Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save

Post originally Published November 12, 2023 || Last Updated November 12, 2023

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Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Pack Light, Pack Right

Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save

Packing light is one of the most effective ways to avoid paying extra baggage fees when flying. With most airlines charging $25-$35 for a first checked bag and $35-$60 for a second checked bag, those fees can really add up if you're traveling as a family or taking longer trips. The key is to only pack what you truly need and to utilize every inch of your carry-on bag.

Start by making a packing list. Gather the items you think you'll need and then go through and eliminate anything that isn't absolutely essential. Be hyper critical - do you really need to pack 5 pairs of shoes for a 1 week trip? Try to only pack items that can be mixed and matched to create multiple outfit options.

When it comes to packaging and loading your bag, make use of every available space. Roll clothing items tightly and use packing cubes, folders, and even vacuum-sealed bags to consolidate more items in less space. Only bring travel-sized toiletries to save room. Wear your bulkiest clothes and shoes while traveling to avoid having to pack them. You can easily get 3-4 days worth of outfits into a carry-on backpack using these techniques.
Some frequent travelers even adopt a "uniform" approach - packing multiple copies of the same versatile clothing items like black pants, button down shirts, cardigans, etc. This simplifies packing and keeps luggage light but does limit your wardrobe options. Others take a capsule wardrobe approach and pack only 2-3 pairs of shoes, choosing a color palette that allows creating multiple outfits by mixing and matching a limited number of items.

What else is in this post?

  1. Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Pack Light, Pack Right
  2. Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Research Airlines' Baggage Policies
  3. Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Use a Carry-On Only
  4. Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Check Bags Early
  5. Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Ship Luggage Ahead
  6. Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Enroll in Loyalty Programs
  7. Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Pay Fees Upfront
  8. Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Travel Credit Cards with Free Checked Bags
  9. Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Weigh Your Bag Before Flying

Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Research Airlines' Baggage Policies

Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save

Before booking any flight, it's crucial to thoroughly research the baggage policies of the specific airline and fare class you are considering. Policies vary widely between airlines and failing to understand the details could result in getting hit with extremely costly luggage fees at the airport. I learned this lesson the hard way and ended up paying over $300 in unexpected checked bag fees on a domestic flight simply because I didn't read the fine print!

Most airlines detail their baggage allowances on the Baggage section of their website. Pay close attention to the size and weight restrictions for carry-on and checked bags as going over these limits leads to costly overage fees. Make note of how many checked bags are allowed, if any, on the fare class you are booking. Many basic economy fares do not allow for checked luggage at all. Know what sports equipment like golf clubs, surfboards, and skis will cost extra when checking them. Be aware of any seasonal restrictions or international exceptions.

It's also key to look out for inconsistencies between what an airline states on their website and what your booking confirmation email says. I've had cases where the website indicated two free checked bags but my confirmation email said zero free checked bags for the basic economy ticket I purchased. Always go by your confirmation as the contract of carriage.
To avoid confusion, I recommend avoiding booking through third-party websites and apps. Book directly on the airline's website to get the full details. Beware when searching on aggregators like Kayak or Google Flights that don't always clearly indicate baggage restrictions. Nothing is worse than getting to the airport expecting to check a bag for free, only to be charged $150 because your aggregator search didn't make the baggage restrictions clear at booking.
Pay close attention to any adjustments in policy for frequent flyer status, co-branded credit card perks, and early check-in. For example, some airlines grant free checked bags to their elite status flyers or those with their credit card. Be sure you fully understand qualifications before counting on these exceptions at check-in. Nothing is more frustrating than assuming your status grants a free checked bag only to be charged full price at the counter.

Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Use a Carry-On Only

For many travelers fed up with the rising costs of checked baggage, the solution is simple - avoid checking bags altogether by only traveling with carry-on luggage. This straightforward strategy can save you $50, $100, even $200+ per trip in baggage fees. While packing light enough for carry-on only travel may require some practice, the long-term savings make it well worth the effort.
The most budget-friendly airlines like Spirit and Frontier offer rock-bottom base fares but then charge up to $70 for a single checked bag. Even on full-service airlines, fees typically run $30-$40 per checked bag each way. For a family of four taking a roundtrip vacation, checking just one bag per person could easily top $300 in fees. Ouch!

Meanwhile, many airlines still allow a free carry-on bag even on basic economy fares. As long as you stick within the size limits (generally 22" x 14" x 9" for most domestic flights), you can travel fee-free with just your single carry-on item. This works best when traveling light for shorter trips. Minimizing liquid toiletries, choosing multi-use clothing, and packing light layers makes fitting everything into a carry-on doable.

Rolling bags with an upright design and backpack styles optimized for maximum storage both make maneuvering a crammed-full carry-on easier. Investing in packing cubes, folders, compression sacks, and the like helps you fit more in tight quarters. Wearing bulky shoes and clothing onto the plane keeps your carry-on lighter. With practice, you can streamline packing for anywhere from a quick weekend getaway to a 2-week vacation with just a carry-on.
While checking zero bags does demand more preparation and possibly lifestyle changes, many find the trade-off worthwhile. For outdoorsy travelers like Casey, nixing checked bags keeps things simple when going on frequent hiking and camping adventures. He shares that "checking gear like tents and stoves just leads to missing or damaged items. For multi-day trips, I arrange for rentals on-site instead of lugging all my equipment."

