The Ins and Outs of Flying with a Bike: Part 1

Since I was 14, I’ve been traveling with a bicycle almost every time I leave home. A bike is a means to explore, exercise, and interact with a new place in a more vivid and intimate way. And as of the past 3 years, the bike has been the sole purpose of my travel. However, until I moved West, I had only flown with a bicycle three times… Now, it seems as if I fly with a bicycle at least 20 times a year! One thing I’ve come to realize: knowing the “ins and outs of flying with your bike” pays off over time, so I hope this helps those of you who are embarking on a bicycle adventure in a new, and far off land in the near future!

What Airline is Best for My Bicycle Adventure?

First things first: What airline do you choose? I try to book tickets with airlines who I’m confident will charge me either $25, or nothing at all! Southwest Airlines charges $75 for a bike, unless your bike bag is under the size and weight parameters. But even if this is the case, it can depend on whether or not the representative has a good rapport with you. I would say my bike has flown free 75% of the time, and I’m convinced its due to being friendly. So smile, be kind, and you’ll usually have an easier time (this can be said for life in general). I highly recommend either American Airlines or Alaska Airlines for their customer service, low fees, and wide range of options for flights. Every time I’ve flown with either of these airlines, I’ve been charged $25 to check my bike, and neither t ime were they misguided by what was in my Pik-A-Pack bike bag.

If you can’t find something from those three, or they simply don’t go to your destination, my recommendation is to look into flights that are usually a guaranteed $75 bike check. (I will have none of this $150-$200 bike-flight-flat-rate business. Yes, I’m talking to you United and Delta...) If you are set on flying with your bike, sometimes it can be cheaper to purchase a $100 flight and pay $75 for a bike, than buy a $200 ticket and pay $25 for a checked bike. If you’re anything like me, you might prefer to save that $25 if you are given the opportunity. Just weigh your options to make the best choice for your net expense of travel.

Example: While Frontier Airlines charges $75 for a bike, which rocks because they often have some of the cheapest flights to Denver, they also charge for regular checked bags. And if you have a “personal item” that exceeds their “tiny box test”, they require you to check it. I sweet talked my way out of paying $40 to check my backpack at the gate because the person at ticketing had not charged me to carry it on. Read the fine print. It could save you $.

Bag, Box, or Coffin?

I am sure you’ve seen the myriad of bike travel cases in bike shops before. Every shop has the dude who rolls around on a Colnago C60, and brings it into the shop before his trip to Europe. Usually, you’re playing carbon fiber tetris with his $800 rolling bike Escalade, which is equipped with climate control, a mini bar, and two oompa loompas to keep his Colnago entertained on the trip. Although that’s a great experience for the bike, there’s not a lot of benefit to having a gigantic bike case that more closely resembles a gun safe for your travel. They’re often heavier than a bag or cardboard box, and require the same amount of disassembly of your machine. So you’re really only creating more work for yourself, and again… if you’re like me… not a lot of upper body strength going on. Find which option is going to fit your bike, and simplify your life. If your trip calls for “simple” go the recyclable route. It will save you time and energy finding a place to store your bike case, and put your mind at ease. If storage is not a factor, then find a case that fits your travel needs best!

Happy riding!!! If you want an extra tutorial, or have specific questions, I’m all ears. Drop me a line at