- Charging for carry-on bags helps lower ticket prices by reducing the aircraft’s load and saving fuel, which is a saving that can be passed on to the consumer.
- Many airlines, including Spirit and Frontier, charge high fees for carry-on bags at the gate, increasing the total cost of flying on these carriers.
- Not all low-cost carriers charge for carry-ons, such as Southwest, but some like JetBlue and United’s basic economy tickets charge fees for bringing carry-on bags to the gate.
In 2010, Spirit Airlines became the first major US airline to introduce fees for full-sized carry-on baggage, which came as a disappointment to many who thought the carrier’s new charge was unjustified. Others followed suit, and today most low-cost carriers charge for carry-on baggage.
In some cases, legacy carriers even charge passengers for bringing carry-on baggage aboard. In other circumstances, some passengers are prohibited from bringing carry-on luggage aboard and will be charged a fee to check baggage if it is brought to the gate. Such is true of travelers flying on United Airlines’ basic economy tickets.
Why charge for carry-on bags?
While many may initially think that charging for carry-on bags is just another way for airlines to make money (and this is in fact true), the practice also brings ticket prices down. Not bringing carry-on bags lightens an aircraft’s load, thus saving fuel and ultimately money, a saving that can be passed on to the consumer.
Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
Furthermore, most aircraft do not have enough overhead bin space to accommodate all passengers’ bags, leading many bags to be gate checked. Notably, the logistics of gate-checking so many bags often lead to delays, and as such requiring a payment for a carry-on bag can help improve on-time performance.
What are airlines currently charging for carry-ons?
In 2023, the prices for bringing a piece of carry-on baggage onboard can vary significantly by the carrier. Furthermore, when in the booking/check-in process a passenger indicates that they will be bringing the luggage onboard also affects the fee that will ultimately be paid.
Spirit Airlines, the first carrier to charge for carry-on baggage, charges a full $99 if a passenger brings carry-on baggage to the gate. While the price for a carry-on drops to only $60 at booking, on some cheaper fares, this price can drastically increase the total cost of flying on the airline.
Photo: Robin Guess | Shutterstock
Fellow ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines matches Spirit’s prices at the gate, also charging $79 for a passenger to register a carry-on at the check-in counter. At booking, however, Frontier charges a lower price of $53. Allegiant charges somewhat lower prices: $75 at the gate and ranging between $15 and $50 at booking depending on the route. Breeze Airways charges $29 for a carry-on for most tickets regardless of when the passenger indicates that they will be bringing the bag onboard.
Not all low-cost carriers charge passengers to bring carry-ons. Southwest Airlines notably doesn’t, and further doesn’t charge passengers for the first two checked bags they bring onboard. For passengers flying on JetBlue and United’s basic economy tickets, bringing a carry-on bag to the gate will result in the luggage being checked, incurring a $30 fee on United and $35 for JetBlue.
Photo: Robin Guess | Shutterstock
For passengers, these incredibly high fees are extremely important to note. After all, a $60 charge can quickly convert a $40 ticket into a $100 ticket, which could be much higher than a different ticket a passenger could purchase. It is essential for prospective travelers to include all baggage costs when selecting the best flight for them.