the major airlines offer co-branded credit cards teasing big bonuses and an incredibly valuable benefit: Free checked baggage on every flight.

With airlines charging at least $30 per bag each way on domestic flights and even more for long-haul international flights, this perk can add up fast, easily outweighing the annual fee on your airline credit card. But every airline handles these cardholder benefit a bit differently: How many bags can you bring? International or only domestic?

But above all, one quirk with free luggage perks on credit cards catches many travelers by surprise. Do you need to actually pay for your flight with that credit card to get a checked bag for free?

Many travelers assume that's the case – it makes sense, right? But several airlines will give you a free bag so long as you simply have the card open, freeing you up to use another card that earns more points or comes with built-in travel insurance. Other carriers, meanwhile, aren't quite so generous.

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.

That alone is a worthwhile perk, and one of the top benefits that come with many airline co-branded credit cards. 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. But remember: The cardholder has to be traveling, too – it's not enough to simply book a flight for a friend or family member.

With few exceptions, these cards carry annual fees of at least $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

Now, you'll need to make sure you use your Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card when purchasing flights if you want that checked bag for free.

That became a requirement as of March 1, 2023, for you (and up to six companions) to get a free bag on your next Alaska Airlines flight. For years, it wasn't necessary to actually book with the Alaska Visa Card, which carries a $95 annual fee.

  • 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? Yes, as of March 1, 2023.


Free Baggage with American Airlines Credit Card

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

And that's a big win, as it means you can instead book your flight with a credit card that will earn you more points (or give you travel insurance – or both!) like the *chase sapphire reserve* or *amex platinum*. Just make sure your American Airlines card is still open and attached to your account, and you're set.

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. 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: With American credit cards, 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 blue*.


But you're set with personal and business versions of the *delta skymiles gold card*, *delta skymiles platinum card*, and the *delta reserve card*. Annual fees start at $150 on the Gold Card, though it has a $0 introductory fee for the first year (see rates & fees).

Whichever eligible card you've got, Delta's free baggage benefit is more generous than any other airline.

For starters, you can technically apply the free bag waiver to up to eight other passengers under your same 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.

Unlike American Airlines, Delta cardholders get a free checked bag on all Delta-operated flights, domestic or international. Just keep in mind 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*, 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*, 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's basic economy, as the airline doesn't allow basic economy flyers to bring a carry-on bag onboard … unless you've got a United card.

  • 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.

44 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 https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/baggage/before-your-trip/checked/first-bag-free.html/

    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.

  • Article Title: Do You Have to Pay With Your Airline Card to Get Free Baggage?

    How about with Sun Country’s “Visa Signature” card?

    • Hi Lee.

      Holding the Sun Country card does not entitle you to a free bag. Rather, you’ll get 50% off seat selections & your first checked bag. That means you would need to pay with your Sun Country card to get the 50% discount.

      • Thanks for the quick answer! I forgot Sun Country is only 50% off. I’d like to expand on my original question: I plan on booking my next Sun Country flight using my newly acquired Capital One Venture X card via Capital One Travel to make use of my annual travel credit. After purchasing the Sun Country flights am I able to log into my Sun Country account and purchase bag/seat at 50% off when I make that payment with my Sun Country Visa?

          • Update since my question a little over a year ago: It has been my experience that as long as you’re a holder of the Sun Country’s “Visa Signature” card and it’s linked to your Sun Country Rewards account one can pay with any credit card and still get 50% off the luggage fee.

  • If I use a united voucher and then pay a few dollars on my united card would I still get the free baggage allowance?

  • United really misses the boat on luggage. I pay for all my personal flights with chase points. I live in Denver a United hub. I always choose Delta, or Southwest over United unless I’m carry on because when you add in the cost of Luggage they are more expensive. In addition collecting United points obligates me to pay future baggage fees when I use those points unless I’m in Polaris. I would get their infinity card with lounge access if it got me free luggage without buying the ticket on it. Their requirement that I buy my ticket using their card just makes me buy my ticket from a different carrier.

  • Are the only international options on the big three (ADU) on international United flights?

    I still carry a United Presidential Plus card. Are baggage benefits for that card more generous than what is available today?

  • If I book new reservations on Alaska with travel credits, would I get the free checked bag n benefit? I am an Alaska card holder.

  • If my spouse has the JetBlue card, doesn’t fly with me, but buys the ticket on their credit card, do I get the free checked bag?

  • I’ve had my United Explorer card for many years, and they are now touting free first checked bag as a perk of having this card. My son left for college this year so I’ve been using my card and my points to purchase his flights home. When I booked his last flight, I made certain it said first checked bag was free, but when he arrived at the airport for his flight, they charged him $35 to check his bag (each way). I just booked his next flight home. During the process, I made sure to verify that it said “first checked bag FREE” before finalizing his booking, but upon confirmation, the details had once again changed to say $35 fee for the first checked bag instead of free. Might you have an idea what’s going on? I’m about to call United to complain.

    • If you are not traveling with him, the benefit won’t extend to him. He would need to have his own card to get the benefit.

  • Can I get my checked bag waived if I fly with ITA air from Barcelona to Rome if I use my Amex Platinum card

    • Can I get my checked bag waived if I fly with ITA air from Barcelona to Rome if I use my Amex Platinum card

  • Thanks for the article.
    Question: I just booked a roundtrip Basic E Delta trip for September from the USA to Berlin and will have to pay $70-$75 each way for my checked bag. ( I didn’t purchase the ticket with a Delta Am Express Card–I don’t have one right now).
    Your article says I can get the baggage fees waived if I have the Delta Am Express Gold card and I’m thinking about getting that today.
    –1. If I get the Delta Gold Amex card today (after purchasing the ticket with another card) and load it into my delta miles account, will they waive the baggage fees?
    –2. One place on the Delta site said I had to book the flight with the Delta Am Express Card, and another location on the Delta site says otherwise– have they changed their policy since you wrote this article?

    • Hi Bob, yes. When you check in for the flight, as long as you have the card and it is associated with your SkyMiles account, the fee will be waived. The terms have always said you need to book with the card but in practice, it isn’t required.

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