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As Airlines Look to Shrink Carry-On Sizes, Cardholders’ Bags Still Fly Free

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These days, it seems people rarely like the news they hear from the airline industry, and an announcement made June 9 was no different: Many airlines plan to further limit the size of carry-on luggage. Based on the flurry of reactions to the news posted on social media, consumers aren’t happy about this.

Currently, the standard for carry-on luggage (the one that goes in an overhead compartment, not the “personal item”) limits bags to those no larger than 22 inches long, 14 inches wide and 9 inches deep, including handles and wheels. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) introduced a new standard called IATA Cabin OK, restricting carry-on baggage to 21.5 by 13.5 by 7.5 inches.

The loss of packing space may not be much of an annoyance on its own — it’s the need to purchase new bags that may be more irritating to consumers. It’s either that or check your luggage, which generally costs $25 for the first bag (each way). You’d have to check with your airline for specifics on pricing, as well as whether or not they’re adopting IATA Cabin OK luggage standards. According to an IATA news release, “A number of major international airlines have signaled their interest to join the initiative and will soon be introducing the guidelines into their operations.”

For frequent fliers (or those vehemently opposed to buying new luggage), there are programs that include a free checked bag, though it will be interesting to see how these perks might change with the new carry-on limits. Airlines with frequent flier programs often reward regular customers with a free checked bag, once they’ve reached a certain status, in addition to other perks. That can take a long time to accomplish if you’re not often taking air transportation, so a quicker solution is to use an airline-affiliated rewards credit card with baggage perks. Here are a few:

United MileagePlus Explorer Visa

In addition to helping you earn miles faster, as many airline credit cards do, MileagePlus cardholders can have their first bag checked for free, as well as the bag of one travel companion. Other perks include priority boarding, no foreign transaction fees and two United Club passes per year. The card has a $95 annual fee, which is waived for the first year.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard

When you fly American Airlines you can get a free checked bag for yourself and up to four travel companions when using this card. Cardholders also receive priority boarding and discounts on in-flight purchases. The card also has $95 annual fee that is waived in the first year of membership.

Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express

Delta offers a few SkyMiles credit cards through American Express, with different levels of benefits, and not all include a checked bag for free. The Gold card does — the card’s terms and conditions say cardholders can request a maximum of nine baggage-fee waivers per reservation, but that’s only for first bags, meaning you can only max out that benefit if you’re traveling with eight other people (and you booked the trip using your card). The card also provides a discount on in-flight purchases in the form of a statement credit. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.

Virgin America Visa Signature

You and a fellow traveler can check your first bags without an additional fee when using one of two Virgin credit cards. The premium card has a $149 annual fee, and the standard card charges $49 per year (they have different rewards, but the baggage perk is the same).

Pretty much every airline offers a credit card, but the benefits vary widely. There’s also no knowing how these benefits will change in the future, though offering a free checked bag will likely attract more customers, as airlines adopt new baggage restrictions. Additionally, there are a lot of credit cards that reward travelers, without requiring the cardholder to patronize specific companies.

Above all, it’s important you apply only for credit cards you feel you can use responsibly — rewards cards typically carry higher interest rates than basic credit cards, and many charge annual fees, so if you’re not paying the statement in full or using the benefits often, the cost can outweigh the rewards. Above all, you should apply only for cards you will likely qualify for, because applying for new credit will have a small and temporary negative effect on your credit score. To get an idea of what credit card offers may be available to you, review your credit standing frequently. You can get two free credit scores every month on Credit.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

At publishing time, the United MileagePlus Explorer VisaCiti AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard, and Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

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