The price for gas, food and flights is on the rise, yet international travel is still highly desired among many bicycle travelers. So how do you fly with your bike and avoid the fees imposed by most major airlines?
Traveling with a Bike Friday or other such folding bike might be a good idea. But what if you want to fly with a full size bicycle? If that’s the case, you might be asking yourself, “Which airline should I use? Which companies cater most to bicycle travelers?” And most importantly, “Which airlines should I avoid at all costs?”
In this article I set out to discover what kind of policies and prices 15 of the world’s largest airlines impose on travelers flying with a full size bicycle. Here is what I discovered:
Note: The prices and policies found in this article are subject to change at any time. Do your own research before selecting an airline to fly with.
Starting off in alphabetical order, Air Canada has a pretty straightforward and affordable policy for flying with your bike. You should notify the airline at the time of booking that you will be flying with a bicycle and know in advance that your bicycle will be counted as one of your two standard pieces of baggage. However, you will be charged an additional $50 per direction to fly with your bike because of its size and weight.
As with most of the airlines on our list, your bike must be packaged in a cardboard bike box or other such bicycle suitcase/container. If not packaged in a container, Air Canada will provide you with a plastic bicycle bag in which you can ship your bike, but you should know that shipping your bike in this state will most certainly cause some sort of damage to your equipment – thus, the reason they make you sign a liability form that releases them from any damage they may cause.
If you choose to fly with Air France, expect to pay big time when you check your bicycle on board. While Air France allows ski equipment, golf bags, and diving equipment to be checked as normal baggage, bicycles are not accepted as part of the regular baggage allowance and are charged at at a rate of €150 (or approximately $200 USD) per direction.
Headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, All Nippon Airways is Japan’s second largest international airline and the country’s largest domestic airline. With service to 49 destinations in Japan and 22 international hot spots, All Nippon Airways has one of the most complex policies for flying with a bike.
If you choose to fly with All Nippon, your bicycle is going to be immediately classified as excess baggage because it exceeds the standard 80 inch policy (Length + Width + Depth) that the airline imposes. But unlike most airlines that have a standard rate for flying with a bicycle, All Nippon offers different rates for travelers flying to and from different destinations.
For example, if you are starting your trip in Los Angeles and arriving in Japan, you will be charged a rate of $110 USD for the one way flight. However, if you are leaving from New York and arriving in Japan, you are charged an extra $20, making your bike cost $130 for the one way trip to your destination in Japan.
On the way back home, the traveler departing from Japan and arriving in Los Angeles will be charged 19,800 Yen (About $200 USD). The traveler going home to New York will be billed $215 USD (or 22,000 Yen) in order to get their bicycle back home.
However, travelers flying to Guam or Hawaii enjoy drastically reduced rates for shipping their bicycle to these island destinations.
Like many airlines right now, American Airlineshas just recently changed their baggage policies in an attempt to squeeze every penny they can out of their passengers.
According to their website, “Customers who purchased domestic economy class tickets May 12, 2008, through June 14, 2008, may check one bag for free and check a second bag for $25 each way. Customers who purchase domestic economy class tickets on or after June 15, 2008, will be charged $15 each way for the first checked bag and $25 each way for the second checked bag.”
They go on to say that those of us traveling with bicycles will be charged an additional “$100 in addition to the applicable checked baggage fee.” This $100 fee is per direction. A round trip flight with your bicycle will cost $200 in addition to the regular price of your ticket.
The only exception to this rule, of course, is if you having a folding bicycle which can fit inside a regular suitcase or package measuring less than 62 dimensional inches and remains under the airline’s 50 pound weight limit. Even then, you’ll still be forced to pay the $15/$25 fees if traveling with one or two pieces of total baggage.
Amazingly enough, there is an airline that will fly your bicycle for free and treat it as a normal piece of checked baggage! That being said, British Airways only allows one free piece of checked baggage per passenger. Therefore, if you are traveling with another box containing your panniers or trailer, you will be charged extra for this second piece of luggage. The only people who can avoid this are those belonging to the airline’s FIRST, World Club, and World Traveler Plus programs. For the rest of us, we’ll be charged anywhere from £20 – £90 ($35 – $150 USD) depending on our destination and the distance of our flight. Register and pay for your excess baggage in advance when you check in online and you’ll save as much as $25 per bag.
Another airline with a fairly straightforward baggage policy for bicycle travelers is Continental Airlines. If flying with a bicycle, it must be packaged properly and you will be forced to pay a $100 fee per direction (unless of course, you can get your bicycle in a package measuring less than 62 dimensional inches).
