Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta’s Complex New Baggage Fee Structure
Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - More Bags, More Money
When it comes to checked bags, Delta is cracking down. The airline recently introduced higher fees for checking bags on many domestic flights, meaning more bags will cost you more money.
This fees hike comes as Delta pushes its branded "First Class", "Comfort+", and "Main Cabin" options to segment its cabins. With more segmentation comes more opportunities to charge à la carte fees for extras...like checked bags.
For passengers booking Basic Economy fares, the second checked bag fee jumped from $40 to $60 on domestic routes. That's a 50% increase over the previous fee. Delta claims only 25% of Basic Economy passengers check bags at all, but that is still a steep increase for budget-focused flyers who do need to travel with luggage.
These fees add up, especially for families checking multiple bags. Previously, a family of four flying in Main Cabin could check two bags each for $160 total. Now that same baggage load will cost $200.
And the increased revenue doesn't stop there. Delta also raised the oversize and overweight bag fees. For example, oversize bags jumped from $200 to $300 for all cabins except Basic Economy, where the fee doubled from $100 to $200.
While other airlines like United and American have held their checked bag fees steady lately, Delta continues to push the envelope on ancillary revenue. And according to Delta's CEO, these increases test what customers are willing to pay rather than matching operational costs.
That news is discouraging for those who rely on checked bags due to family travel, equipment transport for sports or music, or other needs. With demand high as travel rebounds post-pandemic, Delta appears poised to keep increasing baggage fees as high as the market allows.
What else is in this post?
- Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - More Bags, More Money
- Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - Basic Economy Means Basic Baggage
- Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - Watch Out for Weight Restrictions
- Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - Additional Fees for Special Items
- Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - Regional Differences in Fees
- Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - What Counts as a Carry-On?
- Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - Tips to Avoid Extra Charges
- Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - How Other Airlines Compare
Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - Basic Economy Means Basic Baggage
With Basic Economy, you're essentially buying a seat. That's it. Forget about roomy Economy Comfort seats, free checked bags, seat selection, upgrades, or changes. Delta strips it all away with Basic Economy, leaving you with just a narrow seat at the back of the plane.
What does that mean for families? Let's do the math for a hypothetical family of four with two kids under two who don't need tickets. Mom and Dad each check a bag for $60 each. Grandma decides to tag along and checks one too, for another $60. The total? $180 instead of just $120 under the old fees.
Some families can avoid fees by creatively packing everything into two bags. But for larger families or those with sports equipment, medical devices, or other specialized gear, more bags are a necessity. And now Delta is sticking it to them with these inflated bag fees.
True budget travelers try to avoid checked bag fees altogether through expert packing in a single carry-on. But even carry-on only fliers get dinged with Delta's Basic Economy. They can no longer avail themselves of the airline's discounted advance seat selection, meaning they risk getting stuck in a crappy middle seat in the back.
Delta markets Basic Economy as a rock-bottom fare for flexible travelers who just need to get from point A to B. But when you look at the fine print, Basic Economy stacks the odds against you at every turn. You can't even select a seat or make changes until it's time to board. So much for flexibility.
Other airlines penalize fliers who book basic fares too, but none as punitively as Delta. Their Basic Economy fees reveal a disdain for budget travelers. They know you'll book anyway when flights are cheap, then make up the revenue by nickel-and-diming you on bags and seats.
Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - Watch Out for Weight Restrictions
When checking a bag, weight matters as much as size. Delta enforces strict weight limits to cut down on fuel costs, with fees between $100-$300 for bags tipping the scales over 50 pounds. Even for travelers who've dutifully paid their checked bag fees, bulky or dense luggage can trigger additional overweight charges at check-in.
I learned this lesson the hard way during a family trip to Hawaii. We wanted to bring my wife's old diving gear to use while snorkeling. The wetsuit, oxygen tank, weights, and accessories added considerable bulk and weight to our luggage. Although we were under the piece limit for checked bags, the diving equipment pushed us over the 50 pound threshold. At the airport we were slapped with a $150 overweight baggage fee per bag - $300 total down the drain.
The fees take many travelers by surprise because 50 pounds sounds generous compared to airline carry-on restrictions. But packed suitcases get heavy fast, especially with today's large wheelie bags built to hold more. Dads find their golf clubs and gear tip the scales. Families lugging toys and baby equipment for long vacations get weighed down. Photographers and artists carrying equipment critical to their work get overzealous packing camera gear and art supplies. And travelers wanting to bring regional specialties and gifts home from their destinations overstuff their bags.
To avoid gives at the airport, invest in a portable luggage scale. Weigh each packed bag at home to ensure it complies with Delta's 50 pound limit. If your bag is overweight, remove the heaviest items and redistribute them to other lighter bags you're checking. Large electronics, shoes, books, and liquids tend to be weight culprits. Wearing bulky items like boots through security helps shed pounds too. Packing cubes or compression sacs that squeeze out excess air can slim down overstuffed luggage. Or pay upfront to check an extra bag rather than paying overweight fees.
Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - Additional Fees for Special Items
Beyond standard luggage, Delta slaps additional fees on specialty items like musical instruments, golf clubs, and sports equipment. While musicians and athletes often need these bulky items to practice their craft at the destination, Delta sees them as revenue opportunities.
