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?
29 thoughts on “8 Great Ways to Avoid Baggage Fees”
All great points. If I could learn the pack light part alone I’d be ahead of the game!!!
Happy new year, Marilyn. Thank you for the note. Is that a resolution for you?
Always check the terms and conditions of your fare. Things can be hidden and when I worked for Virgin, we would get some complaints from clients who hadn’t read the fare rules properly and been charged at check-in. Airlines operate lots of different policies and prices for travel and baggage so shop around!
Great tips above. I especially like the last couple because I love to travel overland when I have time! Thanks for sharing
Nice to know. Some fare rules also have flexibility to allow stopovers, which is a great advantage.
These are all great reminders. It’s getting harder and harder to fly without baggage charges. It’s also vexing that the rules are inconsistent between carriers.
Thank you, Irene.
We’re traveling full time, so baggage fees are a way of life. Most of the time, they’ve wound up to be less than shipping so it’s all good. Even with carry-ons that are supposedly size compliant, we ‘ve wound up checking. Universal sizing among different carriers would be a godsend.
I know full time travelers with only carryon but also weekend travelers who possibly cannot pare down to a single bag. Indeed, everyone is different. Even a single carrier will have different carryon “rules” because of different aircraft.
I always check one bag. I consider it a necessity to my comfort, even if I have to pay for it. I did once try to keep it to a carry on but I forgot packing rules and wound up having items taken away and had to buy at my destination items I couldn’t carry–just too much trouble. But it is nice to have all the options lined up for me to reconsider.
Hopefully you have your favorite airline(s) credit card, to waive the checked bag fee.
Baggage fees make my blood boil. It’s not like you’re on a commuter run between NYC and DC. Traveling means having clothing and the other bare necessities of life. They should be required to include one suitcase in the basic ticket price. Shipping ahead can make baggage fees look cheap. Southwest has my loyalty because they allow bags on domestic flights.
I know many people are loyal to Southwest. Allowing 2 checked bags is just one reason.
Thanks for the great tips! As long-term, slow travelers we try to avoid flights whenever possible and opt for train, bus, boat, ship or shuttle which are usually cheaper and also allow us to see much more of the countryside. The time when flying was fun and an adventure are LONG gone!
Completely agree. I used to love to fly, anywhere just for the heck of it. Now I dread having to fly anywhere.
I always try to travel hand luggage only for the reasons you mention. But I like the suggestion of avoiding flying – I love going by train instead!
Thank you for the note, Karen. Sticking to the ground is often a better (fun, cheaper, relaxing) method of transport.
Pack light and carry on; best possible way. You invariably will not need everything you think you will anyways.
Great point, Tim. I hardly ever use everything I bring on trips, even though I always carryon. I could go even lighter.
These are great tips. I usually have the co-branded card (because I’m a miles and points junkie so I have ALL of them :-D), but usually I just only pack a carryon
Packing light is so important, especially for families. I know you have quite a crew. Thank you for the note.
I have a credit card through Delta so I get to check a bag for free and get priority boarding (this pretty much makes it worth it to me!). I do tend to be an over-packer which is why I usually prefer roadtrips over flying when possible.
Yes, early boarding is another excellent amenity, especially when you have only carryon. Those late boarders sometimes have no room and must gate check bags.
A great tip on looking for a Branded Credit Card…I’ll be looking into this in 2015 as I always seem to end up travelling with lots of bags despite my best efforts for all the reasons you list.
Branded cards offer benefits in addition to checked bags. If you are loyal to certain carriers, it makes sense to use their credit card(s).
We fly like ALL the time Charles because we have much ground to cover between trips – doing NJ to Bali in a month – so your tips make real sense.
We simply pack lighter with each trip to avoid fees.
As for flying, we’ve done Air Asia about 30 times – sad news how they’re making headlines now – and they are fair with both their weight and fees.
We’re always under limit because we keep packing less and less as we journey.
Thank you, Ryan. Packing light, to me, is liberating (financially, physically, and emotionally).
Another advantage of carry-on is that your bag arrives with you. No waiting for it to be off-loaded. No worries about it getting lost. But as airlines keep reducing allowable sizes for carry-on, that option may be a viable way to avoid baggage fees.
Exactly. That is why I always fly with only carryon baggage.
The other advantage of carry-on is that you don’t risk luggage being lost or sent to another city. But carry-on sizes keep getting smaller and smaller, so that may become a less viable option.
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