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Have Bike, Will Travel :: A Guide to Airline Fees and Policies for Bikes

March 22, 2010 at 9:35 AM | by | ()

We’ve told you about all the weird stuff that you can bring on the plane, but now that the spring weather has arrived across most of the country it’s time for a little practical advice. Bringing your bicycle with you on our next trip isn’t just earth friendly, but it will save you big bucks if you can bypass the rental car counter. Sure it’s not totally possible to bike everywhere, but if you’re a fan of two wheels, here’s a rundown of which airlines are eager to take that Schwinn off your hands and stash it in the luggage hold.

· Southwest Airlines
At this point you should really know that Southwest Airlines has a thing for bags—have you seen their newest commercial?—and they love bicycles too. Bikes can be checked as luggage for free as long as they don’t have motors or other features that promote laziness. However, you need to pack it up in a box within the 62-inch sizing limit, and it has to weigh less than 50 pounds.

More after the jump!

· Delta Airlines
Delta has all kinds of fees when it comes to bringing along your bicycle. First of all, you’ll need to pack it up somewhat and make sure the pedals and handlebars are protected in plastic or something similar. It’s $200 for destinations within the US and Canada, and it’s the same thing if you’re headed out of the country. If you need the bike to follow you around Europe it’s only $150 once you are there. Just make sure that the whole thing is packaged in cardboard or wrapped in canvas before handing it over to the baggage-handling gods.

· United Airlines
United Airlines takes bikes for $175, but they are pretty hardcore about not helping you out. They want things packed up in a protective case or box, and they are not going to provide you any tools or other gadgets at the check-in counter to get things ready to go. Make sure it weighs in at less than 50 pounds, and that you give yourself an additional 30 minutes to take care of all the paperwork.

· JetBlue Airways
JetBlue will allow your bike free of charge if its container is less than 62 inches in total diameter and weighs less than 50 pounds; however, they realize that most bikes aren’t just elaborate erector sets. So if you want to bring your bike all assembled they’ll charge you $50 each way, but they won’t hit you with anything extra if the bike is overweight. Just make sure it doesn’t go over 99 pounds or else it will have to stay behind. Things are a little more pricey if you’re going to one of Jetblue's several international destinations—$80 to bring the bike.

· US Airways
US Airways has a bad reputation for charging for anything and everything, and when it comes to bicycles they live up to it. It’s $100 each way for bikes, they’ll have to packed up in a contained, and you’ll be signing a release for the pleasure of having someone cram your bike under the belly of the plane. Other airlines probably make you sign a waiver as well, but only US Airways comes out and waves it in your face.

· American Airlines
Two-wheeled transportation is $100 on American Airlines, but they are also going to charge you the regular checked baggage fee as well. Obviously if you are on a smaller commuter plane and there’s no room for it, it will have to stay behind, but most of the time if it’s 50 pounds or less you’ll be all set. Again, just like the other airlines, make sure you pack it up all nice and safe or else they’ll just say no.

· Virgin America
Virgin America is a new choice in bike transportation to Orlando in case you haven’t been reading the news. They’ll take bikes for $50, but they have to be in a plastic case. No makeshift cardboard protection here—only the good stuff when flying with Virgin America. Here it will set you back $50.

· Continental Airlines
Continental Airlines has finally taken away free meals in the back of the plane, so you know that they are definitely charging extra for bikes. If you’ve got a lightweight bike that weighs less than 50 pounds it will only cost you the same as a first checked bag, but if it’s a little bit bigger you’re looking at a $100 service charge. Just like everywhere else make sure it’s packed up all nice and neat.

If you're more interested in the fine print, we've rounded up all the official rules below. Take a look and enjoy some light reading.

· American Airlines – Sports Equipment
· Continental Airlines – Sports Equipment
· Delta – Sports Equipment
· JetBlue – Sporting Equipment
· Southwest Airlines – Sports Equipment
· United Airlines – US/Canada Special Items
· US Airways – Special Items
· Virgin America – Luggage FAQs

Related Stories:
· Kayaks, Surfboards, and Antlers: How to Check 'Special Item' Luggage [Jaunted]
· Kayak's Handy iPhone App: Now With Checked Baggage Fees [Jaunted]
· Baggage Fees coverage [Jaunted]

[Photos: hoyasmeg & ubrayj02]

Archived Comments:


Is it $200 roundtrip or each way?

