7 Tips For Saving On Airline Baggage Fees

The other day we wrote about the new UPS Luggage Box, which gives users the option of checking, carrying-on or shipping your baggage for your plane trip. But over at MSNBC, they’ve come up with a whole list of ways to not get beaten down by the baggage fee system.

1. Know your policy:
Being aware of how much the airlines charge for bags is key. Factor in the fees when comparing fares because one airline might have a cheaper ticket, but they’ll end up more expensive once you realize how much it’s going to cost you to check your luggage.

2. Join a frequent flier program:
Many airlines offer some kind of frequent flier program that includes baggage fee discounts or waivers for “elite” or “preferred” members.

3. Fly on a discount airline:
Southwest and JetBlue both offer better deals than the majors on checked bags, with Southwest giving each passenger two checked bags for free and JetBlue letting you check one free bag. But then there’s Spirit Airlines, who not only charge for checked bags but who have begun charging for some carry-ons.

4. Take the train:
Amtrak lets passengers carry on up to two pieces of luggage (not including personal items like purses, strollers or computer bags) and check up to three pieces of luggage — for free. Additional bags only $10 per bag.

5. Use a luggage scale:
Having a small luggage scale at the ready can help you beat overweight baggage fees. It will allow you to precisely mete out your packed goods so that none of your bags will end up pushing the airport scale into the pricey red zone.

6. Ship your bags:
Depending on the size and weight of your luggage — along with how far you’re traveling — it might be cheaper to ground-ship your items to and from your destination. Even if it costs a few dollars more, some might find the convenience of not having to lug bags to and from the airport worth the extra expense.

7. Upgrade your luggage:
Think of this as a long-term investment. If you’re a frequent traveler or traveling with a larger number of suitcases, it might behoove you to plunk down the extra cash for more expensive, lightweight luggage. While they won’t convert your checked bags to carry-ons, they can save you several pounds in weight — which can save you tons of cash at the airport in overweight baggage fees.

7 smart ways to bypass baggage fees [MSNBC.com]


Edit Your Comment

  1. ZeGoggles says:

    8. Stop the nonsense. Carry your bag on.

    9. You’re going on a two day trip, not a week long trip. There is no excuse to overpack.

    • ZeGoggles says:

      10. Most luggage manufacturers lie. For safety sake, buy a 20″ rollaboard.

      • ZeGoggles says:

        11. FlyerTalk.com is your best travel resource.

        • ZeGoggles says:

          7.1 Don’t be cheap when it comes to luggage. Don’t buy the bags on sale at Walmart. You’ll cry once, but the purchase will last you a long time. The players use Briggs & Riley and Travelpro.

          • Nidoking says:

            12. Attach your luggage to a comment and keep replying until the thread stretches to your destination.

        • Pryde987 says:

          If you’re an actual frequent flier, it’s the best resource.

    • Fidget says:

      8.1 And carry it to your seat. And don’t try to sneak on the biggest carryon you can. All the extra clothes in the world aren’t going to help you when the harried traveler you just kicked out of overhead space beats you senseless with his laptop bag.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      8.2 And don’t pack everything you own in it. and steal the whole damned overhead bin because you’re more important than the rest of us, who paid the fee and brought a regulation-sized carryon.

    • hoi-polloi says:

      Most of the time I fly, it’s to go climbing. I generally check at least one bag due to the weight of gear and prohibited items (knife). For the most part, I agree that you should pack as light as you can get away with, and try to get by with carry-on. Sometimes, checking a bag is the simplest alternative.

    • Jevia says:

      You can pack for a one week trip in a carryon, if you do it right.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        you can pack for a two week trip in a carryon if you are willing to wash your clothes while on the trip. i prefer silk for that. packs light, drip dries in the shower overnight unless you’re in a really humid place

    • sweaterhogans says:

      My husband and I take 2 wk vacations with a small carry-on suitcase and a backpack. We pack a duffel bag in case we buy too many souvenirs that need to be checked in. You’re on vacation, you don’t need 5 pairs of shoes, a ball gown and all of your jewelry. Try to rough it just a tad.