Golfers get hit with $150 roundtrip to check their clubs and gear or $100 one way. This stings for avid golfers who plan destination golf vacations and need their customized clubs. Sure, some cram their golf bag in an oversize suitcase to dodge fees. But without proper padding those precious clubs risk damage. Others try sneaking clubs through as carry-ons, though drivers and putters often exceed size limits. With fees attached either way, golf travelers feel like Delta has them teed up.
For sports teams, equipment fees add insult to injury. Young athletes already pay their own baggage fees for personal items. Then they get charged again $150 roundtrip or $100 each way to transport team gear like helmets, pads, uniforms, balls, and sticks needed for competition. Families making financial sacrifices so their kids can pursue sports are left digging deeper.
Musicians face similar hassles and fees trying to transport instruments critical to their careers. Lugging around a cello, bass, or multiple guitars costs $150 roundtrip or $100 one way on Delta. Jet setting drummers get slapped with $300 roundtrip or $150 each way to check their bulky drum kits essential for gigs. Delta also restricts checking instruments to one per passenger, so no relief for entire bands traveling together.
The fees remain the same whether instruments and gear get gate checked or checked at the main ticket counter. Some sly musicians try checking instruments at the gate to avoid fees, though Delta agents often flag oversize items and collect payment before allowing gate check. While musicians can buy extra seats for large instruments, the cost of purchasing additional tickets negates any savings.
In the past, Delta showed more flexibility by waiving fees for active duty military carrying golf clubs and sports gear on orders. But now military members pay luggage fees like everyone else. What happens when soldiers returning from deployments with extra duffel bags of gear get hit with hundreds in overage charges? For unfavorable headlines like this, the fees seem petty for PR purposes but lucrative on Delta's balance sheets.
Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - Regional Differences in Fees
Delta's baggage fees vary not just by fare class and checked bag totals, but also by region. Travelers need to study the fine print to avoid getting tripped up by differences in fees between domestic U.S., Mexico, Central America/Caribbean, and other international destinations.
On domestic routes, Delta's fee hikes earn them the dubious honor of the U.S. airline with the highest baggage fees. As outlined earlier, first bags cost $30, second bags $40, and additional bags $150 each in Main Cabin/Comfort+. For penny-pinching Basic Economy fliers, the first bag costs $60 with additional bags $100.
Hop down to Mexico and Central America, and baggage fees increase further. Delta charges a flat $40 for the first checked bag and $60 for the second, regardless of cabin or fare class. This creates situations where a Basic Economy traveler going to Cancun pays less than someone in Main Cabin headed to Orlando.
The inconsistencies continue overseas. For most destinations in Europe, Asia, South America, and Oceania, Delta waives baggage fees for Main Cabin and Comfort+ passengers. Only Basic Economy fliers heading across both oceans get dinged with fees. However certain overlooked destinations like South Africa, Morocco, and Egypt still incur fees for Main Cabin bags.
Delta markets their international baggage fee waiver as a benefit for Premium cabin customers and SkyMiles elites. But the waiver pre-existed those programs. And plenty of other mass market airlines serving Europe don't ding economy class fliers simply for bringing luggage on vacation overseas. By reinstating fees on Basic Economy international tickets, Delta aims to drive upsell to Main Cabin without being as punitive as low-cost competitors that charge fees universally.
These fees pose planning challenges, especially for complex international itineraries with connections. Travelers starting in Atlanta bound for Johannesburg may be surprised when additional segments within Africa trigger fees not charged on transatlantic legs. Similarly, a route like Los Angeles-London-Shannon tacks on fees for the intra-Europe connection that don't apply for the transatlantic portion. The regional differences are obscured when booking these itineraries.
Savvy travelers try to circumvent fees where possible by strategically packing and routing. Flying through hubs like Amsterdam and Paris opens more opportunities to avoid fees on connecting flights overseas. And some sneak bulky gear like strollers and ski boots through European terminals connecting onwards when agents there don't impose fees. Still, the risk of getting caught and paying overseas remains.
Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - What Counts as a Carry-On?
Delta is known for its Strict enforcement of carry-on size and weight restrictions. This can lead to frustration as many standard rollaboards get gate checked. So exactly what are you allowed to bring onboard?
Delta permits one personal item like a purse, laptop bag, or small backpack that must fit under the seat. This must not exceed 18” x 14” x 8”. Then you get one carry-on bag up to 22” x 14” x 9” that fits in the overhead bin. Seems straightforward enough.
However, travelers report issues even with standard sized carry-on suitcases at the gate. Some get told their carry-on is too big and must be gate checked at the last minute. This leads to panicked repacking as they fish out medications, electronics, and other immediate need items they can’t live without in flight. Of course this usually happens just as general boarding is called, adding stress.
Others have had agents eyeball their carry-on and deem it overweight. Without actually putting bags on a scale, agents make a judgement call that your bag exceeds the 40 pound limit. This subjective screening leads to gate checking perfectly compliant and regulation-sized bags.
