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The Best Cards for Free Bag Benefits When You Fly

by on Tue April 12, 2016 • No Comment
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Being able to check bags for free is a major benefit of holding an airline credit card, but not all “bag checked free” benefits are created equal.

Some cards only include one bag, while others include two. Sometimes you’re required to purchase the airfare on the card in question, other times you’re not.

Those that don’t have that requirement can score you free baggage even if you’ve already purchased a ticket before getting a card, so they’re a good option if you have an upcoming trip and know you’re about to check bags.

It’s important to take these differences into consideration when choosing a card and also to make sure you are meeting the requirements to actually trigger the free checked bag benefit when you need it.

Here are the free checked bag details for the major credit cards that offer it and our take on which cards actually are best in terms of scoring free checked bags. The scorecard used to calculate the scores for each card can be found at the bottom of the article.

1. Gold Delta SkyMiles Amex

  • deltagold170Number of Free Bags: 1
  • Number of Passengers Who Get a Free Bag: Cardholder and up to eight travel companions booked on the same reservation
  • Payment Method to Get Free Bag: Any card
  • How Far in Advance You Need to Have the Card: The free bag benefit applies as soon as your card is active, and you have your SkyMiles number in the reservation
  • Domestic or International: Both
  • Score: 82
  • $95 annual fee ($0 introductory fee the first year)

2. Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select

  • aadvantagemc170Number of Free Bags: 1
  • Number of Passengers Who Get a Free Bag: Cardholder and up to four travel companions booked on the same reservation
  • Payment Method to Get Free Bag: Any card
  • How Far in Advance You Need to Have the Card: Your credit card needs to be active 7 days prior to your flight to get the free bag
  • Domestic or International: Domestic only
  • Score: 83
  • $95 annual fee ($0 introductory fee the first year)

3. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature

  • alaskavisaNumber of Free Bags: 1
  • Number of Passengers Who Get a Free Bag: Cardholder and up to six travel companions booked on the same reservation
  • Payment Method to Get Free Bag: Any card
  • How Far in Advance You Need to Have the Card: 2-3 weeks before travel
  • Domestic or International: Domestic only
  • Score: 70
  • $75 annual fee

4. United MileagePlus Club Card

  • unitedclub170Number of Free Bags: 2
  • Number of Passengers Who Get a Free Bag: Cardholder and one travel companion booked on the same reservation
  • Payment Method to Get Free Bag: You must purchase your flight with your United Club Credit Card for the benefit to apply
  • How Far in Advance You Need to Have the Card: You need the credit card in order to purchase airfare
  • Domestic or International: Both
  • Score: 65
  • $450 annual fee

Find out how to make sure your free checked bag is set up correctly with United here.

5. United MileagePlus Explorer Card

  • united170Number of Free Bags: 1
  • Number of Passengers Who Get a Free Bag: Cardholder and one travel companion booked on the same reservation
  • Payment Method to Get Free Bag: You must purchase yuor flight with your United Explorer Credit Card for the benefit to apply
  • How Far in Advance You Need to Have the Card: Must have the credit card in order to purchase airfare
  • Domestic or International: Both
  • Score: 55
  • $95 annual fee ($0 introductory fee the first year)

Find out how to make sure your free checked bag is set up correctly with United here.

6. Virgin America Visa

  • virginamericavisaNumber of Free Bags: 1
  • Number of Passengers Who Get a Free Bag: Cardholder and one travel companion booked on the same reservation
  • Payment Method to Get Free Bag: Must purchase with Virgin America credit card
  • How Far in Advance You Need to Have the Card: Must have the card in order to purchase airfare
  • Domestic or International: Domestic
  • Score: 45
  • $49 annual fee

7. Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard

  • hawaiianvisaNumber of Free Bags: 1
  • Number of Passengers Who Get a Free Bag: Cardholder
  • Payment Method to Get Free Bag: Must purchase airfare with Hawaiian Airlines credit card
  • How Far in Advance You Need to Have the Card: Must have card in order to purchase airfare
  • Domestic or International: Domestic only
  • Score: 40
  • Annual fee: $89

What does a ‘free first checked bag’ really mean?

The free checked bag offered by any of these credit cards only applies if you do not already have a free checked bag for any reason.

For example, some international fares will offer a free checked bag or you might get a free checked bag with your elite status.

The free checked bag offered through the credit cards is not in addition to those benefits, it is only valid as your first free checked bag.

In addition, in order to use your free checked bag, you must put the frequent flier number of the airline you are booking with on your ticket. If you want to use American’s free checked bag benefit through their credit card, you must have your American Airlines AAdvantage number on your ticket, which means that you will be earning American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

Using the free checked bag benefit from these credit cards can be a little restrictive, but especially if you are traveling with a group, knowing how the free checked bag benefits work could save you hundreds of dollars on your next trip.

Scorecard details

  • Number of Free Bags: 20 for first bag, +10 for second bag (30 points total)
  • Number of Passengers Who Get a Free Bag: 10 for first passenger, +5 for second passenger, +1 extra credit for any additional passengers (8 passengers max for any card) (15 points total + extra credit allowed)
  • Payment Method to Get Free Bag: 10 for any card, none for specific card (10 points total)
  • How Far in Advance You Need to Have the Card: 15 for one week or less, 10 for one month or less, none if ticket must be purchased with credit card (15 points total)
  • Domestic or International: 20 for international, 10 for domestic only (20 points total)
  • Total Score: 100 maximum

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