      I’ve been trying to explain the concept of carry on bags only to my parents for the past 5 yrs. I took a trip with my parents last year and they each had 2 very large suitcases for a 2 wk trip. Of course, they were too weak to carry it, and despite my husband’s and my smart packing, we ended up dragging their bags around.

  2. pantheonoutcast says:

    Buy this:


    Carry it on. Last summer I was in Spain for a month with only this and an Eddie Bauer messenger bag as my luggage.

    A wise man once told me, “When packing for a trip, lay out all the clothing you want to pack on the floor. Then bring half the clothes and twice the money.”

  3. dreamfish says:

    Don’t forget to check any limits there may be on carry-on luggage. Some airlines have relaxed the amount (including size or counting a briefcase/laptop case) but others haven’t.

  4. youbastid says:

    “Take the train” is not a useful tip for saving on airline baggage fees!

    • James says:

      Agreed. I love trains, but myself and others live out west in big cities miles from anywhere, where a train trip to any other big city takes at least a day- and that’s when it’s on time.

    • mbemom says:

      No kidding!! I checked into the overnight auto train from Lorton, Va to Sanford, Fl (Orlando) for our trip there this summer. You take your car on the train with you, which saves on a rental car and the wear and tear of driving your car.

      Flight for Reagan in DC to Orlando for 5: 1100
      Auto train trip listed above: 1600

      Not only was the train much more expensive, it is an overnight train that takes 16 hours of my life one way, whereas the flight takes about 4. Even with a rental car for the week, the train is more expensive. That is also the base rate, if you add a room to sleep in, forget it. For my family, it would add about 2000 more to the trip.

      I realize that the auto train is not a standard trip and isn’t really what was meant as advice but even the Acela train to New York from DC is not cheaper than your average commuter flight for the same trip.

    • dreamfish says:

      It does present some problems when it comes to transatlantic travel.

    • fuceefacee says:

      Amtrak is a poor choice for travel. I quit using them years ago because they were habitually late. Anywhere from 2 to 7 hours. Unacceptable. Plus the crew people are rude and surely. Bathrooms were often filthy beyond belief. I finally caught on that it was cheaper and more convenient to drive the the six hours to NYC. I would park my car in a lot in Jersey City and take the PATH into the city. So simple.

  5. mikeyo says:

    Some airlines may allow you to gate-check a carry-on for free at the gate. So you get to bring your bag for free without having to wrestle it into the overhead.

  6. econobiker says:

    Southwest rules the skies. No frills but they treat you like a human and don’t lie.

    I just returned from PHL to BNA with a box of -cast- -iron- frying pans as checked luggage- all 39 lbs- well under the %0lb limit. Not a problem for Southwest but of course searched by the TSA.

    • nybiker says:

      Yes, this is o/t, and I don’t know whose cast-iron products you have, but I received (because I asked) Loge cast-iron skillet (& lid), & griddle this past Christmas. I am not usually raving about my Christmas gifts in July, but those, boy, are just great. I hope you enjoy yours too. My first grilled cheese (not made via a toaster), yummy. If I hadn’t already had lunch, I’d go downstairs and fire ’em up.

  7. Pinget says:

    My rolling LL Bean duffel bag is inexpensive, lightweight, and has held up through 10 round trip flights so far. That’s good enough for me.

  8. nbs2 says:

    If you are considering joining a FF program just for the status and then free bags, you may be in for a rude awakening. You need to earn your status before the bags become free. If you are in a bit of a rush, you’re better off looking at one of the affiliated CCs that airlines have. CO will waive the first bag fee on the lower level card, both bags on the higher. And that is for everybody in your party. I believe DL offers something similar.

    Just the bag fees on their own go a long way towards making up the annual fees (and that isn’t considering other benefits that are available).

