Here’s How Much U.S. Airlines Make from Baggage Fees Each Year [Data Study]

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Baggage fees continue to grow as a revenue source for U.S. airlines, which collected a record $5.1 billion in charges over the past year.

In late 2018, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and others all raised the price of a first checked bag by $5. Fees for a second checked bag were also increased.

With the rise of the basic economy fare, pricing is more a la carte than ever before. Picking and choosing which services you want is now commonplace in the airline industry. Because of these 2 factors, we wanted to take a look at just how much customers are paying to bring baggage along on the large U.S. airlines.

How Has Baggage Fee Revenue Changed?

In this study, we took a look at the most-recent data released by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) for the year that includes April 2018-March 2019. Here is how baggage revenue for each carrier compares to the same time period in the previous year. The prior period for this data was April 2017-March 2018.

Airline% Change From Prior Period
Sun Country91.6%
Alaska40.2%*
Spirit27.3%
United14.0%
Allegiant11.9%
JetBlue11.0%
Southwest7.2%
American5.1%
Hawaiian2.0%
Delta-6.8%
Frontier-7.0%
All Airlines (Average)8.6%

*Includes both Alaska Airlines and Virgin America baggage fee revenue for the prior period

Notably, Alaska Airlines increased its baggage revenue by 40%. Sun Country Airlines also saw a massive increase of over 91%. The other carrier with higher-than-average growth was Spirit Airlines.

On the other hand, Delta and Frontier both saw decreases of around 7%. Overall, the rest of the carriers seem to be mostly in line with the overall baggage fee revenue increase of 8.6%.

What Percentage of an Airline’s Revenue are Baggage Fees?

While baggage fees make up 3% of the overall operating revenue for all airlines, some airlines rely on this more heavily. Here is the breakdown to show what percentage baggage fees make up of the carrier’s total operating revenue.

Revenue percentages from baggage fees us airlines

As you can see, the baggage fee revenue makes up 19%, 16%, and 14% for the low-cost carriers Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant, respectively. Southwest doesn’t charge baggage fees for the first two checked bags, so this revenue makes up less than 1% of its overall operating revenue.

The biggest jump in revenue is with Sun Country, moving from 3.7% to 7.2% within a year. This coincides with its move to a low-cost carrier model. Interestingly, Frontier, Hawaiian, Delta all saw drops from the prior period.

Here is the breakdown by individual quarters for the past year:

Air Carrier Q2 2018Q3 2018Q4 2018Q1 2019
Spirit Airlines19%19%18%21%
Frontier Airlines16%16%16%16%
Allegiant Air14%13%13%15%
Sun Country Airlines4%7%7%12%
JetBlue4%4%4%4%
Alaska Airlines4%4%3%3%
Hawaiian Airlines3%3%3%3%
American Airlines3%3%3%3%
United Airlines2%2%2%2%
Delta Air Lines2%2%2%2%
Southwest Airlines0%0%0%0%

Most low-cost carriers saw a general uptick over each quarter. Sun Country was the airline with the biggest increase of 8% between Q2 2018 and Q1 2019.

Most legacy carriers remained pretty consistent over time, while Alaska Airlines saw a slight decline in Q4 2018 and beyond.

Average Fees per Passenger by Carrier

While the revenue numbers are important to note, an intriguing way to look at the information was to take the total baggage revenue per airline and divide it by the passengers flown by that airline over the same time period. This gives us an average baggage fee per passenger.

Obviously, not all passengers are paying baggage fees, but it does give a good idea of what to expect in terms of fees you might pay in addition to the base fare.

Average Baggage Fees Paid Per Passenger for US Carriers

Passengers of the ultra- and low-cost carriers are paying more on average (with the exception of Southwest Airlines that allows 2 free checked bags per traveler). Spirit Airlines passengers are paying a whopping $26.61 extra in baggage fees.

In addition, those airlines with a basic economy option also place higher on this list. The legacy carriers are right in the middle around the $10 per passenger mark, but Delta seems your best option of the legacy options at $6.30 per passenger if you want to minimize those baggage fees.

It’s no surprise to see Southwest Airlines at the bottom of that list. While Southwest did bring in over $50 million in revenue in baggage fees in the past year, when you take into account all the passengers the airline flies, that number seems pretty negligible. The average customer is paying an additional $.36 on top of their base fares.

These are great numbers to reference when you see those carrier’s extremely low base fares. Always remember to add on these average baggage fees (not to mention the other items like seat assignments and refreshments) to get an accurate idea of your true cost to fly with these carriers.

