Our tips on how to avoid baggage fees will save you time and aggravation (in addition to money) on every flight and trip.
Be a happy traveler by incorporating these strategies.
8 Great Ways to Avoid Baggage Fees
Baggage and other non-flight fees are the primary reason airlines are amassing record profits. This is an amazing paradigm shift for stockholders and bean counters—but not so much for consumer travelers. Many travel consumers are incredibly frustrated when ticket prices essentially double after baggage (and other) fees are charged.
1. Fly On Airlines With No Baggage Fees
Once JetBlue decided to copycat other large US carriers and start charging passengers for checked bags, it left only one big airline that did not charge. For domestic US carriers, this leaves only Southwest Airlines as the only major carrier not charging for the first checked bag; they also do not charge for second checked bags!
This chart from Kayak shows airline fees for most North American airlines with links to other international carriers.
2. Pack Light, Carryon Only
If you carry everything on the plane, then there is no checked bag fee. Besides saving money, you also save time—by not waiting at baggage claim—and eliminate the risk of bags being lost, delayed, or tampered with. Traveling with only carryon baggage has been my strategy for as long as I can remember.
For efficient packing strategies, see Create Your Own Airplane Travel Kit with In-Flight Essentials
3. Pack Light, Gate Check
Sometimes baggage clears the security gauntlet but does not fit on the plane. Available space may already be full or you may be flying a smaller plane with smaller overhead storage compartments. In these situations, the airline gate checks those bags.
Gate checked bags are usually claimed when you exit the plane but sometimes bags go to regular baggage claim. Either way, you will not have to pay baggage fees.
4. Ship Bags Ahead
If packing light is not in your vocabulary, you can avoid baggage fees by shipping extra stuff to and from destinations. Obviously you should compare shipping prices with airline baggage fees to determine if this strategy makes sense.
5. Use an Airline Credit Card
If you have the airline’s credit card, baggage fees are waived for the cardholder and perhaps companions (sometimes up to four people). So, if you are not a cardholder for the current airline’s credit card, make friends with one.
6. Use Other Credit Cards
American Express Platinum reimburses airline fees as part of their cardholder benefits. Check other credit cards to see if they offer similar benefits.
7. Travel By Train
In other articles, I listed 16 reasons why train travel is better than flying. Ability to avoid baggage fees is only one reason. Especially along the US Northeast corridor, Amtrak is a viable option to air travel.
8. Don’t Fly
Choose to travel by bike, boat, bus, or car. For me, road trips are usually more fun than plane trips. Because of air traffic hassles—arrive at least 90 minutes early, liquid/gel rules, baggage search and limitations, reduced legroom, etc.—I now intentionally choose to drive to places I would have always flown to in the past.
Of course I cannot drive from Virginia to Australia. Europe, Hawaii, or Asia so flights are sometimes necessary.
McCool Travel note: airlines also waive baggage fees for their loyalty account members, their frequent flyer members is the higher status categories.
Do you check bags? Do you pay? Would you alter your packing habits in order to avoid baggage fees on future flights?