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jan 13 2010

What's next for airline baggage fees?

As Continental and Delta jack up their fees for checked luggage, Southwest, the lone two-bags-free airline still out there, is asking customers how they'd respond if they too had to pay to check bags.

Delta made news by raising its fees to $25 for the first bag (up from $15) and $35 for the second (up from $20), and the increases were promptly matched by Continental. Both airlines charge you a little less if you pay for checked baggage in advance online: There's a $2 discount for the first bag, and a $3 discount for the second (so $23 for your first bag, $32 for the second). Other airlines are expected to follow with baggage fee increases of their own.

See a list of current baggage fees at kayak.com/airline-fees.

Those "other airlines" would normally exclude Southwest, which has set itself apart from the rest of the carriers by continuing to allow passengers to check two bags for free. If you've got a TV, you're probably well aware of the airline's "Bags Fly Free" promotional campaign.

But over at Christopher Elliott's blog, there's some speculation that Southwest may introduce checked baggage fees of its own. At least the airline is looking into the possibility, with surveys sent to customers asking how they'd respond to various fares (some with checked luggage fees) and to potential changes in the carrier's frequent flier program.

Southwest responded to Elliott's post by saying it has "no plans" to charge for bags, explaining that "Surveys simply help us learn more about our customers."

So Southwest passengers should continue to be able to check baggage fee free for the time being. After all, in light of the big free-bags commercial campaign, the airline would look awfully foolish if it started charging for luggage anytime soon.

But down the line? You have to wonder.

Airline policies can and do change, often not in the favor of travelers. For some perspective, it wasn't all that long ago that we were praising JetBlue for allowing passengers to check two bags up to 70 pounds apiece for free. JetBlue's current checked luggage policy, which is still better than most, allows one checked bag for free, with a 50-pound maximum.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.


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