Baggage Fees Charged by Carrier

Here’s a table that breaks down the typical baggage fees for each of the air carriers we’ve referenced in our graph above, accurate as of August 19, 2019. Note that personal items are free across all 11 airlines in this chart.

AirlineCarry-On BagFirst Checked BagSecond Checked BagThird Checked Bag
Alaska AirlinesFree$30$40$100
Allegiant Air$18-25$20-35$20-35$20-35
American AirlinesFree$30$40$150
Delta Air LinesFree$30$40$150
Frontier Airlines$35$30$45$85
Hawaiian AirlinesFree$30$40$50-100
JetBlueFree$30$40$150
Southwest AirlinesFreeFreeFree$75
Spirit Airlines$35-40$30-35$40-45$87-97
Sun Country Airlines$30$30$30$60
United AirlinesFree*$30$40$150

*Carry-On bags are not allowed for Basic Economy — all bags other than personal items must be checked.

Baggage Fee Revenue Collected by Carrier

We’ve taken a look at how each carrier’s revenue compares over the past few years and each airline’s fees. Now, let’s take a look at the U.S. air carriers that collected the most in baggage fee revenue overall in the past year.

Baggage Fee Revenue for US Carriers

American Airlines brought in $1.24 billion in baggage fees last year, the highest among the 11 U.S. carriers who reported to the BTS. United was next at $933.3 million and Delta came in third with $817.1 million collected.

Next, we’ll break each carrier down by baggage fees each collects. Please note that these baggage fees listed are for informational purposes only. In addition, these rates assume fees are prepaid before arrival at the airport for the low-cost carriers.

Fees may also vary based on route and baggage weight and are always subject to the airline’s policies. For example, on a domestic basic economy ticket, there will be additional charges for your carry-on luggage. You should always refer to your booking reservation for a listing of all fees.

1. American Airlines — $1,249,480,000

American Airlines led the pack in terms of overall revenue from baggage fees. This isn’t that surprising as it’s the largest U.S. airline in terms of domestic routes (where bag fees are most common).

In September 2018, American Airlines raised its fees to $30 from $25 for the first checked bag and $40 up from $35 for the second.

In addition, American Airlines also has a “basic economy” ticket. This means that revenue for add-on items (such as baggage fees, seat selections, etc.) go up as a result since these items are no longer included in the base fare.

Here is American’s baggage fee structure:

Bag TypeBaggage Fee
Carry-On BagFree
First Bag$30
Second Bag$40
Third Bag$150

For more information, see our complete American Airlines baggage fee article.

2. United Airlines — $933,259,000

In September 2018, United Airlines raised its baggage fees. The first checked bag for flights costs $30 (up from $25) for flights in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The second checked bag costs $40, up from $35.

In addition, United is one of the main promoters of the basic economy fare. This may be driving higher checked baggage fees from passengers on these fares who are not allowed to bring a carry-on bag onto the aircraft.

There was definitely a steady increase in terms of baggage revenue by quarter, showing that the bump in baggage fee costs didn’t slow down the amount of baggage checked by travelers.

Here is United’s baggage fee structure:

Bag TypeBaggage Fee
Carry-On BagFree*
First Bag$30
Second Bag$40
Third Bag$150

*Carry-On bags are not allowed for Basic Economy – all bags other than personal items must be checked.

For more information, see our in-depth United baggage fee article.

3. Delta Air Lines — $817,146,000

September 2018 seemed to be the month of increased baggage fees and Delta Air Lines followed along with this trend. Delta increased checked bag fees from $25 to $30 for the first checked bag and from $35 to $40 for the second checked bag.

While Delta saw a surge in revenue in the quarter of the fare increases, fares dropped back to pre-increase levels in the quarters following. Interestingly, as we noted above, Delta’s fee revenue was down 7% overall — even with the fare increases.

This drop may be due to more travelers being exempt from fees, such as the record 1 million Delta Gold American Express cardholders or the airline’s move towards bundled fare packages that include baggage.

Here is Delta’s baggage fee structure:

Bag TypeBaggage Fee
Carry-On BagFree
First Bag$30
Second Bag$40
Third Bag$150

For more information, see our Delta baggage fee article.

4. Spirit Airlines — $669,960,000

Spirit Airlines is the first airline on this list to charge for carry-on baggage. In fact, the fees associated with the carry-on luggage are often higher than that of checked baggage! Spirit also uses dynamically priced bag fees, meaning that the price will vary according to demand.