  9. catskyfire says:

    The train is only useful if you have A: More time or B: are somewhere the train is a lot (east coast). When I was heading to visit a friend in Vegas, from Lincoln, NE, I checked it out. 31 hours, 8 of it by bus from Salt Lake City. Or a couple hours by plane. Hmmm… which to pick.

  10. hoi-polloi says:

    I agree with the scale suggestion, but you don’t need a special travel scale. Weight your bags at home on the bathroom scale, and make sure to pack the same items in each bag on the way back. If you know you’re pushing the weight limits and you’re checking multiple bags, check the heaviest first. If it’s overweight, you can quickly make adjustments.

    I frequently fly to climb and hike, and I wear my heaviest shoes/boots on the plane. I’ll wear layers, which are helpful if the plane is cold and reduces my luggage weight.

    There was an article posted a while back about rolling clothes so you can pack your carry-on more tightly. I’m planning on trying that in the next few weeks. I have to check at least one bag, but want to keep it to that.

    • farker says:

      I don’t know if this applies everywhere or to all airlines, but one time I was flying from Philly to Houston on Southwest. I had two pretty heavy bags to check. The first one was 52 lbs (over the limit), the other one was about 45 lbs. He still put an overweight warning tag on the 52-pounder (for the safety of the baggage handlers), but I didn’t have to remove any items from the heavier bag or anything.

      The agent told me it was good he weighed the heavier one first because he could just average out the two weights and not charge me the overweight luggage fee! He specifically mentioned that if he had weighed the lighter one first he would not been able to trick the computer into not charging me a fee.

      • hoi-polloi says:

        Good to know. I imagine they’d be pretty quick to forgive the fee if there was a queue and you said, “Just let me rearrange a couple things…” Then again, we are talking about the airport. The only time my bag was overweight was when it was the last bag checked. Thankfully, it wasn’t far over the limit and she decided to waive the fee. I was more careful on the way home, and ever since.

  11. wetrat says:

    8. Roll your clothes instead of folding them.

  12. Pryde987 says:

    The most annoying thing about bag fees is all the “gate lice” who crowd around the gate and make it difficult to identify a line and discern where it ends. YOU ARE IN GROUP FOUR. STANDING AROUND IS NOT GOING TO GET YOU ON THE PLANE ANY FASTER.

    It’s not like their 28″ tote was going to fit anyway.

    • squirrel says:

      Not as bad as the one or two passengers that think they can board with Group 1 with a Group 4 ticket. There’s one or two on every flight that try to do this.

      I understand the “gate lice” simply for the reason that everyone has a roll-on carryon and the plane always runs out of room before or during the last boarding group. If I am going to go through the trouble to bring only a carry-on and pull the short straw on my boarding pass, I sure as hell don’t want to cool my heels waiting at the baggage carousel for 30-45 minutes. Because of this, I’m going to jockey for first in my boarding group if I have no checked bags.

  13. Fantoche_de_Chaussette says:

    Tip #10: Really big freaking cargo pockets. Lots of ’em.

  14. jennleighh says:

    For years, I’ve taken students on overseas trips twice per year (rough life I lead, I know, but the trade-off on a deeply discounted trip to Italy or whatever is dealing with a Whole Bunch o’ Adolescent Drama) and the seven dollar luggage scale I bought on eBay was the best purchase I’ve ever made. Night before we left to fly back to the US, we had a packing party, weighed every single piece, and reorganized among kids. Never paid an over-limit fee, but had a lot of hilarity in the final destination airport when tired kids were scrambling around to find “their” stuff in other people’s bags. Probably not kosher to TSA, but it worked for us. This year, no trips, and I’m much more relaxed, but I swear by that stupid seven dollar scale, and it had a tape measure in the handle, too, for fun measuring projects.

  15. boricuachick says:

    Whether I am traveling for a weekend, a week, I can fit everything I need in a carry on. I have not yet ever paid to check a bag. On the rare occasion that I need a bit more room (traveling at Xmas, let’s say), I ship my clothes to my familia’s house in those nice flat-rate USPS boxes. Still cheaper than what the airlines charge.