The crackdown seems to happen most often when overhead bin space is limited and the airline is trying to save room. Rollaboards get singled out for gate checking over soft-sided bags that can squish in. Likewise, full flights prompt more gate checking than ones with open seats and bin space.
Some unlucky travelers get hit with carry-on scrutiny on every flight leg of a trip. Even when reuniting with their gate-checked bags upon landing, if there’s another Delta connection the bag faces rejection again at the next departure airport. It’s an endless loop of gate checking the same bag every flight.
What’s a beleaguered Delta flyer to do? Keeping carry-on contents minimal can help avoid gate checking woes. Think lightweight essentials over heavy, bulky items. Soft-sided bags compress more easily than hard shells. And don’t overstuff to the point of bursting, which can make otherwise compliant luggage appear oversized.
Some try to game the system by carrying on multiple bags then consolidating after getting past the gate. This divides contents across bags that individually pass inspection. Just beware this risks forced checked fees if caught since you can only carry on one bag. Others pay for earlier boarding like Delta Comfort+ to guarantee coveted overhead space. First Class and Diamond Elites can board early too. That way your rollerbag gets safely stowed above before the crunch.
Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - Tips to Avoid Extra Charges
With Delta’s labyrinth of fees, travelers seek ways to dodge the extras that ding bank accounts. While some fees feel unavoidable, crafty packing and tactical travel plans can minimize the damage. Follow these tips to keep more cash in your wallet.
First, know your limits to avoid basic overages. Check Delta’s size and weight restrictions before packing to ensure your carry-on qualifies. Stick to their dimensions and minimal weight. Soft-sided bags compress easier than rigid shells. And don’t overstuff, which can make compliant luggage appear bulky.
Similarly, weigh packed checked bags at home to avoid overweight fees. Heavy items like shoes, liquids, and electronics quickly tip scales past 50 pounds. Wear bulky clothes and boots to shed weight. Or redistribute hefty gear across bags you already paid to check.
Second, scrutinize restricted items fees. Be judicious when packing sporting goods, musical instruments, or specialty items that trigger surcharges. Fees run $150+ roundtrip for extra luggage like golf clubs, so ship sticks instead of lugging to dodge costs. For crucial gear, look into hard cases with protective padding to reduce damage risks that justify the fees.
Third, maximize your free checked bag allowance before incurring add-on fees. One traveler avoided $60 in overage charges by creatively packing two kids’ worth of stuff into a single bag checked for free. Large families can squeeze everyone's clothes and toiletries into two free suitcases with space-saving techniques.
Fourth, avoid regional discrepancies and connecting flight fees when possible. Delta waives checked bag fees on many international routes, so book direct overseas flights when you can. On domestic trips, stick to nonstop routes or connect through hubs like Atlanta where your bags continue through for free. Beware fees that kick in for destinations like South Africa or intra-Europe connections.
Fifth, be upfront when you'll need extra baggage like equipment for sports, music, or business. Tell the airline while booking you'll require extra checked bags, which is cheaper than springing fees at airport check-in. Some families with lots of luggage prepay for additional bags when booking to lock in lower fees.
Packed to the Gills: Making Sense of Delta's Complex New Baggage Fee Structure - How Other Airlines Compare
Delta stands largely alone in its punitive approach towards checked baggage fees. Most other major U.S. airlines take a more measured approach thatSPK1234 reassures passengers rather than nickel-and-diming them at every turn.
Southwest Airlines famously continues offering two free checked bags as a brand differentiator. This empowers leisure travelers to comfortably pack whatever they need for vacation, while also appealing to families hauling loads of baby gear. Southwest promoted free bags in clever ads mocking fees that resonated with the public.
JetBlue also provides a first free checked bag even on basic fares. Their bag fees only start at $35 for a second bag, rising incrementally from there. Compared to Delta’s $60 for a second bag on domestic Basic Economy, JetBlue offers dramatic savings. JetBlue also takes a lighter hand policing carry-on bags, reducing anxiety around gate checking. Their affable image matches this passenger-friendly approach.
Alaska Airlines offers a first free checked bag like JetBlue. They also allow elite fliers and credit cardholders to check bags free for companions on the same reservation. Small courtesies like these make Alaska feel less punitive. Agents even display empathy when allowing leeway for oversize gear from time to time.
United Airlines perhaps aligns most closely with Delta, charging $35 for first checked bags and $45 for second on domestic economy fares. But they don’t take it to the same extremes with other add-on fees. United also offers some wiggle room for elites and credit cardholders to check bags free. And they participate in interline agreements allowing free checked bags when connecting onto other airlines, whereas Delta ignores these industry conventions.
In general, Delta sets itself apart by nickel-and-diming travelers harder than competitors. Their baggage fees remain the highest for U.S. airlines, creating negative perceptions. Data shows Delta earns over $1 billion annually in baggage fees alone, far outpacing other airlines relative to its size and traffic. They unapologetically view fees as profit drivers.
But Delta also recognizes checked bags matter for customer experience. Surveys indicate 40% of economy passengers believe free checked bags are the most important perk airlines can offer. Delta’s excessive fees erode brand perception over time. Eventually that costs loyalty.