Even when flying with a folding bike you’ll be forced to pay $15 for your first checked bag and $25 for your second.
Deltawins the prize for charging the most amount of money its passengers traveling with a bicycle. If you choose to fly your bike with Delta, expect to pay $175 per direction for flights within the United States and $300 per direction for flights to international destinations.
My guess is that by charging almost twice as much as other airlines, Delta may be trying to force bicycle travelers off their flights entirely. This is a strategy many businesses take in times such as this. It’s more of a burden for them to deal with the bicycles, so they up the price in hopes that 1) no one will fly with a bicycle when using their airline or 2) if someone does decide to fly with a bicycle, they at least make a healthy profit for their extra efforts.
This German airline has an incredibly complicated baggage policy, with five different zones and an array of prices and fees associated with travelers in and outside of these various areas. For the most part, Deutsch Lufthansa allows international travelers to check 2 bags free of charge.
According to the airline, bicycles are considered a medium sized piece of excess baggage and are priced as follows:
Can anyone tell me what the difference between “Within Europe” and “Europe-Intercontinental.” I’m guessing that “Intercont-intercont via EU” means international flights to locations outside of Europe, but otherwise I’m left a bit confused – scratching my head.
Based in Madrid, Iberia is Spain’s largest airline. Their policy is very straightforward. They charge a flat rate of €75 ($100 USD) per direction for bicycles shipped on their planes… and they’ll even sell you a bike box for €20 at most of their airports.
Try as I may, I couldn’t find a definitive answer to how much it costs to fly with my bicycle on Korean Airways. You’re allowed to fly with two pieces of checked luggage, but unless your bike fits under the standard 62 inch dimension rule, you’re going to be forced to pay the excess baggage fee for your bicycle. The only problem is, you don’t know exactly how much that fee is going to be!
According to the website, travelers inside of Korea are charged an excess baggage fee equal to 3% of their one way ticket. Passengers outside of the Americas are charged 1.5% of the price for their one way flight for excess baggage, but those of us who are flying to and from America must pay an unknown fee imposed by the airline once we show up at the airport. The rates for overweight baggage are clearly defined, but the rates for over sized baggage is completely left a mystery. The only clue left for the traveling cyclist is a one line sentence on the website which states, “Excess baggage fee may vary depending on departing countries.”
If you ask me, you better call the airline and check before you book a flight with Korean Air. Get the name of the person you spoke with, and if possible, ask that they send you an email confirmation which will ensure you get that price once you show up at the airport with your bicycle.
Qantas Airwaysis the national airway of Australia. Nicknamed “The Flying Kangaroo,” this international airline allows bicycles to replace one of your two checked bags. That being said, if your bicycle does exceed the size or weight restrictions the airline imposes, there is a complicated proceedure used to determine just how much you will be charged for flying with your overzied bicycle.
For most of us, however, you should be able to get away without having to pay an extra baggage fee. According to the website, “the bike box constitues one piece of checked baggage. Additional baggage rates will be charged if the bike box and checked baggage exceed the free baggage piece allowance.
Ryanairis an Irish airline with headquarters in Dublin and its biggest operational base at the London Stansted Airport. It is Europe’s largest low-cost carrier.
The airline has a straightforward and affordable policy for passengers traveling with a bicycle. If you book your flight at the airport or through the Ryanair call center, you are charged a rate of £32 or €40 (Approximately $55). If you book online, you’ll save a little money and pay only £25 or €30 (Approximately $40-$45).
Southwest Airlinesis one of the few companies still allowing two free pieces of checked baggage on domestic flights. In addition to the fact that they refuse to follow the other airlines by nickle and diming their customers, Southwest has a low priced fee of just $50 for one way flights with a bicycle. They even make special effort to point out the fact that folding bicycles like “Bike Friday and Co-Pilot bicycles are accepted in substitution for a free piece of checked baggage at no additional charge.”
One of the world’s largest airlines, United has a simple and straightforward policy regarding bicycles on their flights. Passengers flying with a bicycle pay a fee of $125 per direction, unless of course you were lucky enough to purchase your ticket(s) before June 13, 2008. If that were the case, your bicycle would have flown for $25 less.
As you can see, however, airlines are continuing to up their prices and I don’t expect this trend to come to a rest anytime soon.
Finally, US Airways(the airline I used last summer to fly to and from Germany for an amazingly low price of just $650 roundtrip (including my bicycle which flew for free)), now charges $100 per direction to fly with a bicycle. As with all other airlines I’ve surveyed for this article, your bicycle must be packaged properly and a release form will need to be signed.