What Does Pay To Check Bags Mean? A Complete Guide

If you’re an occasional or first-time flyer, you may see the option to “pay to check bags” when booking your airline ticket and wonder what exactly that means. Don’t worry, you’re not alone – the policies and fees around checked baggage can be confusing!

In short, paying to check bags means that you have to pay an additional fee per bag you want to check in and have transported in the cargo hold of the plane, rather than carry on the plane with you.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about paying to check bags, including:

What Checked Baggage Is

Checked baggage refers to the luggage that passengers hand over to the airline staff during the check-in process. Unlike carry-on bags, which are kept with the passengers in the cabin, checked bags are transported in the cargo hold of the aircraft.

These bags are securely stowed and remain inaccessible to passengers until they reach their destination.

Bags transported in the cargo hold, not the cabin

When you check your bags, they are carefully loaded onto the aircraft’s cargo hold. This area is specifically designed to accommodate luggage and other cargo securely during the flight. The cargo hold is separate from the cabin, ensuring that passengers have a comfortable and spacious environment during their journey.

Usually subject to size and weight restrictions

Checked baggage is typically subject to size and weight restrictions imposed by the airline. These restrictions vary depending on the airline and the class of travel. It is important to check with the airline beforehand to ensure that your bags comply with their specific guidelines.

Exceeding the allowed size or weight limits may incur additional fees or require you to repack your belongings.

For example, many airlines have a maximum weight limit of 50 pounds (23 kilograms) per checked bag and a maximum linear dimension of 62 inches (158 centimeters). However, it’s worth noting that these restrictions can vary, so it’s always a good idea to check with the airline directly or consult their website for up-to-date information.

Some airlines may also have restrictions on the number of bags you can check for free, while others may charge a fee for each checked bag. These fees can vary depending on the airline, destination, and even the type of ticket purchased.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the airline’s baggage policy to avoid any surprises at the airport.

Why You Might Have to Pay for Checked Bags

Many travelers have experienced the frustration of having to pay extra fees for checked bags at the airport. But have you ever wondered why airlines charge for this service? There are several reasons why you might have to pay for checked bags, and understanding these reasons can help you better navigate the world of airline travel.

Checked bags take up space and fuel

One of the main reasons why airlines charge for checked bags is because they take up valuable space in the cargo hold of the aircraft. Every bag that is checked requires additional handling and storage, which can be time-consuming and costly for airlines.

Additionally, the weight of the bags can increase the fuel consumption of the aircraft, leading to higher operating costs for the airline. By charging for checked bags, airlines are able to offset these expenses and keep ticket prices lower for all passengers.

Airlines instituted fees to offset costs

In recent years, airlines have faced increasing operating costs, including rising fuel prices and maintenance expenses. To offset these costs, many airlines have instituted fees for services that were previously included in the price of a ticket, such as checked bags.

By charging for these services separately, airlines are able to generate additional revenue and remain competitive in a challenging industry.

Fees vary by airline

It’s important to note that the fees for checked bags can vary significantly from one airline to another. Some airlines may include one or two checked bags in the price of a ticket, while others may charge a fee for each bag checked.

Additionally, the weight and size restrictions for checked bags can also vary by airline. It’s always a good idea to check the baggage policies of the airline you are flying with to avoid any surprises at the airport.

Typical Checked Bag Fees

When traveling by air, it is essential to understand the concept of “pay to check bags.” This refers to the fees that airlines charge passengers for checking their luggage. These fees vary from airline to airline and can significantly impact your travel budget.

To help you navigate this aspect of air travel, here is a complete guide to the typical checked bag fees.

First checked bag fee

Most airlines have a first checked bag fee, which means that passengers are required to pay a fee for checking in their first piece of luggage. This fee can range from $25 to $35, depending on the airline and the destination.

Some airlines, however, offer a waiver for the first checked bag fee to certain passengers, such as those with elite status or those who purchased a specific fare class.

Second checked bag fee

In addition to the first checked bag fee, many airlines also charge a fee for checking a second bag. This fee is usually higher than the first checked bag fee and can range from $35 to $50. Again, some airlines may waive this fee for certain passengers, but it is important to check the specific rules and regulations of the airline you are flying with.

Overweight/oversize bag fees

If your checked bag exceeds the weight or size limits set by the airline, you may be subject to additional fees. These overweight/oversize bag fees can be quite hefty, ranging from $50 to $200, depending on the airline and the extent to which your bag exceeds the limits.

It is crucial to carefully pack and weigh your bags before heading to the airport to avoid these extra charges.

Did you know? According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines collected over $5 billion in baggage fees in 2019 alone.

It is important to note that the checked bag fees mentioned here are just general guidelines, and it is always recommended to check with the airline directly for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding their baggage fees.

Additionally, some airlines may offer discounted or waived fees for frequent flyers, members of their loyalty programs, or those who book their tickets directly through their website.

Pro tip: To save money on checked bag fees, consider packing efficiently and only bringing essential items. You can also explore airlines that offer more generous baggage allowances or consider traveling with only carry-on luggage.

For more information on specific airline baggage fees, you can visit the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Consumer Baggage Fees webpage.

Who Gets Free Checked Bags

First/business class passengers

One of the perks of flying first or business class is the ability to check bags without any additional cost. Airlines understand that passengers in these premium cabins expect a certain level of service and convenience, which includes not having to worry about baggage fees.

