10 Tips to Save on Baggage Fees

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Some airlines are raising their luggage fees – again. Here's how to fight back.

When Fox News recently reported that United Airlines was going to raise bag fees to $100 on many international flights, it advised readers to “seriously consider packing light. ”

You don’t say!

But what if you actually need to carry luggage with you? Or you just want to have clean clothes on a longer trip? Avoiding baggage fees isn’t just a hobby of mine. It’s an obsession – and I don’t consider “pack light” to be useful advice. Here’s what I do…

1. Pick the right airline

If my family of three traveled on United Airlines, we’d be charged $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second. But fly Southwest and each of us get two 50-pound bags for free. If we each had two bags, the difference on a round-trip flight would be $360. JetBlue also allows one bag free. Frontier allows a bicycle as a standard checked bag, avoiding Delta’s $150 charge each way.

2. Get an airline credit card

Delta, United, and American all offer credit cards that include checked-bag fee waivers for cardholders and in some cases their companions. Since many of these cards waive the annual fee, using the card for just one trip can save you hundreds of dollars.

3. Weigh your bags

The only thing worse than getting hit with a standard checked-bag fee is getting an overweight baggage fee. For example, United will charge $100 for a bag between 50 and 70 pounds and $200 for a bag 70 to 100 pounds. To avoid these charges, you can purchase a small hanging scale for under $20. Then shift the weight between bags to stay under the limit.

4. Maximize carry-on bags

Most airlines allow one carry-on bag and one “personal item” – a purse, backpack, or briefcase that can fit underneath the seat in front of you. Don’t incur any baggage fees until you’ve taken advantage of that. Since carry-on luggage isn’t usually weighed, you can pack your heaviest items there.

5. Wear your gear

With 24 pockets, including one for an iPad, the Scottevest can hold a substantial amount of gear that doesn’t count as luggage. In the winter, you can also wear a bulky jacket on board rather than pack it.

6. Leverage free items

When I travel with my toddler, I always check a car seat, since child safety devices can be checked for free. I place it in a duffel bag to protect it, and I’m always able to get away with packing a few other things around it. Medical devices and child strollers can also be checked for free.

7. Gate check

Before nearly every flight I take, the gate agents volunteer to check luggage free of charge in order to minimize delays caused by excessive carry-ons. To take advantage of this, simply bring your carry-on-sized luggage to the gate and check it there.

8. Book a higher class

On many flights, the price of a first-class ticket can be close enough to a coach ticket that the free baggage allowance makes up for most of the difference. This is such a great incentive to travel in style that it is one of my 6 Reasons Frugal Travelers Sit in Business Class.

9. Upgrade

On a recent flight, I was able to upgrade my seats to first class for $75 each way. This increased my free checked baggage allowance from zero to three bags at 70 pounds each. Had I packed that much, I would have saved $300 in fees – while enjoying first class.

10. Get status

You might already know that frequent fliers who have elite status get their bag fees waived. But did you know that having status on one airline can get other carriers to waive their fees? Most carriers within an airline alliance honor passengers who hold status with one of their partners. For example, being a United Gold Premier will allow you to waive bag fees on US Airways and other Star Alliance carriers.

Bottom line: Airlines are making an all-out effort to raise their revenues by charging ever-increasing baggage fees – and savvy passengers should be trying equally hard to defeat them.

Stacy Johnson

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