American Airlines Testing Offer To Let You Check Your Carry-On Bags Free

For years airlines have tried to get customers to check their carry-on bags at the gate. They have too many bags for too little space in the overhead bins, and boarding moves faster if customers don’t find out at the last minute that there’s no room left – possibly delaying the flight if they need to tag and load bags right before the doors close.

American Airlines is now trying to get gate agents to charge customers whose bags at the gate are too big to fit into the sizer. Some people have used a trick for a long time to bring their bags through security and then check them at the gate to avoid checked bag fees.

Now just as they’ve retrofitted most domestic planes to have overhead bins big enough for all carry-on bags they’re offering an incentive before customers even get to the gate to check their carry-on bags.

It’s a new test at some airports where customers checking in at self-service machines get offered to check their carry-on for free. According to an internal memo on the project, “Offers will be random and may not apply to every customer.”

Here’s what the prompt looks like on the check-in kiosk:

Some people will find benefit in not schlepping their carry-on, I suppose. Perhaps they were carrying on a bag only to avoid the checked baggage fee.

I view the carry-on bag as a solution to two problems: not having to wait at baggage claim after the flight, and not letting the bag get lost. However if I’m checking a bag anyway I might consider checking my carry-on as well, taking the lost bag risk, so that I don’t need to board the aircraft as early to secure overhead bin space. That means more time in the club lounge or grabbing food in the airport, since so little is served on board in the post-Covid era of cost cuts.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This could definitely be helpful on regional jet flights. The 737s have space but not the CRJs.

  2. Other airlines regularly solicit for free carry-on checks at the gate when they can see that they will likely need to require some people to check bags.
    AA’s random system of soliciting at check is more efficient from an operational standpoint but they likely forego some bag check revenue – which is why its random and why most airlines solicit at the gate.
    Either way, US airlines allow too much carry on baggage, it creates frustration with how much longer it takes to board and deplane US aircraft compared to other countries, and there are a significant subset of travelers that will check bags if they don’t have to pay extra.
    Focusing on improving the operation instead of trying to maximize the last dollar of bag revenue will help reduce the time people are spent on aircraft which, in the current environment, is a very good thing.
    and the current high-capacity overhead bins only help part of the problem because a certain percentage of people follow the directions about how to use them – turning bags on the side etc.

  3. If I’m flying Non-stop, I don’t have any problem at all with gate checking my carry-on bag. But most of the time there’s plenty of room for my little 21 inch bag. I would prefer to gate check though, if that’s an option and space is truly limited even if my bag is the correct size. I’m right there in sight of the plane.
    I know where my bag is going. I don’t want it driving aimlessly around the airport hoping to hook up with the right plane.
    Just let me gate check if you have to do something.
    Once again don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

  4. I agree! Too many carry on bags. It not only delays the boarding and deplaning but also causes grid lock at security, restrooms and throughout the terminal. I think it should be reversed. Charge passengers for carry on bags (other than a personnel item) and checked luggage should be free.

  5. If AA is going to single agent boarding, it makes sense to lessen the load of preemptive bag tagging on the gate agent.

  6. @ Gary — Airlines should provide miles something like 250 or 500 miles to elites who check bags (with a minimum weight; no empty FedEx boxes!). I have never understood why this isn’t the solution to this problem.

  7. Basically I have always looked down upon gate fleas and their oversized carry ons. I always look at the dregs of airline travel as they brush up against me while making their way to the cattle car class in the back. Their sweaty faces, their fatness… let’s stop giving them extra how about that Parker?

  8. I, like many frequent flyers dont have to pay checked bag fees, but I mostly travel with just a carry-on and when I check luggage it always gets damaged (slight damage, but still annoying). So one of the reasons I avoid checking luggage is to avoid the inevitable damage.

  9. Checking my carry on means it gets loaded with a pitchfork and thrown on the tarmac with the checked bags. Why volunteer for that? I mean, the force needed to break a souvenir shotglass wrapped in several layers of clothes in the middle of a hardside checked bag has to be incredible, and it’s happened to me twice.

  10. As a retired airline employee that had worked the bag check and gate area, we as employees have been asking for this for YEARS. Why is a gate checked bag free, but not at the ticket counter. If it can be verified that the bag is of a smaller carryon size, we can avoid the need to do this at departure time.

    The logistics of moving the bags from the gate area to the cargo hold is many steps and time consuming.

    All the carriers should follow this!

  11. As of 2022, American Airlines will gate check a bag for free to your destination. I confirmed with flight attendants that this is a company-wide policy that they should offer on all (at least domestic) flights. One flight did not offer this through a gate announcement, but when I went to the desk agent and asked if I could gate check a bag, she did so for free.

    I agree it’s a bad policy–carryon bags should have a fee with checked luggage carried at no charge (at least 1 bag) but until they reverse this, I will be gate checking my bag for free. The airlines do a lot of things backwards (I never understood the appeal of “priority boarding”–to me the more time I spend on the crowded plane is punishment, not a reward and I typically board last, and many other “features” they sell you which are not really perks (like checked baggage).

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