So, if you’re lucky enough to be sitting in the lap of luxury, you can enjoy the privilege of free checked bags. It’s just one of the many ways airlines cater to their high-paying customers.

Elite frequent flyers

For frequent flyers who have achieved elite status with an airline’s loyalty program, free checked bags are often part of the package. These dedicated travelers have demonstrated their loyalty and commitment to the airline, and in return, they receive a range of benefits, including waived baggage fees.

The number of free checked bags may vary based on the airline and the level of elite status achieved. So, if you find yourself constantly jet-setting, it might be worth considering joining an airline’s loyalty program to enjoy the perks, including free checked bags.

Military personnel

Airlines often show their appreciation for the sacrifices made by military personnel by offering them special benefits when traveling. One such benefit is free checked bags. Active-duty military members and their dependents are typically allowed to check bags without incurring any additional charges.

This is a small gesture of gratitude from the airlines to the brave men and women who serve their country. If you’re in the military or have a loved one serving, be sure to check with the airline about their specific policies on free checked bags.

Children under 2

Traveling with young children can be a challenge, but airlines try to make it a little easier for parents by allowing them to check certain items for free. Children under the age of 2 who are traveling on an adult’s lap or in a car seat are often exempt from baggage fees.

This includes strollers, car seats, and other necessary baby items. It’s important to note that the specific policies may vary from airline to airline, so it’s always a good idea to check with the airline before your trip to ensure you understand their rules regarding free checked bags for young children.

Tips for Avoiding Checked Bag Fees

Fly with only a carry-on

One of the easiest ways to avoid checked bag fees is to fly with only a carry-on. Most airlines allow passengers to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item, such as a purse or laptop bag, free of charge.

By packing efficiently and only bringing the essentials, you can save money and avoid the hassle of waiting at the baggage claim area.

Join an airline’s frequent flyer program

Joining an airline’s frequent flyer program can often provide benefits, including waived checked bag fees. Many airlines offer this perk to their loyal customers as a way to reward their loyalty. By signing up for these programs, you can earn miles or points that can be redeemed for free checked bags or other travel perks.

It’s a win-win situation!

Use a credit card with a free checked bag benefit

Another option to avoid checked bag fees is to use a credit card that offers a free checked bag benefit. Some credit cards, especially those affiliated with specific airlines, provide cardholders with this perk as part of their membership.

By using these credit cards to book your flights, you can save money on bag fees and enjoy a more convenient travel experience.

Pack light and cleverly

One of the best ways to avoid checked bag fees is to pack light and cleverly. By packing efficiently and strategically, you can fit all your belongings into a carry-on bag, eliminating the need for checked luggage.

Utilize packing cubes, roll your clothes instead of folding them, and maximize the space in your bag. It may require some planning and organization, but the savings on checked bag fees will be worth it.

Remember, each airline has its own policies regarding checked bag fees, so it’s essential to check the specific rules for the airline you are flying with. By following these tips and being mindful of your packing choices, you can save money and make your travel experience more enjoyable.

Understanding Checked Baggage Policies

When it comes to air travel, understanding the checked baggage policies of airlines is essential to avoid any unexpected surprises. Airlines have specific rules and regulations regarding the size, weight, and contents of checked bags.

By familiarizing yourself with these policies, you can ensure a smoother and hassle-free journey.

Bag size/weight restrictions

One of the most important aspects of checked baggage policies is the size and weight restrictions imposed by airlines. Each airline has its own set of guidelines, so it’s crucial to check the specific requirements before your trip.

Generally, airlines have a maximum weight limit for checked bags, usually ranging from 50 to 70 pounds. Additionally, there are size restrictions for checked bags, with dimensions typically ranging from 62 to 80 linear inches.

Exceeding these limits may result in additional fees or the need to repack your belongings.

International vs. domestic

It’s important to note that there may be different baggage policies for international and domestic flights. International flights often have stricter regulations due to security measures and customs requirements.

It’s advisable to check with the airline beforehand to ensure compliance with the specific rules for your destination.

What’s allowed inside checked bags

While most personal items are allowed in checked bags, there are certain restrictions on hazardous materials and prohibited items. It’s essential to review the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines to ensure compliance.

Liquids, gels, and aerosols must be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less and placed in a clear, quart-sized bag. Some items, such as firearms and explosives, are strictly prohibited and can lead to serious consequences if discovered during the screening process.

For a comprehensive list of allowed and prohibited items, you can visit the official TSA website at www.tsa.gov.

Liability for lost/damaged bags

Despite taking precautions, there is always a risk of lost or damaged baggage during air travel. In such cases, it’s crucial to understand the airline’s liability and compensation policies. Most airlines have a maximum liability limit for lost or damaged baggage, which can vary depending on the carrier and the destination.

It’s recommended to keep receipts and document the contents of your checked bags to facilitate the claims process in case of any unfortunate incidents.

For more information on your rights as a passenger and the airline’s liability, you can visit the official website of the Department of Transportation at www.transportation.gov.


We hope this guide has helped explain what it means when airlines give you the option to pay to check bags. While checked bag fees can add to your travel costs, being informed about baggage policies can help you budget and pack accordingly. Safe travels!

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