Baggage fee revenue increased quarter over quarter, so this is a trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Some travelers know that a higher bag fee can be offset by lower ticket prices, but it’s always important to factor in all fees before clicking that purchase button!

Here is Spirit’s baggage fee structure:

Bag TypeBaggage Fee
Carry-On Bag$35-40
First Bag$30-35
Second Bag$40-45
Third Bag$87-97

For more information, see our Spirit baggage fee article.

5. Frontier Airlines — $347,376,000

Frontier Airlines is similar to its ultra-low-cost competitor Spirit Airlines that also charges extra to bring a carry-on bag. The unbundling of luggage from the base fare also leads to a higher proportion of revenue coming from these various add-ons.

Baggage fee revenue was fairly consistent over all 4 quarters, so it’s clear travelers have acclimated to paying the extra fees.

Here is Frontier’s baggage fee structure:

Bag TypeBaggage Fee
Carry-On Bag$35
First Bag$30
Second Bag$45
Third Bag$85

For more information, see our Frontier baggage fee article.

6. JetBlue — $333,314,000

In August 2018, JetBlue raised its baggage fees. The first checked bag is up from $25 to $30 and the second bag is up from $35 to $40. The third bag on all fare levels will now cost passengers $150, marking a $50 increase from the previous baggage costs.

There is an option to book the slightly higher fare option, called Blue Plus, and this includes free baggage. Even with this option, baggage fees have increased each quarter in response to the increased fare structure.

Here is JetBlue’s baggage fee structure:

Bag TypeBaggage Fee
Carry-OnFree
First Bag$30
Second Bag$40
Third Bag$150

For more information, see our JetBlue baggage fee article.

7. Alaska Airlines — $300,558,000

In December 2018, Alaska Airlines followed the other large carriers and raised their baggage fees as well. With an increase on first bag fee of 20% (or $5), its second bag fee of 60% (or $15), and a variety of other fees by more than 30%, it’s no surprise that the airline has brought in 40% more revenue than the previous 4 quarters.

This increase is likely factoring in fees associated with its recent acquisition of Virgin America as well. However, baggage fee revenue has been falling in the most recent quarters.

Here is Alaska’s baggage fee structure:

Bag TypeBaggage Fee
Carry-On BagFree
First Bag$30
Second Bag$40
Third Bag$100

For more information, see our Alaska baggage fee article.

8. Allegiant Air — $226,652,000

As an ultra-low-cost carrier, Allegiant Air conforms to the a la carte method for baggage fees. Additionally, charges increase depending on how late in the process you purchase your baggage and prices are all route dependent.

No fare increases occurred this year. However, revenue from baggage fees increased throughout the year. This either means that travelers aren’t paying attention to the extra fees when they book or they are fine with paying only for the extras that they choose.

Here is Allegiant’s baggage fee structure:

Type of BagBaggage Fee
Carry-On Bag$18-25
First Bag$20-35
Second Bag$20-35
Third Bag$20-35

For more information, see our Allegiant baggage fee article.

9. Hawaiian Airlines — $84,346,000

As of November 2018, Hawaiian Airlines increased the baggage fees for flights to/from North America. Hawaiian now charge $30 for the first checked bag, up from $25, and $40 for the second bag, up from $35.

Interestingly, baggage fee revenue actually dropped in the quarters after this change, so it appears that travelers are moving towards carry-on luggage on these routes instead.

Here is Hawaiian’s baggage fee structure:

Bag TypeBaggage Fee
Carry-On BagFree
First Bag$30
Second Bag$40
Third Bag$50-100

For more information, see our Hawaiian baggage fee article.

10. Southwest Airlines — $50,538,000

Southwest Airlines is a notable exception in that it does not charge any fees for the first 2 checked bags. Nonetheless, the airline generated $50 million in checked-bag fees last year from charging passengers for extra luggage beyond the 2 free bags allotted to each passenger.

Baggage fee revenue did drop steadily over each quarter, so it seems that travelers are learning to travel without those 3+ bags.

Here is Southwest’s baggage fee structure:

Bag TypeBaggage Fee
Carry-On BagFree
First BagFree
Second BagFree
Third Bag$75

For more information, see our Southwest baggage fee article.

11. Sun Country Airlines — $44,108,000

Sun Country Airlines began its transition to a low-cost carrier model in 2017. Since then, it has begun charging for all bags, including carry-on luggage. The switch to an a la carte model likely led to this enormous growth in baggage fee revenue.

