Five ways to avoid baggage fees

Photo of elegant female carrying red suitcase

Photo of elegant female carrying red suitcase  (iStock )

With some airlines charging $100 for a second checked bag and others imposing fees just for a carry-on, it's no wonder that airlines reported making $22.6 billion in 2011 from extra fees. 

No traveler wants to pay extra to check a piece of luggage, but some may find themselves with no other choice. The good news is that there are some ways to avoid giving the airline even more money. Here are six ways to avoid baggage fees.

1. Become a light packer
Over packing can mean overpaying. The most obvious way to dodge the checked baggage fee is to not bring a bag to check. Invest in a good carry-on and only bring what you know you will need. It may also help to get rid of the mind set that every member of your traveling party needs his or her own piece of luggage. If you are not guaranteed one free bag per person, check as few as possible. Distribute the heaviest items (shoes, bulky coats, jeans) among the bags to avoid paying even more.

2. Be selective with your airline choices

Airline freebies may seem few and far between, but there are still some that will cut you a break in this aspect. Jet Blue still allows each customer to check one bag for free (providing it is less than 50 pounds and meets the specified dimensions). Checking one bag on a domestic Delta or United flight will cost you $25, but your first bag is free on both airlines if you are flying between the U.S. and many international destinations.  Before you book your flight, check out the airline’s luggage policy. A flight that looks cheaper up front may not turn out to be so in the long run. Spirit, for example, is notorious for its low-fare high-fee flights where you are even charged for a carry-on.  

If you are a frequent flier, one strategy is to always fly on the same airline so you collect points or miles to reach “elite” or “premier” status, which may merit free checked luggage. You can also opt to open an airline credit card. Make sure to read up on the card before you join, but the airline may waive the baggage fee if you purchase your tickets with the card.  

3. Weigh in before you go
Do you always feel like you are the person redistributing shoes and clothes in line at the check in so your bag no longer exceeds the weight limit? It may be worth your while to invest in your own luggage scale, if not just for peace of mind. You can find one online for about $20.

4. Send your luggage ahead of you
You can bypass checking luggage altogether by shipping your stuff through FedEx or UPS. has a useful chart that gives examples of how much it would cost to send your bag to your destination.

5. Learn what you can check for free
Travelling with children? You may be able to check things like strollers and car seats for free. Check ahead before you end up paying an unnecessary fee. Look for other loopholes in the fee policies and take advantage of them.

Also see what items airlines may charge a lot for, like bikes or golf clubs, and think twice about bringing your own. It may be cheaper to rent equipment when you get to your destination.

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