First class and checked bags? Get ready to pay in some cases.

Blah, blah, blah bag fees, blah, blah incremental revenue. Quite frankly, most of these reports reads the same over and over again. It is happening and it isn’t necessarily pretty (nor cheap – $100 for second bag now on United Airlines or Delta between USA and Europe). It is, however, a trend in the industry and one which doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. There have always been some exceptions to the rules which have made things more palatable, especially for folks flying more frequently or in first class. Alaska Airlines has changed that.

The carrier announced this past week that they will begin to charge some first class customers for checked bags, assuming the seat up front came via an upgrade. Those passengers will now be charged $20 for each of their first two checked bags:


Most upgrades will still go to passengers with elite status, passengers who are still exempt from the fees. But this is definitely something of a watershed moment in the chipping away of benefits for first class passengers. Then again, United used to deny upgraders lounge access on some routes but give access to paid customers so maybe it isn’t so new, just a different view of the same old game. Either way, definitely a downgrade in the service on offer.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Maybe a bit unrelated, but I wish airlines would hurry up and start charging for overhead bin space (except for elites of course). I think they will do it eventually. And I think it will be the only thing that really calms the mad boarding rush we currently experience.

    1. Enforcing the current rules would go much further towards calming the boarding melee, but the airlines won’t do it. The elites are the biggest offenders anyways so leaving them exempt isn’t going to fix those problems.

  2. I agree about enforcement, but I see the lack of enforcement as rooted in a lack of economic interest on the airlines part. Maybe stricter and consistent enforcement could drive some additional checked baggage revenue, but I think they are more concerned with getting flights out on time than hassling with carry on bags. Charging a fee, on the other hand, would most definitely lead to strict enforcement. As for elites, you probably right that on elite heavy flights (SFO-IAD on UA comes to mind), nothing will help, but on the vast majority of flights I think it would. Anyway, I think we will find out soon enough, as your blog post implies, we are headed steadily towards fees for everything in the name of incremental revenue.

  3. errr must’ve been PMCO or arrival lounge service on UA, otherwise access rules are the same for upgraders and paid tickets on PMUA.

    +1 for AA provide lounge access for full-fare transcon customers.

    1. Definitely not PMCO; it must’ve been the arrivals lounge service I was thinking of. And that rule changed with the merger so everyone gets in.

      And I agree, Carl, that the number affected will probably be reasonably low, but that doesn’t seem like a good reason to kill a benefit. After all, if so few people are using it then the costs of keeping it aren’t thta significant, right??

  4. This change is unlikely to affect many people unless Alaska starts to charge elites for bags. The first class cabin is generally filled either with people paying first class fares (including people using the $99 companion fare) and with elites who have upgraded and people who redeemed miles for the tickets. All of them will still be exempt from the baggage fee. Only non-elites who upgrade using miles or guest upgrades or possibly gate upgrades will pay the fee. Maybe this change was made so that Alaska doesn’t have to deal with people who got upgraded after paying to check bags, and who now want a refund for the bag fee.

    Alaska took away another benefit in the last year or so, which wasn’t reported very much. It used to be the case that when an elite redeemed an award for a non-elite passenger, the non-elite passenger got the same benefits as the elite, notably preferred seating and free bags. Alaska quietly changed that, and the non-elite no longer gets either benefit when using an award given by an elite. This is different than United, where the recipient of a mileage ticket does get the benefits.

  5. Seth, the only justification I can imagine is that AS had to deal with people who upgraded for cash at the gate, and then wanted a refund for their bag fees, and AS changed the policy so they can no longer get a refund. However, this will hit non-elites who upgrade with miles or use guest upgrades from friends/relatives.

    1. There are other airlines which have been dealing with the checked bag fee and no refunds if not in F at time of check-in thing for years as well. i find it hard to believe that’s the deciding factor or that it was easier for the company to code the systems this way versus other options available.

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