How much does it cost to travel with your bike?

[updated 12/5/2010]
What you don’t know about airline bike bag fees really could really cost you!

This September, I had the unpleasant experience of being dinged by Delta for $200 each way while traveling to the HalfMax National Championship triathlon. I traveled using my Aerus Biospeed bike travel case, which had been described as a good way to avoid the bike fee–which didn’t work in my experience.

So, I decided to do a little comparison of the fees airlines charge you for traveling with your bike. Are all airlines the same? Well, I found out they are definitely not. Let’s get a little competition going here! Read on to see what I found.

First, there are a couple of assumptions I had to make. These are:

  • The bike is packed in a case
  • The whole thing weighs about 35lb (mine was 32)
  • Linear dimension of about 75 inches (length + width + height)
  • This is for travel inside the United States (or US + Canada for Air Canada)
  • This is for economy class travel
  • I’m not factoring in any frequent flier miles/programs or other special discounts

On to the results!

I’ve compared 14 airlines (ask me and I’ll add more).
Here is a comparison of the bike fees associated with each:

comparison of airline baggage fees for bikes

So, if you paid the same fare for Delta as on Southwest you’re in for a surprise when you get to the airport.
A surprise to the tune of $350 round trip!

You can see there is tremendous variation in the price you’ll pay for the privilege of traveling with your bike. If you plan on traveling to many races this can really add up.

Most expensive airline to fly with your bike: Delta.
$450 round trip! Ouch! Now I know why the skycap said I was getting a deal — $25 off of the most expensive rate in the industry.

Best airline to fly with your bike: Southwest.
No first-bag fee, and a standard $50 fee (each way) for your bike. More than reasonable. Air Canada is a close second here, but I’ll have to give the edge to Southwest because of their higher damage liability value of $3300, vs. $1500 CAD for Air Canada (that’s about $1500 usd at current exchange rates).

Of the big three (Delta, American and United), United will give you the best deal at $125 each way.

Let’s see, what could I buy with my extra $350 from flying Southwest instead of Delta? How about my race fee to my next IM 70.3 race, plus a nice new aero helmet? How about a nice pair of running shoes + my nutrition for all season? Maybe a new wetsuit? Or, how about a new indoor trainer? You get the idea, we’re talking about real money here!

I say the airlines need to start taking the Triathlon community seriously! Destination racing is only becoming more popular, and the sport is growing at an incredible rate. How about cutting us some slack!

And, the next time I travel to a race, I’ll definitely factor in the costs of my bike.

A few last notes on traveling with a bike:

  1. If you can get your bike into a case smaller than 62 linear inches, and under 50 lbs, you can almost always probably avoid any extra baggage fees. That is the oversize cut off for most airlines.
  2. You should anticipate extra time to check in with the bike. Most airlines say arrive 30 minutes earlier than you otherwise would.
  3. A liability waiver is usually required which may limit the airline’s liability for damage to the bike. And, some specifically rule-out compensation for scratches and paint chips — so pack it up securely!

Here are the specifics on bike baggage fees for each airline:

Air Canada
Standard Fee: $0 (as first checked bag)
Oversize Fee: varies by destination (superseded by bike fee)
Additional Fee: $50
Total Cost: $50 each way

Policy Pages:
Air Canada sports equipment baggage rules
General baggage rules on Air Canada

http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/airport/baggage/sports_equip.html#-bike

AirTran : 1-800-AIR-TRAN
Standard Fee: $20 (as first checked bag)
Oversize Fee: $79 (superseded by bike fee)
Additional Fee: $79
Total Cost: $99 each way

Policy Pages:
AirTran sports equipment baggage rules
General baggage rules on AirTran

Alaska Air
Standard Fee: $20 (as first checked bag)
Oversize Fee: $50
Additional Fee: none
Total Cost: $70 each way

Policy Page:
Sports equipment/bike rules
General baggage rules

American Airlines
Standard Fee: $20
Oversize Fee: $150
Additional Fee: none
Total Cost: $170 each way

Policy Pages:
Baggage policies

Continental
Standard Fee: $23
Oversize Fee: $100
Additional Fee: none
Total Cost:  $123 each way

Policy Pages:
Baggage policy

Delta
Standard Fee: $25 ($23 if checked online)
Oversize Fee: $150 but bike specific fee applies
Additional Fee: $200 (oddly the fee to and from Brazil, is only $75 US)
Total Cost: $225 each way

Policy Pages
General baggage rules
Bike and sports equipment rules

Frontier
Standard Fee: $20
Oversize Fee: bike specific fee applies
Additional Fee: $50
Total Cost: $70 each way

Policy Pages
General baggage faq
Oversize baggage info

Frontier requires a limited liability waiver if you are using a soft case.

