Credit card scam? Your checked bag is ‘free,’ and so is everyone else’s

If you’re tired of the loyalty program apologists who breathlessly tout the benefits of their high-fee, high-interest rate credit cards, then meet Charles Morris.

Like many travelers, he fell for an airline card — and lived to regret it.

Here’s the set-up: The card in question offered a “free” checked bag on flights. So he applied and paid an annual fee and started obediently collecting miles. Morris couldn’t wait to flash his card on an upcoming transatlantic flight, because it gave him (groan) the first checked bag “free.”

Now, in the good old days of air travel, everyone could check two bags on a transatlantic flight. Then airlines took that “privilege” away and returned it only to the lemmings who applied for their toxic plastic cards.

Thanks for nothing, guys.

Anyway, Morris was thinking he’d saved himself a lot of money by applying for this card. Then he realized that everyone gets the first bag “free” on a transatlantic flight.

“The second bag is $100 more,” he says.

No problem.

“I’m entitled to the benefit of a free bag,” he says. “So I can take two bags for free, right?”

Wrong.

“The airline told me that my free bag is the first bag, even though it is already free for everyone.”

He says the scam cost him $200 on top of a $1,600 ticket. Never mind the mindless spending he engaged in to accrue more points. You know, spend more, get more.

Some of you are probably saying to yourselves: “He should have read the fine print before he signed up for the card.”

Related story:   "How can this be legal?"

Yeah, whatever.

The real consumer advocates out there are thinking: How deceptive and dishonest of the airline to do something like this!

Which airline? Which card? Doesn’t really matter, because they pretty much all do it. They insert fine print into the cardmember agreement that any contract lawyer would admire. Then they quietly congratulate themselves while watching their customers fall for it.

“I’ve been flying 30 years,” says Morris. “I’m not surprised at the loads of fine print.”

Neither am I, but still — this shouldn’t be allowed.

I know, I know. Airlines are private companies, not charities. But this just doesn’t seem right.

Is it a scam? Morris thinks so, and I’m inclined to agree. Not only did his airline convince him to sign up for a high-fee credit card, but it then cleverly removed some of the benefits it implied he had. In my book, that’s a scam.

These evil credit cards are being pushed by slick TV ads, by flight attendants patrolling the aisles of your next flight, and online, by credit card shills posing as travel “experts.” You’re being promised the benefits every passenger should get, and often not even getting what you think was promised.

Are cards that promise "free" checked bags a scam?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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