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Airlines Align Around Fewer Free Checked Bags for Customers

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Skift Take

Domestic first class customers just lost a free checked bag on American Airlines in the latest lap in the race to the bottom.

— Grant Martin

American Airlines modified its checked bag policy to allocate fewer free checked bags for premium customers last week in the most recent datapoint on higher fees for the traveling public trend.

The change centers around the number of free bags that domestic first class customers receive. Until this week, passengers flying domestically in first class were allowed three free checked bags of up to 50 lbs each. For tickets booked after March 29th, American has now reduced that allowance to two free checked bags.

Asked why the airline changed its policy, a spokesman for American stated simply that “we’re making it to line up our offerings with competitors.” Both United and Delta Air Lines offer a similar baggage policy for their premium passengers.

The only exceptions to the new rule will be for ultra elite passengers. Executive Platinum members of American Airlines’ AAdvantage program who fly over 100,000 miles each year will still be allowed three free checked bags — effectively extending the current policy in place. The benefit also extends to partner elite passengers in the oneworld alliance who have Emerald status.

In reducing baggage allowances, American is continuing its subscription to the era of higher fees and fewer perks for consumers — even if the passenger is booked in a premium cabin. Last week, both American and United announced plans to launch “basic economy” fares that strip the most budget-centric passengers of seat selections, upgrades and other perks. Those changes fall in line with a series of airfares that Delta forged in late 2014.

Ironically, the alignment around fewer perks and more fees comes at a time when airlines are pulling in record profits. In addition to lower operating costs from cheaper oil, carriers are also seeing stronger revenue from improved passenger loads and a broader range of fees developed during the recession.

To some, it thus seems that the most recent alignment on baggage policy is simply an exercise in price gouging. In reference to recent changes under the leadership of American’s CEO Doug Parker, one disgruntled member of Flyertalk, a message board dedicated to loyalty programs groused that “Di$count Dougie just keeps the cuts coming.” Similar sentiment was expressed in other community forums around the web.

Regardless of the blowback, airlines appear to remain intent on adding additional fees and cutting back on passenger benefits, and the most recent alignment on baggage fees for premium passengers indicates that no corner of the consumer base is safe. For once, the 1% are suffering along side with the rest of the traveling public.

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