The Big 3 US Airlines Already Made $757m From Baggage Fees This Year

We are just about halfway through 2019, and already the big three U.S. airlines have brought in an astounding $757 million in baggage fees. This is part of a report coming from about how the American airline industry as a whole has taken in $1.3 billion. Clearly there is some big business in baggage fees.

The big three U.S. airlines are Delta, United, and American. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The report

The article is based on a report coming from the BTS – the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The entire list of earnings from baggage fees is as follows:

  • American Airlines – $317.3 million
  • United Airlines – $238.5 million
  • Delta Air Lines – $201.4 million
  • Spirit Airlines – $176.1 million
  • Frontier Airlines – $91.4 million
  • JetBlue – $84.6 million
  • Alaska Airlines – $69.7 million
  • Allegiant – $63.7 million
  • Hawaiian – $20.2 million
  • Sun Country – $16.7 million
  • Southwest Airlines – $12.0 million

These sky-high figures represent just the first quarter of 2019. Southwest should be proud of their position at the bottom of the table. The passenger-friendly carrier allows the standard cabin bag plus one smaller, personal-type item for free. But, in contrast to other carriers, Southwest also allow all passengers two checked pieces of baggage per ticket. On a slight tangent, what’s even better is that they don’t even charge change fees. Amazing.

It should be noted that paying for baggage (and extra services) is all a matter of perception. Certainly, passengers are paying for their baggage and flight changes at Southwest – it’s just been bundled in to their ticket price.

U.S. Congress

In September 2018, United States Congress passed a law that included some sweeping changes to the air travel industry. However, as reports in a separate article, baggage fee restrictions were left out.

U.S. airlines brought in a total of $1.3 billion in baggage revenue in the first quarter of 2019. Photo: Pixabay

Whichever way Congress were to go, Airlines would still find a way to get that money from you. However, as an extra fee, the airlines save money since baggage fees aren’t subject to the federal “7.5% excise tax” that applies to tickets.

Fees in 2019

Currently it appears all of the big three U.S. airlines are charging the same for that first piece of checked baggage in economy class: $30 on a domestic flight for anything up to 50lbs (23kg). However, outside of a regular domestic flight there are many exceptions depending on the destination. Two free checked bags are fairly standard for the majority of international destinations.

Naturally, there are perks for elite status members and holders of certain airline-branded credit cards. Generous free baggage allowances exist for active U.S. military personnel and their dependents as well.

Baggage collection at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Photo: Chris Rank/Rank Studios 2019

Low-cost airlines

Budget airlines aren’t at the top of the list, mainly because of their relatively low passenger traffic. However, passengers can expect to pay more in baggage fees as some of these airlines will even charge for carry-on bags.

The target of many late-night comedy show jokes, Spirit Airlines charges for a carry-on bag as part of their “Bare Fare”. Furthermore, the airline charges more for checked bags over 40 lbs. Frontier Airlines does the same with their fares. Thankfully, for both airlines one personal item “like a purse, small backpack, etc.” is still included with the ticket – it just has to fit under the seat in front of you.

Spirit Airlines and other low-cost carriers charge for carry-on baggage. Photo: Flickr user Tomás Del Coro

Thankfully, most airlines still have a heart and allow some additional items free-of-charge. For example, here is what Frontier airlines allows:

“Coats, diaper bags when traveling with an infant, canes, crutches, Portable Oxygen Concentrators, respiratory devices or any other assistive devices, and foot rugs for use during prayer are all free to carry on in addition to your one personal item.”


Although perhaps a controversial opinion, I believe that the trend of fare unbundling can benefit passengers greatly. Passengers more accurately pay for what they bring with them and it encourages over-packers to think twice about bringing items that may not be necessary. Less baggage to fly means less fuel burned, and that’s a benefit to the environment.

What do you think? Would you support fare unbundling if it could save you money? Last September we wrote an article about U.S. airlines’ baggage fee increases. You can check it out here.