American Airlines is raising bag fees and changing how customers earn frequent-flyer points

DALLAS– American Airlines is raising baggage check fees and making other changes to encourage customers to buy tickets directly from the airline if they want to earn frequent flyer points.

The airline said Tuesday that checking bags on a domestic flight will increase from $30 now to $35 online and $40 if purchased at the airport. The cost for a second checked bag will increase from $40 to $45, both online and at the airport.

America last increased baggage fees in 2018.

American, based in Fort Worth, Texas, introduced bag fees (then $15) in 2008 to combat the rising cost of jet fuel. Since then, they have become a stable source of revenue for most major US airlines. American easily led the industry by collecting $1.4 billion in baggage fees in 2022, the latest year for which U.S. Transportation Department figures are available.

The airline is also increasing baggage fees by $5 for short international flights, including those to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean – now $35 for the first bag and $45 for the second.

The airline generally allows customers to check at least one piece of luggage for free if they have elite status in the US loyalty program, purchase a premium class ticket or use a US-branded credit card.

In January, Alaska Airlines increased checked bag fees for most economy passengers from $30 to $35 for a first bag and from $40 to $45 for a second bag. JetBlue followed suit this month, raising the cost to $35 and $50.

“Airlines tend to move in herds, so when Alaska recently announced they would raise their baggage fees to $35, there was little doubt that other airlines would soon follow suit,” says Scott Keyes, founder of the travel site Going. “It is unlikely that the American will be the last.”

Keyes noted that American’s decision to charge customers more when they pay baggage fees at the airport instead of when they purchase their ticket mimics a tactic used by budget airlines such as Spirit and Frontier.

American will give a break to customers whose bags are a little too heavy or too big. Instead of being hit with the full additional fee – ranging from $100 to $650 – the graduated rates will start at $30 for bags no more than 3 pounds (1.36 kg) or three linear centimeters above the limit.

And it reduces the cost of transferring points between frequent flyer accounts.

At the same time, American announced that starting May 1, customers will have to purchase tickets directly from the airline or its partner carriers or from preferred online travel agencies if they want to earn points in the AAdvantage loyalty program. The airline said it will list the preferred travel agencies by the end of April. Business travelers are not inconvenienced by this.

About 60% of U.S. ticket sales already go directly through the airline, said Scott Chandler, vice president of revenue management.

The changes are part of a long shift among airlines away from using travel agents – and paying them commissions – and from bringing ticket sales in-house.

“The old way of booking a ticket relied on agents with a lot of experience and understanding of product features,” Chandler said in an interview. “The old technology doesn’t allow us to explain things very well, and it’s a little more confusing for customers when we introduce new products.”

Chandler compared it to the way explains the features it sells on the site.