If you’ve got to haul your belongings cross-country, cancel that road trip. Who knew checking 500 pounds of luggage was cheaper than shipping? In some cases, moving is packing up the car and driving across town. Unfortunately, that's just for the easy moves.
For long-distance moves, I’ve always foolishly assumed to go with the airline that gives the most free checked bags. Or find extremely loving friends and family who were traveling between the two cities to take back baggage piecemeal for me. But Virgin America’s checked baggage policy is so surprisingly generous it only costs $250 to check 10 standard-sized suitcases on the plane.
But if you’re not in a city that Virgin America services, don't worry. After Virgin, Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue are the respective runners-up when it comes to the cheapest baggage fees. In fact, we've got the full lowdown on total baggage costs—depending on the number of items you plan to check in—across all major domestic airlines, so you can see how these fees stack up in one quick glance. No need to calculate how American and United stack up by the time you check the 3rd bag.
Perhaps the only qualification for being the best airline to move with? A reasonable checked bag policy. Because you’ll be bringing lots. After all, this is about making sure everything gets to your destination.
It can get complicated but the baggage allowance generally depends on the cabin you’re flying in, airline status and destination. To make things straightforward as possible, we pulled together a complete list of baggage fees for those flying in economy (or the cheapest) class domestically without any special considerations. The chart below shows the standard charges for each bag:
It should be noted that every airline we contacted except for Southwest did not have a checked bag limit, though JetBlue made it clear this was “subject to airport approval.” Southwest only accepts up to nine bags.
This is all and great, but it doesn't give a clear sense of how baggage charges add up over the course of all the different airlines. So we did some calculations on total costs and took the guesswork out of it.
Total baggage costs, sorted by airline and bags checked. The cheapest is highlighted in red:
It’s when we reach the third bag that the dynamics begin to shift. JetBlue isn't even an economical option, jumping to fourth place behind Virgin America, Southwest and Alaska. For those who’ve got substantially more baggage, there is only one clear airline.
For those who are interested in checking one bag, Southwest is the clear winner — the first bag is free. However, if you’re interested in checking two bags, Southwest, Alaska and Virgin America should be the preferred airline given JetBlue's new fees.
The reason why Virgin America ends up being the best carrier in the long-run is because they only charge a flat $25 fee for each checked bag, no matter how many suitcases there are in total. With every other single airline, the price of each bag tends to exponentially increase—in some cases up to $200 per bag!—after the 2nd or 3rd checked bag. That's the ceiling and Virgin’s advantage is only amplified with every extra checked item.
To demonstrate the cost differential, let’s take a look at how much it costs to check ten 50-pound bags in total. (That’s 500 pounds of checked baggage.) On American Airlines, after assessing for excess baggage costs, it would cost $1610 in total to check 10 items. On Virgin America, that same amount of luggage would amount to $250, shaving $1360 off the total cost.
Of course, getting that amount of baggage to the airport can seriously be a hassle, but curbside check-in is a godsend when dealing with luggage several times your body weight. There are, however, many more options for transporting a large amount of items.
If you’re moving to a highly metropolitan area like San Francisco or New York, you might want to look into a baggage delivery service like Bags VIP to get the bags to your front door. They pick up your bags from any domestic flight and deliver it to you for a flat fee. According to the website, it only costs $49.95 to deliver 3-8 bags to within 40 miles of the airport; if you choose this route, I highly recommend that you carry at least one bag on so that you have some clothes and toiletries available in the meantime.
In some cases, a taxi can often cost up to this much and more. Bag delivery essentially “frees” you up so you can get to your destination more economically than you would and simultaneously takes the stress out of it. Of course, this depends: there have been times where I’ve just decided to eliminate the delivery step altogether and hail a cab. The decision ultimately rests on various factors like arrival time, cost and how grumpy I think I might be.
Go with Virgin. It's a lot less hassle.
- Frontier has instituted a new baggage policy depending if a passenger flies during off or on peak season. Fees also depend on when checked bagged is booked. ↩