American Tightens Premium Cabin Free Baggage Allowance

The narrative about air travel has been that basic economy fares get less and less, and pay for more and more things. About 8 years ago the trend began charging for checked bags in economy.

On the other hand, it’s usually expected that premium cabins get more. There’s more perks for people who pay more.

That’s not always true. For instance, the US Airways acquisition of American Airlines brought a real degradation in inflight catering to premium cabins. Domestic food became virtually inedible, though fortunately last summer they brought it some of the way back. Internationally they eliminated the canape from first class. The epitome of #firstworldproblems for sure but for an industry fixated on competing for high revenue passengers it’s still notable.

Continuing the trend of taking away from premium passengers, American shared with me today that they’re eliminating the 3rd free checked bag from domestic first class and international business class.

Gary,

Wanted to give you a heads-up that we’re posting a change shortly to the bag allowance for some premium cabins. Starting with tickets bought March 29, we’ll allow two checked bags for free in two-cabin aircraft, including domestic First and international Business Class. That’s down from the current allowance of three checked bags. (This is in line with our US competitors). EPs continue to get three bags in those cabins per the table on aa.com.

Apparently the checked baggage policy page will soon be updated to:

Now, I’ve never checked three bags in my life. And as an Executive Platinum I still have this privilege. (Presumably oneworld Emerald members – top tiers with oneworld partner airlines – and Alaska Airlines MVP Gold 75Ks will continue to get their third checked bag free as well, but I’ve sought confirmation. Update: confirmed no change for these folks, or for military.)

Whenever you see a change made “in line with our competitors” you should replace that with @FakeUnitedJeff saying “we didn’t start the race to the bottom, but by God we plan to win it!”

This isn’t a major change for most, but it is a change. With as cheap as the airlines sell domestic first class now those who needed to check three bags would often find it cheaper to buy the first class seat than pay checked bag fees.

And I find it interesting that American considers it important enough to have someone thinking about and working on this change. Perhaps they read Priceonomics arguing that checked bag fees are too low.

If you aren’t an Executive Platinum but want to check bags as a premium cabin customer, buy your tickets before March 29.

Here’s something that will make bad checked baggage news go down easier: Watch this sleeping man go round and round on the baggage carousel.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Let’s see how long it is before a bunch of AA and Oneworld elites (below OW Emerald status) are hit by a reduced free baggage allowance too when flying economy class.

  2. It is in line with their competitors (United did this or something similar a year or so ago) but it still stinks. I very rarely have checked three bags (just when skiing) and when you have to pay for that third bag, it makes a big difference.

  3. This is horrible news for those of us that travel with large sporting equipment: golf bags, skis, surfboards, etc.

  4. I’m not overly concerned about this. Anyone who can afford to fly in a premium cabin or go on trips requiring surfboards, skis, golf clubs, etc. can afford to pay for a third bag. Sorry, but it’s true.

    What I’m not clear on is what the charge will be for that third bag. If you’re flying domestically in business, do they charge $25 for the third (first chargeable) bag or $150?

  5. This is just more proof that ALL of the airlines are racing to the bottom, and the only thing that can stop it is regulation. (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

  6. @joelfreak I think 3rd free checked bag for domestic first class is probably the weakest basis on which you’ve made your case for regulation thus far. Just sayin’. 😉

  7. @Arcanum, AA appreciates your lack of concern. Of course, anyone who can afford to fly in premium cabin or attain EXP status can also afford to pay for their first checked bag or their on-board meal. That is also true. This is just one more in a never ending stream of benefit reductions. What’s next?

  8. I’m trying to understand the economics of this.

    The cost of jet fuel is down 70% so its not like the additional weight is contributing significantly to costs.

    On the other hand, its a strong value proposition for the customer. If I am deciding between American and Southwest for plane tickets, that free third bag (which I would have paid $150 for in coach) may induce me to pay $300 for a nice domestic first ride. Customer gets $150 in benefit, and the Airline gets incremental $300 (minus minimal associated expenses) in revenue as well.

    I’m sure the number crunchers did the math here, but its difficult for me to see where.

  9. When I moved across country a couple years ago, I checked 4 pieces of luggage as a US F passenger + AA EXP. Probably the only time I’d do that, but it was pretty helpful. I wonder how many F passengers were bringing 3 bags – I always thought it was a competitive advantage for AA to offer it.

  10. wow. pretty terrible for those of us in sales that have to take our “road line” with us to clients and trade shows. I check 3 bags 70lbs each all the time… In the past it’s been the justification for booking business class as the $150 savings on the 3rd bag helps justify the business class ticket. Not anymore! 🙁

  11. We travel a bit between 2 residences in the U.S. in paid First Class.

    To move items between the two residences, we typically would max out have 3 bags each– with the weights varying. In 2014, we shifted almost all of our travel from AA to DL in response to AA eliminating OW Explorer Awards, and free stopovers at the gateway on awards— with AA literally giving no notice overnight of these being eliminated.

    It’s sad that effective March 29th, I’ll be allowed 3 Free Bags on DL when flying paid F for being Silver Medallion [lowest elite level on DL], versus mid-tier AA Platinum not getting any extra allowance on paid F in AA.

    Di$count Dougie just keeps the cuts coming.

    Kudos to AA’s [legacy] pilots for being frustrated with how the airline is treating its customers.

    With sAAver awards disappearing— rapidly— and AA’s award devaluation coming up in less than a week, the differentiation between AAdvantage and SkyMiles is becoming even slimmer.

    AA: I’ve gotta hand it to you— you’ve sealed my switch in 2016 to continue flying Delta. [and never in a million years did I ever think I’d utter this]

    With DL continuing to offer paid F fares $200/ticket cheaper than AA on the route we fly between 2 residences, there’s no way to justify paying AA’s higher priced F tickets anymore. The 3rd bag benefit was how I could justify paying AA more for the product— it certainly isn’t for the slop that AA continues to pass off as acceptable F food domestically– it’s still not back to the level of where it was prior to the F class meal cuts in September 2013.

  12. Living in Central America, I see this bringing scads (as opposed to loads) of $$$ to AA.

    Like me, many ex-pats go back to the “homeland” on shopping trips. Many local citizens do the same – when the import duty on a computer is 50+% and there is little discounting, a quick trip to MIA pays for itself. Throw in a few small kitchen appliances, linens (quality linens = bane of an ex-pat’s existence), etc., and this policy has been great.

    Speaking personally, I have done 3 x 70# probably 75x in the past 10 years. At least for this year, being EXP will save me. Since I have already started being a free agent, I better do all my shopping this year…

  13. Could you help clarify, Gary? When they said no change for EXP, does that mean I’ll continue to get three bags no matter what cabin I’m in, and four if I’ve been upgraded to first? I’m a musician…I don’t have the luxury of traveling light, so when a perk like this saved me $60k in baggage fees last year alone, it matters a lot to me. Thanks, Gary!

  14. Count me another pax who doesn’the understand this new policy. With jet fuel prices diwn, are there really that many pax whose third bag is cutting to into the airline profits so much that a reduction is necessary?

  15. This is really disappointing. While the most I’ve ever checked for myself was two bags if I’m ever traveling with friends or family that aren’t also sitting upfront I always offer to check their bags for them to save them some money. In fact on a trip earlier this month my wife and I were taking with a bunch of family members we checked 5 bags for family members saving them hundreds of dollars (we checked only checked one for ourselves because we could fit both of our stuff in our massive 32 inch roller).

    I realize this is not what they had in mind when they offered this benefit but it’s still a disappointing downgrade regardless.

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