Travel Tips

The Best Ways to Avoid Airline Baggage Fees

There is nothing worse than arriving at the airport for your flight; ridiculously early as you have been warned that check in and customs and security will take you hours upon hours to get through to find out that the crazy expensive plane ticket did not in fact cover the luggage you now need to check in. Baggage fees…the dreaded words that one does not want to utter; whether you are a passenger or airline employee these fees can cause havoc, crying, screaming and other behavior that is not acceptable anywhere except an airport; where stress levels are off the charts and emotions run high.

Airlines in the last few years have shifted dramatically when it comes to what the basic fare includes. Gone are the days when you could check bags for free, receive hot meals and complimentary wine and carry on not just one but two bags for free. These days the airlines see $$$ signs when it comes to charging for everything; including the bathroom. But there are ways to avoid these annoying baggage fees and savvy passengers with a little help from the insiders can carry on flying with minimal added expenses. Here’s a few tips for avoiding those dreaded baggage fees:

Pack Light

It sounds simple and for some it is but when you are a family of four traveling for two weeks you simply can’t fit everything into a couple of carry-on bags. When faced with this situation chances are you will have to pay at least one or two baggage fees. The key is to avoid paying any more than necessary. Most passengers when faced with per bag fees think the way around getting charged more is too stuff everything into one bag and only pay the $25 (the most common first bag fee) once. WRONG. In addition to checked baggage fees there are overweight fees, which can be a killer with some airlines charging up to $100 if your bag is simply a pound or two over. Compared with checking in an extra bag for a measly $25; it is easy to see why it pays to pack multiple lighter bags. Checking the weight of your bag at home is perhaps the smartest thing a traveler can do as there is nothing worse than arriving at the airport to find out your bag is 10lbs over. Take the five minutes at home and put your bag on the scale to ensure it’s of proper weight. Airlines vary in weight allowance so make sure you are checking your airline’s baggage policies beforehand.

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Be Nice

Once again it sounds simple but is often harder to do as the airport is a stressful place and tends to bring out the worst in people. The number one most important thing to remember is to be nice to the airline employees. A smile, a “how is your day going”, a gesture of kindness; these will all go a long way in reducing your baggage fees. For example; if you storm up to the counter with a scowl on your face, throw your luggage onto the scale, complaining about a middle seat and your bags are over by two pounds how do you think that employee will react? As a former airline employee I can assure you they will charge you and not give you a chance to even rearrange your luggage. Compare that to someone who walks over, asks how the day is going, smiles, lets the employee know their bag might be a couple pounds overweight and they are willing to take some stuff out. Do you know what that employee is going to do? They are most likely going to smile back, send the luggage on its way and not charge you a dime. Airline employees don’t like overcharging people for their bags as much as people don’t like paying for them and they have the power to waive fees, change fees and make your flying a little less expensive. So remember; be nice.

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Be Loyal

Flying with the same airline time and time again will get you loyalty rewards. Signing up for the free reward miles program is one of the best ways to avoid paying for baggage fees. Most systems are tiered now and the more you fly the more benefits you reap; including waived bag fees. If you are a real go-getter sign up for one of the airline credit cards where you will earn miles even faster and a lot of bigger airlines will waive the baggage fees for card holders. Passengers who fly frequently with different airlines can sign up for multiple reward programs; and yes we know it is annoying but hey if it saves you baggage fees we think it is worth it.

Carry On

For now most airlines allow passengers to carry on one bag for free and one personal item (whether that be a purse, laptop, etc). We’re not sure how long this trend will last as with increasing bag fees airlines are seeing more and more passengers trying to carry on enormous amounts of stuff. Different airlines have different carry-on baggage allowances and it pays to check them out before you book. For example JetBlue Airlines allows carry-on bags to be up to 56 inches with no weight limit compared to Virgin American with its stickler 16lb weight limit. Some airlines allow for a bag and a personal item while others are charging for any bag that won’t fit under the seat in front of you. It really pays to do your research when it comes to carry-on luggage as a single traveler on a business trip can more than get away just carrying one bag under 40lbs and a personal item on a Delta flight for free. A trick some passengers are now using are compression bags when they pack their bags. Simply put your garments inside, zip them up and roll; the bags do the rest sucking the excess air out and reducing packing volume by up to 80%. There are so many varieties of these bags available now ranging from luxury high end fabric compression cubes to the normal plastic zip ones.

Fly Southwest or JetBlue

Domestically speaking as of February 2015 these are the only two airlines that allow you to check in a first bag for free. It has been rumored that JetBlue will start charging for first bag in 2015 so go ahead and book that ticket now while it’s still free. Southwest on the other hand has made it publicly known that it will never charge for a first bag. Only time will tell how long this lone airline will be able to hold out.

Do Your Research

With all the flight compare sites on the Internet one can spend hours upon hours checking for the cheapest flight but buyers should beware when it comes to what is included in that price. Many airlines offer different tiers of pricing and baggage fees may not be included in the bottom fare brackets. One thing to check before you buy from a site like this is what fare class you are buying, is there an excess of fees and what baggage is allowed. Likewise many airlines have now partnered up with one another and what may be free on one isn’t free on the other. Checking the airlines own website is the best source of accurate information and will ensure no surprises at check in. Make sure you are adding any extra fees to the price advertised on these “discount” sites before booking. Often it is cheaper too book through the airline once you have added on booking fees, baggage fees and all those other fees that sneak up on you.

Being prepared and savvy is the way to go when approaching baggage fees. By doing your research ahead of time and knowing what is allowed and what you will be charged for ensures a smooth flying experience. Pack light, join a frequent flyer program and carry-on luggage if you can.  Remember to smile and be nice to airline employees and you will be amazed at what that gets you; from waived overweight fees to surprise class upgrades, the possibilities are endless.

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