JetBlue
Standard Fee: $0
Oversize Fee: $75 (not sure if this applies as well?)
Additional Fee: $50
Total Cost: $125 each way

Policy Pages
Checked baggage requirements
Bicycle specific baggage rules

Southwest
Standard Fee: $0
Oversize Fee: bike specific fee applies
Additional Fee: $50
Total Cost: $50 each way

Policy Pages
General baggage rules
Sports equipment policies

Spirit Airlines
Standard Fee: $0
Oversize Fee: $100
Additional Fee: $75
Total Cost: $75 each way

Policy Pages
General baggage rules
Bike specific rules

United
Standard Fee: $25
Oversize Fee: $100
Additional Fee: $0
Total Cost: $125 each way

Policy Pages
General baggage rules
Sports equipment rules

US Airways
Standard Fee: $25
Oversize Fee: bike-specific fee applies
Additional Fee: $100
Total Cost: $125 each way

I’ve heard that US Air offers free bike transport to IronMan brand races with the code IRONMAN01. But I’m not certain that is still applicable. If so, that would vault them to the top of the list.

Policy Page:
General baggage rules
Rules for special items like bikes

Virgin America
Standard Fee: $25
Oversize Fee: $60
Additional Fee: $0
Total Cost: $85 each way

Policy Pages:
General baggage rules
Sports equipment rules

Hope you liked this report.
Have I missed an airline? Or, do you have a bike travel experience you’d like to share?
Tell me about it in the comments!

4 Responses to “How much does it cost to travel with your bike?”

  1. Chad February 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    Great info. While researching this topic for a destination tri I’ll be doing early March, I found another site that lists fees for bikes and has added info explaining what you’ll be charged. Hope this helps… http://www.airlinebagfees.com/bicycles/charts/

  2. Scott December 10, 2010 at 8:55 am #

    Very nice. Last year I did a race where I had to fly. Never again will I fly Delta. It was way to expensive. My ticket was $260 round trip. The bike cost $400 round trip. I should just buy another ticket for my bike and put it in the seat next to me.

    Also, remember to not pack C02 cartridges. If you do pack them you will get to your race missing them. Security will kindly remove them from your luggage or bike case. Then send you a letter notifying you that you have violated federal law. I am still trying to figure out how to get C02 to my race. I guess you have to buy local.

    I have a hard case to protect it. I guess that will not fall within the 62 inches. I wonder if there are there any hard cases that fit the 62″ linear limit.

    Another note. Southwest is usually more expensive than Delta. However, when factoring in the cost of a bike, Southwest is considerably cheaper to fly.

    Any word on international travel?

    • Chris December 10, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Scott.

      Good point about he CO2 cartridges. I actually did have them, but they were attached to my xLab wing. I’d removed that from the seat and dropped it in the internal side pocket. I know my bag was inspected on both legs of the trip (TSA notices included) but they apparently missed the cartridges.

      I’ll be on the lookout for a good case that would get you under the 62 linear inch limit. But, unfortunately I think you’d probably have to remove the front fork to even hope to make it with a tri-bike. That’s probably more fiddling than I would want to do while on a trip. Maybe though if you take your wheels carry-on you could get something narrow enough to make it?

      International is still in the works, but from what I’ve seen so far the range is even more dramatic, with some Airlines being very bike-friendly and others completely the opposite. So, it pays to do your homework.

  3. Mich December 3, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    Wow. This post is TRI-NO-MITE!

    Thanks for doing all this research.
    What an excellent, informative article.

    In fact, your whole blog is dang good.

    Keep ‘em coming, Sweaterlegs!

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