8 Baggage Fee Hacks That Stick It To Airlines

In recent years airlines have started to tack on more and more luggage fees for flights.  If you can pull off traveling super light and not checking any luggage then your life will be much easier.  Regardless of how hard I try to avoid checking in baggage there are times where you need to bring all your skiing gear, 27 inch monitor, or your massive stuffed animal to keep you company.  Here are eight tips to help you avoid or reduce your baggage fees.

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1. Ship Your Baggage Before Your Trip

don't-check-luggage-in-to-save-on-airline-baggage-fees
Courtesy of “Robert S. Donovan” on flickr

For the times you have to bring a few items on your packing list that can’t be carried onboard your flight shipping can be a good option. Maybe it’s a utility knife for your camping trip to Colorado, or maybe it’s those brass knuckles you just can’t leave home without. Either way, if you want to bring your otherwise prohibited items along with you, you have one main option aside from coughing up exorbitant baggage fees: ship your items ahead of time to your destination via postal service or UPS.  This is probably an option only if you’re traveling domestically and if the items you need are small.

If you have just one or two items that are prohibited as carry-on baggage – ship them separately in a small box to save money. (Just remember you’ll need to get your stuff back home as well, which requires an extra errand to run on your trip.)

2. Push the “Carry-On” Rules to the Max

While some major airlines are fairly relaxed about carry-on baggage, many airlines have very strict and sometimes complex rules about the size and weight of your baggage. What’s the definition of a linear centimeter again!?

But despite the strict sounding rules and regulations, you’ll be surprised what the airlines let you get away with.  One traveler flew to Peru on Spirit Airlines and a no-extra-cost ‘Personal Item’ was a backpack containing everything the traveler needed for the 12 day trip. The fee to check this bag (round-trip) would have otherwise been an exorbitant $80. (The round trip ticket was only $212)

luggage-fees-on-airlines-can-hurt-your-cheap-travel-bugetGate agents at budget airlines only sometimes appear concerned with the size of carry-on bags. Rarely (if ever) are they concerned about the weight of carry on bags however. If you’re concerned about the size of your carry on bag (and are traveling with a friend) have your friend collect boarding passes while you hold the oversize bags. Many airlines are much less likely to hassle you about oversize bags at the gate than they are at check-in.

You might find that your desire to figuratively bring “the kitchen sink” onboard with you may raise some eyebrows when it’s time to board. Despite your previous stealth tactics you might still get busted for having a carry on bag that’s just too large. While the weight of carry-on bags is almost never checked at the gate, the size of your carry-on could get more scrutiny. One way to fight back: compress it! Using a compression sack to pack into (like the one pictured here: http://www.altrec.com/outdoor-research/ultralight-compression-sack/) will save you space.

Just always remember to tread carefully and obey all the airlines rules, ;).

3. Check Bags Plane-Side

Not only does saying your going to check your bag “plane-side” make you sound badass it can save you some dough.  Let me preface with the following warning: don’t think of trying this on any budget airline. That said, many U.S. based airlines (and some airlines around the world) will allow passengers to check baggage right as you board the plane at no charge. This happens at the end of the jet-way right before you step onto the plane. Usually there will be maintenance workers there who can take your excessively large carry-on bags down into the aircraft cargo hold.  Sometimes the gate agents will encourage passengers to check oversized luggage like this or those who are in the seating zones that board the plane last (as there will likely be no more room in the overhead bin compartments of the passengers who board the plane last).

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save-time-and-money-by-knowing-how-to-save-on-baggage-feesYou may get jealous looks from your fellow passengers that paid to check their bags, considering you just saved a sizeable chunk of cash AND you won’t have to wait half an hour for your luggage to appear on a carousel at the end of the flight.  Airlines might not let you go too crazy with this loophole, but common upright rolling suitcases are checked plane-side every day without an issue.

When you check a bag plane-side it will be waiting for you at the same plane-side location as soon as you exit the plane – or “deplane” if you want to be cool about it. The bags aren’t checked on to your final destination (handy if you need to access your stuff on long layover).

