From Alaska Airlines down to United, all the major airlines offer co-branded credit cards teasing big bonuses and a valuable benefit: Free checked baggage on every flight.
With airlines charging $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 this benefit a bit differently: How many bags can you bring? International or only domestic?
But above all, one question comes up constantly: 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 … but the reality is, it depends on the airline. 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
- A Breakdown of Free Bag Benefits by Airline
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 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 The Platinum Card® from American Express. 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.
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 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. 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!
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.
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.
- 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!
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.