Fly free and skip the bag fees with airline credit cards
Major airlines in the United States reported that they earned $769 million between January and March of this year on checked bag fees, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Since airlines started charging for checked bags, there's been little the average human can do to avoid them. Only super elite members of frequent flyer programs, the ones who get upgrades just by asking and their own lineless check-in desk, have been able to skirt the inevitable $25 or more per bag.
But that's all changing now.
Hundreds of generic airline mileage cards have emerged in the last year, promising flexible rewards that flyers can use on any airline without having to form an alliance with a specific carrier. As a result, the airline brand cards have upped the ante for the average Joe.
Airline cards are starting to offer free checked bags along with super extra bonus miles for their exclusive customers.
Delta Sky Miles customers, as of June 1, who book flights for themselves and up to nine companions, can check their first bag for free. For those who check bags, as a result, the money saved on four domestic flights will pay the annual fee of $95.
United and Continental customers who pay for their bookings with the airline-brand Chase Mastercard also get their first bag checked for free. Presidential Plus card members get their first and second bags checked, according to the cards' promotional websites.
Branded airline card benefits don't end there. Cardholders get extra miles when they book directly through the airline, which is the easiest way to deal with problems when they arise. Just ask someone who has missed a flight he or she booked through a third party.
Miles also tend to rack up a bit faster and convert more easily into travel rewards with airline-specific cards.
The cards with the greatest benefits, which almost always also include automatic travel and car rental insurance, are often the ones with the highest annual fees. If your new to the airline mileage card game, choose your card carefully because you will want to use it for everything in order to get the most of the rewards.
Pay attention to which airline you fly most frequently and which ones are most convenient to you where you live and in the destinations where you fly most frequently. Pick the airline before you pick the card. Most have fee and no-fee options. Inevitably, the rewards on the fee cards are far superior. Examine the options carefully.
If you fly often but don't charge a lot, the no-fee option is probably better for you because you'll rack up your miles the old fashioned way and won't get much use out of the card-just when you're booking your flight or making major purchases on plastic.
Conversely, if you charge a lot, whether you fly a lot or not, the fee card with more benefits, even though it costs, is the way to go. If you fly only once a year and charge $2,000 a month on your card, you'll be able to fly free every time.
-Amanda H. Miller