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April 07, 2021

A case for the 'reverse bag check fee'

By now, we’ve all seen those Southwest Airlines ads boasting the outfit’s zero dollar bag check fee.

They’re popular commercials – dubbed “pure marketing genius” by some people – but what if they actually forecasted the future of air travel?

What if, instead of levying infuriating fees on customers, airlines not only let you check bags for free, but paid  you to check them and still turned a nice profit? What if?

In fact, a case has been floating around the Internet for months now to make a movement just like this happen.

The argument breaks down like this:

According to Joe Brancatelli of, there’s strong evidence to suggest airlines actually lose money with their bag check fees.

With many airlines, people not checking their bags – which can cost as much as $50 for an extra suitcase – and opting for carry-on luggage slows down the rate passengers board planes. Slower boarding times mean fewer flights and, subsequently, less travelers an airline can charge for tickets.

Yet if everyone chose to check their luggage, something preposterous to suggest now considering the current fees, airlines could rifle in God-knows-how-many extra flights per year and chug business along nicely.

So why not eliminate bag check fees altogether or, to really hammer the point home, offer a reverse bag check fee and reward passengers for checking their luggage?

If an airline, for example, offered a $25 rebate on airfare (or reward points or free meals or whatever, as Reuters suggests), travelers might be much more inclined to check their luggage and give carriers an opportunity to charter more flights per day.

Now, for an idea like this to work, there’d have to be some kind of give-and-take between travelers and the airlines. Considering passengers would have to stand by carousels and painstakingly wait for their luggage after each flight, maybe $25 wouldn’t be enough of a reimbursement. Maybe the airline would need to allow $35 per checked bag in rebates. Maybe $40.

But whatever the agreement, there sure appears to be some merit to an airline offering the reverse bag check fee.

Will a discount Canadian carrier, maybe, try the approach to see if it can boost their bottom line? Perhaps, but if anything’s sure about the proposed strategy, it’d give a shake-up to a system that’s far from perfect.

As one pundit mused last month, “The result (of a reverse bag check fee)? Passengers would get on and off planes more quickly, the airlines would make more money, and everybody would be happier.

"It’s a vast improvement from the status quo.”

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...