  16. Woodside Park Bob says:

    8. Refuse to fly any airline that has a fee for the first bag if an alternative is available…. and let the airline know why you didn’t use them.

    • Pryde987 says:

      Except you actually have to use math and figure out if the legacy carrier flight with fees is a net gain over flying a low cost carrier that offers free bags.

      It’s no secret that Southwest is no longer the cheapest option, but people take their brand image hook-line-and-sinker.

      • sponica says:

        I’m flying to Orlando from NH, and I calculated the luggage expenses from a half dozen northeast airports. The overall CHEAPEST roundtrip flight was Islip to Orlando on Southwest. I have to be in NYC on the ending weekend of my vacation, so I was going to let my ex babysit my car for a week and just fly in and out of Islip but he wasn’t willing to do the airport dropoff.

        I ended up booking southwest out of manchester. Because it’s 20 minutes away from my house, and once you calculate the bus fare to/from logan airport and the luggage fees, southwest was the cheapest one.

        If you’re someone who ends up checking luggage, Southwest wins on price. Plus if you’re from the smaller regional airports that they routinely fly out of…it wins on the time v money equation

  17. Barko says:

    I agree with all the folks that suggest carrying a bag on and packing light… but it must be said that airlines REALLY need to start enforcing the one carry on and one SMALL bag rule. It’s taking longer and longer to get off planes after landing because so many people are bring so much stuff with them, not to mention the mad scramble for overhead space when everyone gets on.

  18. blinky says:

    Go southwest.

  19. OnePumpChump says:

    Wear a coat, with pockets. Dress for the absolute coldest possible weather at your destination.

  20. kmw2 says:

    Even really exotic places have shampoo, shower gel and toothpaste. Leave the full-size toiletries at home.

    (I have, once, as an experiment, taken a week’s trip with only a carry-on. It was possible, just boring.)

  21. Randell says:

    Not sure where you are getting your information about the Acela train versus an “aveerage” commuter flight, but I randomly just picked July 28th departure and return one week later for this route on the Acela and on Hot Wire. The Acela was $98 round trip in 3 hours and 15 minutes. THe lowest fare on an airline included a stop in Cleveland at $160, AND it was scheduled for 3 hours 28 minutes. The cheapest non stop flight was $273 at just under an hour. Considering that you need to board the plane and go through security in Washington DC you probably need to arrive at the airport an hour prior to departure. Upon landing you also have to take a taxi, or rent a car to get into the city. (another hour of wasted time). These are the types of trips the train is ideal for. Anything within 4 hours of Chicago, or the north east corridor are the best for train travel.

    • BridgetPentheus says:

      for that route the Acela you are speaking of is 135 each way for 260 round trip and Jet blue is 120 with taxes…yeah the train is far more expensive

  22. Caveat says:

    I would love to limit myself to carry on, but what do I do with the toothpaste, deodorant, hair gel, etc? I can’t have them with me for “security” reasons. Do I spend the little time I have at the destination running around looking to buy them? Then do I just throw them out?

    • penk18 says:

      Just did a week business conference only carry-on. I transferred liquid toiletries to smaller TSA-approved-size containers; they all went into the regulation-size bag (my hairdresser very kindly provided a week’s worth of shampoo/conditioner samples). Used regular toothpaste (doesn’t have to be measured/separated) and solid deodorant (same thing). It works.

  23. MurKam says:

    Pack less.

  24. Blious says:

    People need to be more aware of what they are agreeing to when purchasing tickets. Understand the fees attached and what can be ADDED when you fly. If more people DID THIS, certain airlines would be hit harder by the lack of passengers

  25. DanC922 says:

    Frontier Airlines offers an upgraded fare for $30 extra that includes 2 checked bags. That’s half the cost of most other airlines.

  26. alphadog says:

    Airlines don’t charge for a carseat bag. If flying with kids, pack the carseat and load EVERYTHING that is heavy into that carseat bag. It’s totally worth it. We packed all our books, shoes, etc into that thing and weren’t charged a penny!