From January 9- January 25, I and a friend toured the stunningly breathtaking country of Costa Rica which far surpassed our expectations. We returned home late in the evening of the 25th after a full day of travel ordeals. It has taken me an entire day of resting to recover.

The 15 passenger bus tour was with the company, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) which presented us with an amazing array of topography, cultures, rain forests and other fun encounters. The 16 day trip was affordable and well managed by the very experienced, free lance, professional guide, Katia Valverde Monge  ( I will be blogging on this marvelous vacation in future blogs.


What surprised me on my first day of travel was when I approached the sky cab to assist me with my checked-in luggage. I was being asked to pay a $25 fee for an American Airline’s international flight from Tampa to Costa Rica. Later, I learned that another fellow passenger with the American Airlines Citi-card was also debited with this same fee. After talking with some other folks, I discovered that all the U.S. airlines with the exception of Southwest, were charging this same fee for the first checked in bag. For many years, I had been under the impression that we would not be obligated to pay a fee for one checked-in bag when flying to international destinations.

I vowed to do some research on this subject. For years, the one checked bag standard fee for most U.S. airlines used to be free to international destinations. Apparently, the U.S. airlines like American, Delta and United started charging $25 for the first checked-in bag for travel to some Central American countries like Costa Rica around May, 2015. Fortunately, Tim Leffel tackled this subject which is right on point, in his 9/29/15 Cheapest Destinations blog, “When Is an International Flight not an International Flight?” The following are some excerpts as well as the link (When Is an International Flight not an International Flight ):


“Well, it sort of does, but only if you fly to certain cities. Here’s exactly how an American rep answered my inquiry asking for clarity.”

“For coach travel on American Airlines between the U.S. and Mexico (except Guadalajara, Leon, Mexico City and Monterrey), customers may check one bag for $25 and a second bag for $40 each way within the size and weight limitations.”

Confusion Means More Fees

“What this accomplishes, of course, is confusing the hell out of customers and tricking them into thinking they’ll got a free baggage allowance when they really don’t. I have flown out of Leon/Guanajuato a lot, and naturally assumed that all flights in and out of Mexico are considered international flights. But no, only those four airports.”

“United puts another step in the mix to surprise you into paying. If you go on their baggage fees page, you need to put in a specific itinerary to find out whether you’ll be charged or not. After spending five minutes punching in city pairs, I found out their policy is as nutty as American’s. Tampa to Cancun requires a $25 fee. Tampa to Leon does not. Flying to Los Cabos will cost you an extra baggage fee. Flying to one of Mexico’s three largest cities will not require a fee, but flying to Puebla will.”

“This inconsistency from United extends into Central America, where there’s a free checked bag to Guatemala, but you’ll get socked $25 for the first bag checked to Costa Rica. Belize bags require a fee, Panama City ones do not.”

“When you look at Delta’s baggage fees page, the confusion goes up a further notch. There’s nothing intuitive or clear about it and the exceptions part is as long as the regular part. The Mexico grab/not grab pattern we start to see is similar across these three airlines, which shows that as usual they’re quite content to follow each others spiral to the bottom in tandem. You’ll pay a first bag fee to most places Delta flies, but not to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, or Leon/Guanajuato. Central America is a mixed bag again, with a free allowed bag in six destinations, but not the others. In the Caribbean there’s no charge for Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, or Haiti, but yes elsewhere.”

luggage airport_check_in_2020_by_odolly

The 51st State?

“It might come as news to Canada that they’re part of the USA, but they are according to the baggage policies of the legacy airlines. If you look at the American Airlines baggage fees section to see what’s classified as “domestic,” Canada is on that list. You may think you’re flying to another country, but AA thinks it’s the 51st state, on par with Puerto Rico.”

“In theory if you have the right American Air credit card from Citi, you are allowed to check one bag on domestic flights with no charge. So if Canada is listed as domestic, your perk would apply. That won’t help for Mexico though since, as the gate agent said to me, “That’s not a domestic flight.” It’s also not really an international flight like one to Europe would be. So you’re left in purgatory with no way to avoid fees.” (It doesn’t help on a flight to Costa Rica.)

'I am not checking this because it's my purse.'

“When I mentioned all these inconsistencies on Twitter, @AmericanAir replied back that all I had to do was look at their baggage fees page. But that page doesn’t have the Mexico exclusions. It also says Guatemala flights require a baggage fee, which didn’t come up in the system when I flew to Guatemala and back a week ago. I checked with someone I know who lives there and she said, “I’ve never paid a baggage fee on any airline out of Guatemala and I’ve flown on all of them.”

What’s the Solution? 

“The most obvious solution is to avoid the airlines that force people to travel with a carry-on (or reach a high elite status) in order to avoid extra fees.”

“Give your business to the foreign airlines like Copa, Aeromexico, Interjet, and Avianca when heading south, or cheer the continued expansion of Southwest.”

“The only other way to consistently avoid these fees if you’re flying with a legacy airline is to pack light and join the throngs trying to shove everything in the overhead bins. As you’ve probably noticed, half the time that means your bag gets checked anyway at the gate because there’s not enough room for all the baggage. Buy lightweight clothing that can be sink washed, make sure all your clothes can go with each other, and choose double-duty footwear.”

This blog was updated on 7/26/16. NOTE:  American Airlines is now charging baggage fees for all Central American countries and for all destinations in Mexico. See last link below.


Overseas Adventure Travel | Small Group Travel, Adventure Overseas Adventure Travel offers worldwide trips for seasoned American travelers, from African safaris to Asian adventures. Our focus is on cultural discovery…

Airline Fees, U.S. Carriers, updated – Blog – Airfarewatchdog Baggage Fees. Carry on bag: Free; First checked bag fee: $25 (free to most international destinations); Second checked bag fee: $35…

Baggage | Department of Transportation Nov 25, 2015 – 14 CFR Part 254 (Domestic Baggage Liability), View Rule.  Disclosure of charges for checked baggage, 05/13/2008…

American Adds More Checked Bag Fees On International Flights … – $25 first checked bag fee now applies to all of Mexico, Central America, … to find new ways to extract more $$ for things we used to not pay for.


  1. Kinda makes me glad I have my art and books for my own delightful “at home” universe. I never got to travel much. I did go to the shopping mall, however. Two years ago.


    • I was surprised. I am a retiree of Continental Airlines and it had been a standard for years that the US airlines did not charge for the first checked-in bag for international travel. I will be blogging on Costa Rica in February. It was a great trip. Thanks for your comments.


    • Dear Tim Leffel, Obviously, there was no intent not to make sure that you received full credit for your work which is great by the way. I am in the process of updating this blog to include a link. I was surprised to find someone who already did some research on this subject. I am continuing to work on this issue…Gronda


      • PS. I was reading your biography which is quite impressive. I am an older retiree who has been blogging for a couple of years and who also hails from Tampa.. Thank you for being gracious and for commenting. I will be following and reading some more of your writings.


  2. As a former US Dept. Of Homeland Security employee…I find the cartoon of the trevelers going through check point completely nude HILARIOUS! lol…butt (pun intended) be careful what you wish for! lol ha ha


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