United Airlines has dropped its fee to travel with a bike. Srsly.
To even write that United Airlines has dropped an extra charge seems like fiction, not fact. Honestly, it feels more like fantasy. United has led the airlines in creating new charges to dime and dollar us to death, or at least into flying with other airlines. As the most egregious airline in this regard, it should surprise no one that as of last week they were charging $200 each way.
United didn’t do this voluntarily, though. They followed the pack, an unusual move for them. In May of 2019 Delta announced they were dropping their bicycle fee. American Airlines took note of the move and followed suit in July 2019. And then two full years passed and United finally concluded that the charge must be deterring travelers.
Alaska Air, Horizon Air and Skywest stopped charging even before Delta did. Southwest, which for many years was a bike-flyer’s first choice because they didn’t charge, instituted a $75-one way fee four years ago.
That still doesn’t mean that flying with a bike is free, though.
Alaska, American, Delta and United all charge $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second. A third bag gouges $150 from you, except with Alaska, which charges only $100. JetBlue and Hawaiian both charge $100 for bikes (though Hawaiian only charges $35 on flights between Hawaiian islands).
Making the choice
It used to be that all the airlines allowed two checked bags plus a carryon (or two if the flight wasn’t full)—not to mention the allowance for a “personal item”—and charged $75 each way for a bike. It’s also true that Harry Truman was once our president. Times change. Choosing who to fly with even into the mid-2000s was a simple enough endeavor—just go with the airline that had the cheapest fare to your destination. Now, with all the various upcharges, figuring out just which fare is truly the cheapest can require a spreadsheet.
For those planning to fly with a bike, here’s one way to consider the options out there. Because the bike is a given, that’s Bag #1. Flyers are guaranteed to pay at least $30 with the airlines above (except Southwest). The question is whether a carryon and one personal item can carry everything else a traveler needs.
International travelers have more choices and some of the carriers—EVA Air, for instance—don’t charge for bicycles, at all.
The end run
There is one way to circumvent these charges: a travel bike. Bikes with S&S Couplers or a Ritchey Breakaway fit in a case that is 59 linear inches—3 inches less than the 62-linear inch cutoff. S&S cases and Ritchey Breakaway cases incur only standard baggage charges, when they apply.
The upshot is that Southwest is one of the only options to fly with a bike domestically for free, provided that bike features couplers and fits in a smaller-than-62-linear case.