Airline baggage fees are a hot topic these days, and for good reason: the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that U.S. travelers spent $7.1 billion in luggage and flight change fees in 2017 alone. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to get around the ever-increasing baggage fees and restrictions imposed by most major airlines. Here are some tips for keeping your luggage costs to a minimum.
Compare Airline Baggage Fees
Before booking a flight, take some time to review the checked baggage allowance fees, restrictions, and maximum size and weight allowances of different airlines. Some airlines, like Southwest Airlines, do not charge anything for checked bags, while others, like JetBlue, charge $25 for the first checked bag under a standard fare plan. Watch out for budget and low-cost carriers that offer super cheap airfares only to charge exorbitant fees for checked baggage. In some cases, it’s worth paying a slightly higher airfare to avoid the extra baggage charges.
Join a Frequent Flyer Program
Most airlines, including American Airlines, Delta, and United offer loyalty programs that include baggage fee discounts for “elite” or “preferred” cardholders. If you’re a frequent flyer who racks up at least 25,000 miles annually, joining one of these programs can save you hundreds of dollars in extra luggage costs. Even if you’re not a frequent flyer, joining your airline’s frequent flyer program will give you access to other special discounts and offers that may lower the overall cost of your trip.
Take Advantage of Airline Credit Card Perks
Many airline credit cards offer checked bag perks that allow you to check at least one piece of luggage for free. With the Delta Reserve credit card, for example, you can check your own first bag for free as well as the first bags of up to eight of your travel companions. On Alaska Airlines, the first checked bag is free for you and up to 6 companions if you reserve your flight with an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card. For large families, taking advantage of airline credit card baggage perks can translate to savings of up to $450 per round-trip flight.
Most airline credit cards have annual fees ranging from $95 to $500, but a few cards – like the Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express and the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard – are free for the first year and $95 annually thereafter. Be sure to factor these extra charges into your potential savings on checked baggage fees.
Weigh Your Baggage in Advance
Most airlines have a maximum baggage weight allowance of 50 pounds. Going over this limit can result in extra charges of up to $200. If you think you’re anywhere near exceeding your airline’s maximum baggage weight allowance, it’s a good idea to weigh your luggage before heading to the airport. Airport scales are often inaccurate due to not being reset and calibrated as often as they should. While you can purchase a special luggage scale, weighing your baggage is easy to do with an ordinary bathroom scale. Simply weigh yourself while holding your bag, then weigh yourself without the luggage. The difference between the two numbers is the weight of your bag.
It should go without saying, but packing light is one of the easiest ways to avoid airline baggage fees. In addition to simply packing less clothing, you can lighten your load by transferring toiletries and cosmetics into small travel containers, carrying small items in your tote or shoulder bag, and wearing bulky clothing on the flight instead of putting it in your checked luggage. There are also plenty of travel-size accessories on the market that are designed to take up less room in your luggage and help reduce baggage fees.
Consider Traveling with Carry-On Baggage Only
A smart way to get around your airline’s checked bag policy is to travel with carry-on luggage only. In addition to your carry-on luggage, most airlines will let you carry a “personal item” – such as a laptop bag, a purse, or a tote bag – onto the plane, so you don’t have to worry about trying to fit everything in your carry-on. Maximum size and weight allowances for carry-on bags vary, so be sure to check the airline’s website or your contract of carriage to ensure your carry-on bag doesn’t exceed the airline’s limits. You’ll also want to check whether the airline charges for carry-on bags. A few low-cost airlines, such as Frontier and Spirit Airlines, charge up to $65 for carry-on luggage.
Leave Bulky Items at Home
Instead of traveling with large, bulky items that you only plan to use a few times during your trip, like snorkeling gear, game consoles, and sporting equipment, consider leaving these items at home. Airline charges for a third checked bag can be as high as $100 each way. Almost anything can be rented these days, so avoid packing anything you can easily find at your destination.
Ship it Instead
Depending on the size and weight of your luggage, it may actually cost less to ship it to your destination instead of traveling with it. If your luggage is overweight, compare your airline’s extra baggage fees to the shipping rates of delivery services like FedEx, UPS, and USPS. There are also companies that specialize in luggage shipping, although they may be slightly more expensive than standard shipping services.