Know before you go.
Bag fees are a tricky business, largely because each airline seems to have its own version of the rules. But when it comes to traveling with Texas-based American Airlines, things are pretty straightforward. Generally speaking, travelers with elite status and longer international flights are probably the only two groups able to avoid checked bag fees.
What’s the deal?
Just like its main competitor, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines enforces a strict baggage fee policy for all domestic flights. Travelers will be charged $25 for the first checked bag, and $35 for a second checked bag.
Those numbers vary slightly when your destination is Mexico, the Caribbean, or South America, but the real perks come with international travel farther afield. All flights across the Pacific (to Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh City, or Singapore, for example) include two free checked bags.
For flights across the Atlantic, on the other hand, you’ll only get one free checked bag (the second one will cost you $100.)
Traveling with extra cargo? You’ll pay $150 for a third bag on all domestic flights, as well as those bound for Mexico, the Caribbean, or South America. For the fourth and any additional bags, it’s $200 a piece.
Meanwhile, if you show up for an international flight with anything more than two pieces of checked luggage, be prepared to shell out $200 for each additional bag.
There is a way for travelers to avoid paying extra for checked luggage. If you like the sound of getting a first, second, and a third checked bag for free, you can do so by qualifying for one of three loyalty program status levels: AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Oneworld Emerald, and Alaska MVP Gold 75k.
As a rule, if you have status with American Airlines’ affiliated loyalty programs (AAdvantage, Oneworld, Alaska Airlines MVP) or if you’re flying Premium Economy, Business, or First Class, you’re generally eligible for at least one free checked bag.
First Class passengers, as well as active U.S. military personnel, are always entitled to three complimentary checked bags.
Travelers skilled in the art of traveling light can also get around those pesky checked bag fees. Just consolidate your belongings so they fit inside one 22 x 14 x 9 inch carry-on bag. Every passenger — unless you’re flying Basic Economy (more on that below) — is entitled to one free carry-on bag, in addition to a personal item.
What’s the catch?
If you’re a less-is-more type, then American Airlines’ bare-bones Basic Economy fare, which launched in February, will be your ticket. Under the new booking tier, passengers can obtain a cheaper fare in exchange for, among other things, forfeiting their right to a carry-on bag.
That’s right — Basic Economy customers can only board the plane with a personal item that fits under the seat. Everything else has to be checked. And if you're caught with a too-big bag and have to check it at the gate, you’ll be forced to pay a $25 penalty fee on top of the regular checked bag fee, a potential $50 surcharge.