Southwest Airlines is a budget-friendly airline known for its low fares and transparent pricing. Unlike most other airlines, all fares on Southwest are economy class, allowing them to offer some of the most affordable rates. Southwest is also known for its non-assigned seating, unique boarding procedures, and free traveler amenities (including free non-alcoholic beverages, in-flight entertainment, snacks, and more).
When it comes to baggage policies and fees, Southwest is also one of the most generous airlines in operation similar to JetBlue baggage fees. Unless you’re planning on checking more than two bags, you likely won’t pay a dime in baggage fees for your Southwest flight. Still, it’s a good idea to become familiar with their policies and fees so you know what to expect on your trip.
Southwest Airlines Checked and Carry-On Allowances
Southwest Airlines’ allowances for checked and carry-on bags are some of the most clear-cut and generous in the industry, making them one of the more popular budget-friendly airlines.
Checked Bag Allowances and Fees
Whereas most airlines charge for checked bags, Southwest passengers are entitled to two free checked bags for each flight. The only stipulations here are that the bags must fall within size and weight limits. Specifically, checked bags on Southwest Airlines must weigh no more than 50 pounds (this is pretty standard across the industry) and measure no greater than 62 linear inches.
If you need to check more than two bags for your flight, each additional bag will cost you $75. These checked bag policies apply regardless of your destination or the type of fare you book. It really doesn’t get any simpler than that.
Carry-On Allowances and Fees
Southwest Airlines also allows free carry-on bags, including one personal item and one standard-sized carry-on bag. Personal items should measure no greater than 13.5″ x 8.5″ x 18.5″, whereas standard carry-on size can measure up to 24″ x 16″ x 10″. All personal items should be able to be stowed underneath the seat in front of you, whereas standard carry-ons will either need to go underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin during flight.
What About Infants, Strollers, and Baby Gear?
Children under the age of two who do not require their own seat can fly free-of-charge on Southwest Airlines. Passengers traveling with infants are allowed to check one stroller per infant (or a double stroller for two infants) at no additional charge. This can be done at the check-in counter or directly at the gate, if you prefer. Additional items needed for infant care during the flight also do not count against a passenger’s baggage allowances; this includes breast pumps and formula.
Charges For Additional Bags and Overweight Luggage
While your first two checked bags are always free on Southwest Airlines, they must conform to size and weight limitations. Checked bags may not weigh more than 50 pounds or measure greater than 62 linear inches. This includes wheels and handles, so be sure to check and measure accordingly. If you have an overweight bag, you’ll be charged a flat fee of $75. All oversized bags are also subject to an additional $75 charge.
Carry-on bags are not subject to weight restrictions, but they do need to follow size limitations set forth by the airline. When measuring bags to use as carry-ons, keep in mind that you must take into account all handles and luggage wheels. If you arrive at the gate with a bag that is too large to carry on, you will be required to check it for the duration of the flight. Likewise, if your personal item will not fit underneath the seat in front of you, you will be asked to stow it in an overhead bin for the duration of your flight.
Saving On Southwest Airlines Baggage Fees (Or Avoiding Them Altogether)
Nobody wants to pay more than they need to for airline baggage fees, so consider a few tips for saving on these fees with your next Southwest Airlines flight.
Limit Your Luggage
Southwest generously offers two free checked bags, plus a personal carry-on and standard carry-on item for each passenger. Depending on the length of your trip, you can likely avoid paying baggage fees altogether by simply limiting the amount that you pack into two suitcases and your carry-ons.
To avoid overweight bag fees, you should also invest in an inexpensive luggage scale so you can check and make sure your bags don’t weigh more than 50 pounds before your flight. This can easily save you $75 in overweight bag charges.
Get Reimbursed By Your Credit Card Company
Some credit card companies offer baggage fee reimbursement as one of their cardholder benefits. Check with your current credit card company to see if this is something they offer. If so, then you should pay for any baggage fees on your credit card and submit a request for a credit to your account after your flight. Keep in mind that most credit card companies will only reimburse for standard baggage fees—not overweight or oversized bag charges.
Look Into Exclusions and Waivers
If you’re an active member of the military, all your bags fly free on Southwest Airlines—and there is no charge for overweight or oversized bags. Just be sure to provide proof of your active military status at the time you check your bags at the check-in counter. This benefit applies regardless of whether you’re traveling on change-of-station orders or any other reason.
If you’re traveling with special equipment, including media/camera equipment or sporting items, you may be able to have your baggage fees waived as well.
Southwest Airlines Baggage Policies: Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Southwest Airlines baggage fees and policies.
Does Southwest charge for checked luggage?
On Southwest Airlines, your first two bags fly free, assuming they don’t exceed 50 pounds or 62 linear inches. All additional bags fly for $75 apiece. Active members of the military are not charged for additional bags regardless of their size or weight.
Can I bring a backpack as a personal carry-on item?
Yes, as long as it conforms to size requirements set forth by the airline. Specifically, Southwest Airlines’ personal carry-on items must be no larger than 13.5″ x 8.5″ x 18.5″. Be sure to include any wheels and handles in your measurement. If your backpack is larger than that, it may need to count as your standard carry-on item instead and will likely need to be stowed in an overhead bin for the duration of your flight. Please note this airline takes the carry-on policy very seriously. Before you arrive to the airport make sure you have the correct size and don’t bring items that are over the TSA liquid limit.
If your backpack falls within the measurements for a personal carry-on item, then you may bring it along with one other piece of standard-sized luggage aboard the flight.
What if I need to check special equipment?
Southwest Airlines is pretty generous when it comes to allowing special equipment to be checked at no additional charge. Many sporting equipment items fly free with Southwest, including everything from bicycles to water ski equipment. In most cases, you will need to substitute one of your free checked bags to check these kinds of equipment. However, you generally will not be charged any oversize or overweight fees. The same applies to many types of musical instruments and media/camera gear.
If you plan on traveling with any of these special items, it is in your best interest to contact Southwest Airlines directly ahead of time to find out how these items should be checked and what to expect in terms of pricing.
What are Southwest’s overweight/oversized bag fees?
Southwest Airlines is very transparent about their baggage fees, and this applies to their overweight/oversized bag fees as well. All checked bags weighing more than 50 pounds will be charged a $75 overweight fee, and all bags exceeding 62 linear inches will also be subject to a $75 oversize fee.
You can avoid these fees in a number of ways. For starters, use a luggage scale to check the weight of your bag after you pack and before you leave for the airport. If your bag is overweight, pare down what you’ve packed or move some of your items into a carry-on bag, if possible. Since you get two free checked bags on Southwest Airlines, you might also consider separating your items into two lighter checked bags rather than trying to cram everything into one suitcase.
Avoid oversized bag fees by measuring the dimensions of your checked bags before your flight, being sure to count any handles and wheels. The total measurements should not exceed 62 inches, a restriction that is pretty standard across the industry.