Travelers paid airlines a record $4.6 billion last year to check their luggage

Key Points
  • Passengers are paying more to check their bags.
  • Airlines are starting to charge for bags on international flights.
Baggage claim conveyor at Philadelphia International Airport.
John Greim | LightRocket | Getty Image

Many travelers aren't packing light, a habit that's a boon to airlines.

Travelers paid U.S. commercial carriers a record $4.57 billion last year in checked bag fees, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation report released Monday.

It's an eye-popping figure, but the pace of growth from 2016 to 2017 — 6 percent — is less than half of that from 2015 to 2016. While some passengers may have decided to wear a dress or shirt more than once on a vacation to avoid packing too much, or are using some co-branded credit cards to get a free checked bag, travelers may still find on some trips they'll have to pay up to check their suitcases.

Airlines are changing their long-standing polices on free checked bags on international routes. This year, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines are starting to charge for a checked bag on flights to Europe for passengers traveling in basic economy, generally the cheapest fares on board that come with few frills, like complimentary seat selection.

Unlike domestic basic economy tickets, American Airlines said it will allow basic economy passengers traveling to Europe to use overhead bins on board.

Delta and American will each charge $60 for the first checked bag and $100 for the second on trans-Atlantic routes. Passengers may instead opt to buy the more expensive economy-class ticket that comes with a free checked bag, which is what airlines want travelers to do anyway.

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