How To Check A Bag For Free

These days, it seems like airlines are doing everything in their power to add more fees onto a simple plane ticket. In 2013 alone, U.S. airlines earned an estimated $3.35 billion in checked baggage fees. Luckily, we've found a few ways to get around them.

Fliers with a ton of mileage, points or status can usually secure checked bags for free, but if you fly Southwest or JetBlue you can always check your first bag for free. And, depending on location, "regular" travelers can get a free checked bag if they're going to Central America, Europe or on certain transatlantic or transpacific flights.

Without further ado, here's how to get your checked luggage for free on six major airlines:

1. Southwest

We can't say it enough -- FLY SOUTHWEST if you have a lot of baggage. Southwest's luggage slogan is "Bags fly free," and they really mean it: all first and second checked bags are free, including golf bags and skis. Just make sure bags are the right size and at the required weight limit.

2. JetBlue

At JetBlue, you can check your first bag for free -- just make sure it's the right size, weight and not a box on international flights. Sounds easy enough.

3. Delta Air Lines

Typically, traveling from the United States or Canada to the Caribbean or Central America means you'll spend about $25 on your first checked bag. If you really want to get out of that $25, Basic Card Members with a Gold, Platinum or Reserve Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express can waive their first checked bag fee on all Delta flights. The best part? It applies to EVERYONE in your reservation (up to nine people).

But if you're flying to South America, Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, China or Japan, the first checked bag is generally free already.

4. United Airlines

Again -- status is key. Those who are MileagePlus or Presidential Plus members can get up to two checked bags for free (plus two for a companion). MileagePlus Explorer Card members (or those with certain Chase credit cards) can get their first bag -- and a guest’s! -- checked for free, too. In order to avoid confusion with certain flight itineraries or locations, United provides this handy website where you can just type in your flight number and see if you get your bag for free.

5. American Airlines

If you have AAdvantage elite status, you can get checked bags free (up to three, if you're Executive Platinum). The same offer applies to passengers in first or business class.

If you're in economy, the first checked bag is free on flights to/from spots including Europe, China and South America. For specific travel plans, check with American's worldwide reservation phone numbers to see if you can get your first bag for free.

6. US Airways

Passengers who are US Airways MasterCard or Visa card members can all check their first bag for free on domestic flights, in addition to four people in their reservation.

Since US Airways merged with American, their checked baggage policies have “aligned” -- the first bag is free on all flights to Brazil, South America and those to transatlantic or transpacific locations. If you're going to certain locations in Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America, your first checked bag might also be free.

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Frances Janisch
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Tina Rupp/Food & Wine
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Lucy Schaeffer/Food & Wine
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