Perks of Flying Military, Part 1: Free Checked Bags

Here is another post from the ever popular Andy:

Perhaps all of you know that when travelling on orders, either domestically or internationally on any US-based carrier, your bags are automatically checked for free. What you might not have known is that you get free checked bags on ANY OTHER type of travel as well, if you are active duty. With some airlines it is a lower number of bags than when on orders travel, but every major domestic carrier allows some free checked bags. (this is, of course, excepting “discount” carriers like Spirit Air, which aren’t truly discount after all the nickel-and-diming they do. Seriously, they are the WORST airline I have ever experienced, in every capacity. If you want details, please message me).

Below I’ve assembled a table with the major US carriers. The free checked bags perk includes both domestic and international travel when booked with the respective carriers.



Military Leisure Travel

Military Orders

Alaska Airlines (link)

Up to 5 bags, 50lbs max, and $50 for each additional


American Airlines (link)

Up to 3 bags for free, 50lbs max, then normal charges apply. Note that this does NOT extend to dependents, so check all bags under your name.

Up to 5 bags for free, with one bag up to 100lbs, and the rest up to 50lbs. Dependents on orders get 2 bags up to 50lbs free

Delta Airlines (link)

Up to 2 bags for free, 50lbs max, then normal charges apply. NOT extended to dependents

Up to 4 bags for free (5 if flying business or first), 70lbs max.

Southwest Airlines (link)

Up to 2 bags for free, 50lbs max, then normal charges. Note that EVERYONE gets this on SW.

No apparent limit for free, and bags can be oversized and overweight.

United Airlines (link)

Up to 3 bags for free, 70lbs max, for military member and dependents together.

Up to 4 bags for free, 70lbs max, in economy, or 5 bags if travelling in business or first.

US Airways (link)

Up to 2 bags for free, 50lbs max. NOT extended to dependents.

Up to 4 bags for free, 100lbs max EACH.

This is an amazing option that not many active duty people know about. Obviously on carriers that don’t allow dependents to check free bags, the bags should all be checked under the servicemembers name. Also keep in mind that some of the front desk staff do not know their military baggage policies. Please be polite if they do not know, and kindly ask to see a supervisor if they persist in attempting to collect baggage fees. Note that there is usually no option when booking online to designate yourself a military member. Just say that you are not checking bags, and check them when you get to the airport. To my knowledge there are no free baggage perks for reservists or veterans. If anyone knows otherwise, please post below.

Glenn’s Note:  Actually, Andy, since our CAC cards no longer say Active or Reserve, I don’t think airlines can tell who is who.  National Guard, I am not as sure about.  Anyone know?


  1. National Guard CAC looks exactly the same as Active Duty and Reserves. As far as United is concerned, when they say active military it simply means a currently serving member, not Active Duty, and thus includes Reservists and National Guardsmen anyway.

    1. @ Charles – Yes, most mean AD, Reserve, or NG but I noted under American’s policy that they specifically excluded Reserve and National Guard. How they would be able to tell with our current IDs, I don’t know. Pretty much renders the question moot.

  2. As a former reservist, I almost always got the benefit by showing my ID to the desk agent. Now that I am in the Retired Reserve with a pink ID card, I plan to continue asking for the free bag check. Some agents don’t know the difference in status, and others don’t care. If you ask politely, they will often give it to you. If not, no big deal.

  3. As of February 2017 if you have orders for pcs or something else you are allow 5 bags for United, but you do need to have your orders.

    1. Should I make them a copy of my orders? I called today and it’s extended to dependents as well as long as they are on orders (pcs) and have military id.

  4. FYI this came out on June 23, 2017
    Effective for travel on or after June 21, 2017, Delta is updating its baggage policy for active U.S. military members traveling on military orders on or after June 21, 2017, regardless of their ticketing date.

    Key Changes Summary
    Any active U.S. military member traveling on orders, on Delta-marketed/Delta-operated flights, on or after June 21, 2017, is entitled to five free bags up to 100 lbs. each. This applies to travel worldwide in any cabin of service (subject to any applicable embargoes or regional weight restrictions).

    Previously, U.S. military traveling on orders were entitled to four free bags up to 70 lbs. each in Delta Comfort+®, Main Cabin or Basic Economy and five free bags up to 70 lbs. each in First Class, Delta Premium Select and Delta One® (subject to any applicable embargoes or regional weight restrictions). The policy for active U.S. military traveling on personal travel remains unchanged.

    1. Jyet flew from providence ri to Rochester mn with delta and they let me use my inactive reserve card and they checked my bag for free.

  5. I can’t find any specifics on American Airlines site re: military, and other blogs who’ve included links to AA are dead links. I plan to call to inquire but, as mentioned above, not all employees are up to date on the baggage policies. Many thanks!

  6. my husband is an ROTC instructor and has a CAC card. We are flying with Frontier airline but when I csalled them to ask if our bags would be free, they told me to bring the ID but they cannot make any promises that the bags would be free or not. It is so frustrating not to know until we get to the airport. Does anyone know if a CAC card is looked as a valid ID for active duty personnel?

  7. im trying to figure out as a retiree’s dependent traveling alone if I can get a free checked bag on United. I’ll give it a shot

  8. What a great post on bags. i am a businessman and travel from one place to another place. i carry my laptop also. but i have no right backpack for a laptop. now i want to buy a laptop that has a padded separate sleeve for a laptop that keeps saving my laptop. so if you have written any post on this topic or want to give me a suggestion thanks.

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