New Zealanders have something in common with the Americans – we all typically endure checked baggage fees for even the first bag on most domestic flights, and often even to neighbouring countries, like Australia and Fiji, and Canada and Mexico respectively.
Here are five ways that you can avoid paying this fee when you head east across the Pacific.
1. Check-in for your domestic US flight when departing Australia
Often travellers from Australia and New Zealand will book a return flight to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, or New York with the intention of filling in the rest of their trip with domestic flights later on.
A few months ago, I booked a one-way flight from Sydney to LA on Virgin Australia and then a separate Economy ticket on Delta from LA to Austin.
When checking in at Sydney Airport with Virgin Australia, I gave the check-in agent my six-digit confirmation number for my Delta flight and they were able to attach a baggage tag to Austin via LA and didn’t charge me the $25 USD fee for taking that bag on the second flight.
It all depends on whether the first airline has an interline agreement with the second one, meaning they can issue a boarding pass and check luggage on the second flight. You can find a list of interline agreements for Qantas and Virgin Australia. If you have access to ExpertFlyer, they have a more comprehensive search function. Air New Zealand can interline but unfortunately will typically refuse to do so, so don’t count on an interline with our national airline, even with partners like United.
2. Fly Southwest
This Dallas-based carrier is my favourite when flying Economy in the US (Delta would be a close second) and it is actually the third-largest airline by passenger numbers, ahead of United.
They are the only US airline that includes not just one but two checked bags in every fare. Their customer service is generally superior to American and United, and they have a great range of destinations in the US, Mexico, Central America and The Caribbean.
You can also change your flight for free (plus any fare difference) or cancel your flight and receive a travel credit.
3. Hold elite status
If you hold status with Air New Zealand, Qantas, Velocity or another frequent flyer program, then you can access a complimentary checked baggage allowance on that airline and its partners. That covers United for Air New Zealand, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines for Qantas, and Delta and Hawaiian Airlines for Virgin Australia.
4. Fly Business Class
Called ‘First Class’ by most US airlines on their domestic flights, you’ll get a complimentary checked baggage allowance.
Generally, though, I don’t find using cash or points for domestic US flights is of good value, as you usually don’t even get lounge access. The exception to that is for transcontinental flights, which it is much more attractive to have a lie-flat seat on and you’re more likely to get lounge access.
5. Travel with only carry-on
Pretty self-explanatory but impractical for many—respect to those expert minimalists out there.
One more thing: be careful of Basic Economy fares
All three US legacy airlines (Delta, American and United) have started to behave like low-cost carriers in charging for bringing anything larger than a ‘personal item’ (think: small backpack or purse) onboard.
They, at least for now, make it really clear on their websites that you are purchasing a Basic Economy rather than more expensive Economy fare but that could change in the future.
If you are using a third party booking engine like Expedia or Webjet, then this information can be really well-hidden.
A good way to get around this is to install the Legroom for Chrome extension if you are a Google Chrome web browser user. It shows you the carry-on baggage allowance and also the legroom for your seat (as the name suggests).
US airlines are almost equally stingy as Air New Zealand when it comes to checked baggage allowances.
So, if you are connecting from your flight from New Zealand onto a domestic US flight, try to get the checked baggage fee waived by checking in for the second flight when departing home (albeit you’ll need to avoid Air New Zealand for this to work).
Within the US, Southwest offers the most generous (and only) complimentary checked baggage allowance. Do watch out for Basic Economy fares on many airlines, which restrict even carry-on baggage.
Finally, if you hold status with Air New Zealand, Qantas, or Velocity, then try to preference travel on partner airlines to get both an increased baggage allowance and potentially lounge access.
Have you had any success with any of these methods? Do you have any other suggestions to avoid checked baggaged fees in the US or elsewhere?