Travelers paid US airlines more than $4 billion to check their bags last year

Money pile.
Money pile.
Image: Reuters/Joshua Lott
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If you want to stick it to the airlines, pack light.

Travelers on US carriers shelled out a record $4.2 billion to the country’s little-loved airlines to check their bags aboard their flights last year, according to the Department of Transportation. Passengers enjoyed the cheapest ticket prices since 2009, but these fees clearly ate into some of their savings. The average domestic round-trip fare last year fell more than 8% from 2015 to $349, narrowly missing the inflation-adjusted recent low of $347 in 2009.

Several major US carriers started charging passengers to check their first bag in 2008, when fuel prices spiked. But even though fuel prices have declined, US carriers still charge passengers for the service, turning checked baggage into a cash cow for an industry that is accustomed to booms and busts.

You won’t pay to check a bag on every flight. Many major US airlines allow you to check a piece of luggage when traveling internationally. But the current fees for domestic flights are likely to hit passengers trying to save the most on their tickets, those who fly coach. Business and first-class passengers usually get free checked bags with their tickets.


Overhead bins won’t help economy passengers trying to save a few bucks. United Airlines and American Airlines are rolling out basic economy class this year, which, in exchange for a lower fare compared with regular coach fares, cuts their access to overhead bins.

If you’re trying to fly really cheap, pack the bare minimum, at least until airlines find a way to charge for the space under your seat.