Alaska raises bag fees, will other airlines follow suit?

Alaska Airlines updated its checked baggage fee page over the weekend, raising prices for checked luggage to $35 for the first checked bag (up $5) starting Jan. 2, 2024.

Alaska’s move could have knock-on effects, if history is an indicator. It’s been a few years since we saw a round of airline checked-bag fee increases, though these things do have a tendency to happen in clusters. In fact, in 2018, we saw three airlines raise checked bag fees within just days of one another.

New Alaska baggage fees. ALASKA

Until Jan. 2, the first checked bag on Alaska is $30 and the second is $35. After that, Alaska will charge $35 for the first bag and $40 for the second bag. That matches the pricing at JetBlue, which is already charging $35 for the first bag. However, most of the largest U.S. airlines are still at $30 for the first checked bag.

The good news is that many of Alaska’s best customers will still get free checked bags, including those flying in first class, those who hold the Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card or Alaska Airlines Visa® Business card and those with MVP, MVP Gold or MVP Gold 75K or 100K.

This change comes just a few days after Alaska made big changes to elite status for next year, including making all status based on Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) and giving you more incentives towards elite status through credit card spend.

Related: Alaska Airlines credit cards get additional perks, new restrictions — and a higher annual fee

While this change might not appear to be a big deal at face value, this change could possibly set a precedent for other airlines to raise checked baggage fees.

“I would not be surprised to see other carriers raise their baggage fees in due time,” said Tim Jue, a San Francisco-based aviation and travel reporter. Jue continued, “The airline industry likes to act in unison, and if there’s an opportunity to increase revenue somewhere, it’s a sure-fire bet airlines will capitalize on it. All it takes is one carrier to take that leap of faith and everyone else usually piles on immediately afterwards.”

“Airlines usually, though not always, match each other when there’s money to be made,” said Brian Sumers, an industry expert who authors the Airline Observer newsletter. He continued, “Bag fees are an interesting phenomenon. Much is made of the nearly $7 billion U.S. carriers made from them last year. But really, that’s a pittance compared to what major carriers make from credit card revenue.”

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Southwest famously doesn’t charge for the first two checked bags. United Airlines already charges $35 a bag, but you can get that down to $30 by paying for baggage in advance.

Related: How to avoid checked baggage fees on major domestic airlines

“The cost of doing business for most airlines is going up, and we’re going to start seeing carriers look to extract more money out of their customers,” said Jue. “I think baggage fees are just the start of that effort, and I’d expect other carriers to quietly raise their checked bag fees in the coming days or weeks.”

Sumers, however, said it may be simpler than that. “In raising their baggage fees, airlines may be trying to grab cash from consumers in the form of fees. But just as likely, they are trying to coax some travelers into getting a new credit card, which — you guessed it — comes with “free” checked luggage. As bag fees climb up, a credit card becomes a more enticing deal.”

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