Interestingly, most of the revenue growth actually came in Q1 of 2019, but it’s unclear what exactly lead to this spike as fees were not increased during that quarter. Time will tell if this increase in revenue is a trend or a one-time jump.

Here is Sun Country’s baggage fee structure:

Bag TypeBaggage Fee
Carry-On$30
First Bag$30
Second Bag$30
Third Bag$60

Where We Got Our Data

All of our source information can be found on the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) website.

The information we used contains domestic and international, nonstop segment data reported by U.S. air carriers. More specifically, we looked at Schedule P-1.2 for all operating and passenger property baggage fee revenue. In addition, we looked at table T-100 that notes the number of transported passengers by carrier.

This information represents both the revenue from baggage fees and the total number of passengers transported from April 2018-March 2019. This makes up 1 year’s worth of the most recent data released by the BTS.

Tips to Avoid Paying Baggage Fees

Don’t want to be a part of the statistics we’ve mentioned above? The good news is that there are many ways to avoid paying for baggage fees.

Carry-On Luggage Only

While some of the low-cost carriers charge fees for carry-on luggage, most legacy carriers do not unless you’re flying on a basic economy fare. Also, if you’re flying basic economy internationally, you can still avoid baggage fees by packing light and bringing only carry-on luggage.

We have lots of great tips and tricks for maximizing the space in carry-on luggage here: Carry-on Travel Essentials for Short and Long Flights (His & Hers).

Get an Airline Credit Card

Besides traveling with less luggage, the next easiest way to avoid checked baggage fees is by having a co-branded credit card. Many airlines offer at least 1 free checked bag; some offer 2! Some cards also offer free checked bags for others booked on your same itinerary as well.

Try to pick a card for the airline that you check a bag with the most to get the maximum use out of your benefits!

For example, if you’re a frequent American Airlines flyer — there are cards like the Citi®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® that offer a free checked bag for the cardholder (and up to 4 traveling companions). Learn more about the ideal cardholder, card benefits, and card drawbacks in our Citi AA Platinum Select card review.

If you’re a loyal United customer, then the United℠ Explorer card will get you a free checked bag as well as your traveling companion.

Unfortunately — Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Allegiant Air all have co-branded credit cards that don’t offer a free bag, but you can use a card like the CapitalOne® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and pay off charges on your statement with miles that you’ve earned with the card. If you want to explore the CapOne Venture card and learn more about how to maximize the card’s use, explore our CapOne Venture card review.

Fly Premium Class or Have Elite Status

You can join an airline’s frequent flyer program and attain a certain status to receive a free bag benefit, but that obviously means paying for more flights. And, of course, when flying you could always book a premium, business, or first class ticket, which often come with a free checked bag or 2.

Gambling at the Gate

If you’re willing to test your luck, you can always try checking your bag in at the gate. You might not be charged a baggage fee, though you’d still have to pack a bag that’ll get you through the security line. This may mean conforming to the stricter carry-on rules, but not to worry! We’ve got the perfect guide for you here: How to Easily Get Through TSA Airport Security

Final Thoughts

Airlines are trying to find ways to charge more for traditional services that used to be included in the base fare. As the U.S. airline industry continues to boom, look for baggage fee revenue to continue to expand in 2019 and beyond.

The good news is that if you’re a smart traveler, there are definitely strategies you can take to minimize or avoid paying baggage fees altogether.


FAQ

How much did baggage fees increase compared to last year?

On average, baggage fee revenue increased by 8.6%. Sun Country, with its move to the low-cost carrier model, saw an increase of over 90% while some airlines, like Delta Air Lines and Frontier Airlines, actually saw decreases.

How much do airlines charge for baggage?

Checked baggage fees vary based on a number of factors; carrier, class of ticket, number of bags, weight, and even route. Typically low-cost carriers have an additional charge for carry-on luggage. As a good measure, we’ve included the average fees paid per passenger by air carrier in an infographic above. Also, be sure to check your ticket for detailed information.

Christy Rodriguez

About Christy Rodriguez

Christy was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but lived in Texas the majority of her life. Now, work has her living in the Bay Area with her husband and yellow lab. Her first international travel experience was for a summer study abroad program in Italy. After that, she knew that she was destined to travel as much as possible. Luckily, her husband worked at Southwest Airlines, so they were introduced to the exciting world of “non-rev” travel.

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