Don't Get Gouged: 5 Ways to Beat Airline Baggage FeesBy Mirela Necsutu, Wed, Sep 4, 2013
Sick of getting gouged by airline baggage fees? With some smart planning, you can dodge many of the extra luggage costs that drive travelers nuts when booking flights.
Airlines have been squeezing passengers with their ever-changing fees for checked bags since these charges were first introduced in North America five years ago. And carriers are making a killing on them. In 2012, U.S. airlines collected more than $6 billion in baggage and reservation change fees, recent statistics show.
If you’d like to save some cash on your next international trip, check out these five clever ways for beating airline baggage fees.
Use baggage policies to your advantage
The luggage policies for some airlines can be tricky. Allowances for international flights, in particular, can change based on class of service, destination, transfers and a giant list of other factors. Even when you fly can influence what you pay in fees. For example, Ryanair’s $23 charge for the first checked bag goes up in July and August.
So after reading your airline’s luggage rules, make sure you research anything you don’t understand. Seemingly cheap flights can actually be quite pricey if the airline has expensive rules for baggage. To find out what you’ll really pay, check out Fareboom’s quick guide to international baggage fees . You can also learn about specific luggage allowances by plugging your flight details into iflybags.com
Also, make sure you understand what you’re entitled to carry onboard. Some passengers don’t realize there’s a difference between “personal bags” and “carry-on bags.” No major U.S. carriers charge for bringing on a single personal item, which is smaller than a carry-on bag and must fit under the seat in front of you. This might include a purse or laptop bag.
Many airlines also nix the fees for certain child-related items, such as strollers and car seats. Dig into the airlines’ policy to find these types of loopholes.
Grab a scale and pack strategically
Once you understand your airline’s luggage rules, you can start packing strategically to minimize costs. But first, you need to determine how much your stuff weighs.
There are dozens of scales for weighing luggage. These devices are small, light-weight and designed to be used by frequent travelers. The Taylor Digital Luggage Scale and Travelite Luggage Scale have both earned decent reviews and cost less than $25.
But your bathroom scale will do as well. Just make sure it’s accurate – even a few miscalculated ounces could put you over the weight limit and bring an extra $50 charge.
While packing, distribute weight evenly between all of your bags to ensure no single item exceeds the weight limit. Most ticket agents won’t bother weighing your carry-on and personal bags, which offers an opportunity to sneak on heavier items without adding pounds to your checked luggage.
Wear some of your luggage
If saving money were fashionable, these over-sized jackets would rule the catwalk.
After airlines began charging for checked bags, an entire cottage clothing industry developed around “wearable luggage.” These pocket-laden coats and vests can hold as much as 15 pounds of stuff. And if two or three people in your family are wearing them, that can add up to some serious savings.
One of the most popular brands in Europe is the Jaktogo, which includes several mammoth pockets. It’s probably the biggest luggage coat on the market – and yes, it’s bulky. The Scottevest is a somewhat slimmer option, while the Bagket can hold up to 10 pounds of gear and also converts into a regular bag.
These over-sized jackets probably aren’t the most stylish garb to wear on a plane, but if you value saving cash over looking good you may want to check them out.
Use vacuum-sealed bags or compression sacs
You can fit up to three times as much clothing into a single piece of luggage by using vacuum-sealed bags. It’s possible to do this yourself at home, but often you can squeeze even more clothing into your luggage by using a commercial product.
These devices shrink your clothes into a compact package by sucking air out with a vacuum cleaner. That means you can really get the most out of a single checked bag. In fact, it’s sometimes possible to cram so much into a large suitcase that it becomes difficult to lift. So if you have spaghetti arms, it’s best to use this trick in moderation.
Another option is stuff sacks, or compression sacks, which are a common gear item for wilderness backpackers. These bags use a series of straps to compress clothes and other fabric-based products into a compact cylinder. No vacuum required.
Join a program for preferred status
Airlines are always looking for new ways to reward loyalty. That’s why an increasing number of frequent flyer programs reward their top customers by offering baggage-fee discounts and waivers. However, these perks are often reserved for the most active travelers: most international U.S. airlines require you to log about 25,000 miles a year before getting deals on checked luggage.
If you’re not able to rack up that many miles, another option is to apply for an airline credit card. Most carriers offer some kind of luggage-based benefit for signing up. Those who have Delta Skymiles cards can check their first bag for free (normally it costs $25) for up to nine people in each reservation. United MileagePlus Explorer provides the same benefit for regular travelers, but lets those who hold their business card check two bags for free.
Obviously, free checked bags shouldn’t be the only reason to apply for an airline’s credit card. But if you’re already shopping around for new plastic, it’s one more factor worth considering.
Want to help other travelers avoid paying sky-high baggage fees? Follow us on Twitter and make sure to tweet this story.