Now, train

Now I just need to know the best non-airline way to get my bike from the Midwest to NYC. Aside from riding it.

> 50 lbs & > 62" is the trick

I've been flying with my bike for years, mostly by Southwest out of Baltimore. There are two KEY items here: 1) must weigh under 50 lbs (true for any bag or pay overweight) and I've found their scales to be a pound under my home scale, so 49 lbs is my limit weighing at home, and 2) under 62". This is the part that is impossible for most cyclists because you really can't pack a regular bike down to that size. There are "folding" bikes which are usually pretty limited and low-end, and then there are "take-apart" bikes which is what you really need. I've been using a Ritchey BreakAway for years which comes apart at the seat post and has a special coupler on the downtube. It is a very fine bike, comes in a variety of sizes to get your fit right. I can be riding in 15 minutes including changing clothes upon arrival! Packing to go takes a bit longer. It generally comes with the Ultegra component groupo which is just one-step down in the Shimano line and I never recommend going lower than this (105, Tiegra, etc are not worthy of the savings). The bike rides and looks just like a regular, high-end, steel bike. However, the canvas and plastic case that comes with it does NOT meet the 62" limit and after about 10 trips, the plastic "shell" starts breaking apart. It is a neat design where you could disassemble the case and put it in a locker at the airport, but at most airports, the lockers have been eliminated so this is a problem. Great idea for a pre-9/11 world. BTW, there is a Dahon model that uses exactly the same system and might even be the same bike, sometimes available for less. The Ritchey sells for about $2600 all together, often on Ebay for $1500-$1800 from people who use them on a trip and sell them. Every time I approached the counter with the Ritchey case I worried that a counter person would measure it and tell me I was 2" or 3" over and had to pay. It never happened but I was almost always asked what it was and often was required to sign a waiver absolving them of any blame for damaging it or even loosing it (insane that they can just make you sign away any rights, isn't it?). Eventually, I bought the S&S (sandsmachine.com) hard case which is EXACTLY 26" x 26" x 10" or 62" total. I can barely squeeze my 58cm into it with shoes, clothes (in space bags), and saddle & bar bags, hydration mix, bottles, tools; everything except my helmet and it weighs right at 49 lbs. Now, virtually all the time they ask nothing and just check it through as a regular suitcase. My two-cents is that if I show up with this as my suitcase, and it is under 62" and under 50 lbs, it shouldn't matter a hoot what is in it. Even for those airlines that charge for a bike, how can they charge you for a suitcase that meets standard bag requirements. They will try and many cannot be argued with because the print in their baggage policy specifically says what they charge for a bike. This is BS and the bike clubs and LAB should lobby to make this distinction. In any case, since Southwest allows first two bags free, I bought a lightweight giant (max size) roller and put ALL of my clothes for the week in that and take my bike as my second bag. With other's that charge for a second bag, I would argue that the regular charge is all I should pay. Finally, the other option is to get a bike retro-fit with, or built with the aforementioned S&S couplers. Many manufacturers use them (Seven, Co-Motion, etc). I recently bought a MOOTS Mootour with them made out of Titanium and it might become my travel bike. Ritchey now has a Ti version of theirs also. Ti is lighter, stronger and a great travel-bike material but it is expensive. Good luck. I take my Ritchey to LA several times a year and have taken it many, many other places. Sometimes I wish I had a higher-end bike when climbing mountains and especially descending at speed but having less than $3K at risk when checking it is a worthy advantage to the basic Ritchey!

Two Things

@Dan - I think it's round trip, but it also appears that if you can get it under 50lbs and 62" it would just be the same fee as a first checked bag.

@Stuart - Awesome information! We need a clever way to remember that > 50 lbs & > 62" is the trick.