4. Carry Less, So You Don’t Have to Check Anything In

It’s natural to over pack, everyone does it at some point in their travels.  It seems like everyone has stories of thinking they packed light, and then needed to ship 25% of their stuff back home because it wasn’t needed after all.

When in doubt, leave it at home. Try to limit your travel clothes to garments you’ll use regularly on your trip. Scale back on the quantity of toiletries (you’ll be able to buy more on your trip if needed), and diligently resist bringing lots of electronic gadgets. Bringing clothes that dry quickly will make doing laundry easier, meaning you can bring less clothing overall (and do laundry more often – taking your shower experience to a new level!).

5. Check Fees and Size & Weight Details Before You Buy (Or Fly Airlines that Don’t Charge Annoying Fees)

Guessing which airlines charge a fee to check your bags can leave you surprised (and with a hole in your wallet). For example, in the USA, “budget” airlines often don’t charge baggage fees, which full-fare airlines do. Meanwhile in Europe and Asia, budget airlines are the ones charging high luggage fees and full-fare airlines often have generous free baggage policies.

Check airline websites for baggage rules, including free baggage allowances. If you’re comparing ticket prices from two different airlines (and you’re planning to check baggage) just make sure to add in any applicable baggage fees when comparing their prices. A $20 savings in the upfront cost of the ticket could mean you get stuck on an airline that charges $30 or more for checked luggage than the other airlines.

6. Check the Carry-On Rules – Only Bring Cabin-Friendly Items

While the American “TSA” airport security officers are known for being not-so-friendly and having some strange and questionable security screening methods, European airport security can be at least at tough. In other parts of the world, the rules tend to be more relaxed. (One big exception: Israel. The toughest airport security agents in the world work at Tel Aviv’s international airport – expect the unexpected).

Check the rules before you fly to make sure everything you hope to bring in your carry-on bags can actually safely make it onto the plane.  Generally speaking the keep liquid bottles smaller than 100mL (3 oz) and make sure they fit into a one-quart (1 liter) zip-lock bag.  This seems to work well even outside the U.S. in Europe, Asia, and South America.

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7. Use a Frequent Flyer Credit Card

Some airlines offer easy ways to get extra free baggage allowance. In the USA this typically involves signing up for an airline’s credit card. For example the American Airlines Citi Visa card allows cardholders a free checked bag on all American Airlines flights worldwide. See this link for more information:  https://www.citi.com/credit-cards/credit-card-details/detail.do?ID=citi-platinum-select-aadvantage-visa-credit-card

8. Bundle Up! – Wearing Your Luggage

If your airline wants to charge you an over-weight baggage fee for a just-slightly-overweight bag, there’s no need to panic. Just start layering up! The airline can’t charge you extra if you take that extra weight worth of clothing, boots or whatever it is, and wear it onto the plane instead of checking it in with your luggage.

Swap your sandals for ski boots (or other heavy item) to get through security and past the airline gate agents. You can take off your ski boots and multiple winter jackets once you actually get on the plane. Don’t worry, you’ll face just a few minutes of discomfort and save big on those pesky baggage fees.

What about you? Any other tips you can think of to save on baggage fees?

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2 COMMENTS

  1. This was all really good info. I’ve also gotten away with bring an extra huge check-in bag for free because I didn’t understand the terms (they were pretty confusing on the website — I think it was Korean Air)…but ignorance probably won’t work most of the time. Something I usually do, aside from bringing a big backpack and a rollon as carryons, is bring an extra plastic bag filled with stuff. Nobody bothers me about these, and I thought it was because it could be last minute shopping at the airport (but who knows).

  2. Haha. I love using extra plastic bags filled with stuff too!! I usually bring a bunch of food and snacks in these since I don’t like airline food most of the time and I get hungry easily. I’ve definitely played like I didn’t understand the rules and this actually does work most of the time. On my last trip to Italy a few months back I remember seeing a group of three travelers that must have had 10 bags between them. They somehow got past the check-in people, but the security folks at the x-ray machines wouldn’t let them go through. It turned out to be quite a pain in the ass for them I’m sure as they needed to get out of the security line and figure out what they were going to do. I’m glad I wasn’t them!!

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