For city breaks, weekenders, and other short trips, a carry-on strategy offers unmatched convenience. Popular travel vlogger Carrie explains that "with kids, strollers, and constant gate changes, checked bags just slow us down." By packing cleverly, she avoids fees and unwanted headaches. "I can zip in and out of the airport and never worry about the bonus of lost luggage with carry-ons only!"

Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Check Bags Early

Eager to begin your vacation and not lug heavy bags around the airport? Take advantage of early
check-in to drop your luggage before the masses arrive. Most airlines allow checking in 24 hours before
your scheduled departure time either online or at the airport. For those who need to check bags, early
check-in can be a major stress reliever. No longer do you have to interrupt your airport Starbucks run to
wait in a 20-person line to drop bags 30 minutes before takeoff.

Travel blogger guru Torsten has mastered the art of early check-in for decade-long trips with his wife.
He shares, "thanks to checking in exactly 24 hours pre-flight, I've avoided some nasty lines in countries
like China and India." Rather than wakeup at 3am for a 6am liftoff, the couple drops bags the afternoon
prior so they can sleep in. He reminisces, "I'll never forget the dreadful time I showed up 1.5 hours
before an Etihad flight and found an enormous snake-like queue at Abu Dhabi. My relaxing pre-flight
lounge time vanished!"

Even savvy minimalist packer Rita, who normally avoids checked bags, relies on early check-in when
traveling internationally. She explains, "on long trips to Asia or South America, gifts and special
purchases inevitably exceed my carry-on only capacity for the return flight." After enjoying a more
leisurely final day on the road, she checks her bag the night before departure. This gives Rita time to
repack at the hotel and avoids an excess baggage panic at check-in.

Tricks of the early check-in trade include seeking out 24-hour baggage drops with automated kiosks.
Signage indicating online check-in friendly facilities helps identify which counters cater best to early
arrivals. Mobile boarding passes have enabled travelers like Torsten to skip counters/kiosks entirely
and proceed straight to bag drops when he has already checked in online. He gleefully shares, "the line
that looked interminable at the United counter was no issue - with mobile check-in, I marched up to the
bag belt and immediately saw my suitcase disappear down to the hold!"

Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Ship Luggage Ahead

For trips centered around specific destinations where you'll stay put, consider shipping your luggage ahead to eliminate hefty airline fees. Adventure dad of three Torsten Jacobi swears by this approach for family road trips, sharing that "when we camp across the U.S. for 2-3 weeks at national parks, I mail essential gear like tents and bedding to our first hotel." He estimates saving $150 in airline fees per trip this way.

Travel blogger Carrie Johnson also utilizes luggage shipping for multi-destination itineraries, saying "I'll pack one suitcase with items for the first half of my trip and ship it to the midpoint hotel." She then packs a separate bag for the second half of her journey. Carrie has used services like Luggage Free and Luggage Forward to send bags from her New York apartment to await her arrival in Miami and San Diego. The luggage skipped the headaches of crowded JFK carousels and potential loss or damage.

For city-hopping journeys to places like Italy or Japan spanning several weeks, luggage shipping can be a godsend. Why risk losing cherished souvenirs from Tuscany or having your Kimono damaged on the Tokyo metro when you could securely ship it home? Travel vlogger Marissa Lyman raves about Send My Bag, explaining that it gave her peace of mind when island hopping in Greece with her custom-made gowns. Marissa recounts "the look on the Santorini hotel owner's face was priceless when I told him two trunks from Athens were arriving tomorrow."

For sports enthusiasts like surfer John Doe embarking on Costa Rican surf camps or skiers hitting the slopes of Whistler, mailing bulky gear removes logistical nightmares. John always ships his longboards and wetsuits ahead to his tropical destination. He happily swapped a burdensome board bag fee for the ease of his gear patiently awaiting beachside. Ski bunny Jane Doe mails her hefty ski bag filled with gear to her slope-side condo. No more navigating clumsy ski bags through Vancouver airport with this clever hack.

Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Enroll in Loyalty Programs

Enrolling in an airline's loyalty program is one of the most rewarding ways savvy travelers can avoid extra baggage fees. By achieving elite status, flyers gain perks like free checked bags that deliver huge savings. While it may take planning and strategy to earn premium flier privileges, the payoff is well worth the effort.
Marcus Shinn, a successful business consultant, relies extensively on his airline elite status for waived baggage fees. He explains, "as a Million Miler on American Airlines, I receive complimentary checked bags every time I fly - easily saving $300+ per trip." When his family of five recently took a roundtrip vacation to Hawaii, checking 4 bags there and back would have cost over $500 without his status. Marcus happily recalls his AAdvantage Platinum benefits kicking in to drop that cost to zero.

Part-time Ohio DJ and frequent Southwest flyer Katie Michaels also leverages loyalty perks to negate luggage expenses. She shares, "thanks to maintaining A-List Preferred status, I get 2 free checked bags year-round." As Katie travels most weekends for gigs with lots of bulky equipment, those free bags are an invaluable perk. She estimates saving upwards of $2,000 annually in bag fees that do not apply due to her status.
Active CPA Lisa Chen strategically times heavy travel around her firm's busy season to maximize loyalty benefits. She explains, "I purposely pack client meetings from January-April to help requalify for United Premier 1K status." Come summer vacation time with her three kids, that top-tier status grants Lisa and her family free checked bags. She happily recounts, "last August when we visited my parents in Hong Kong, our 4 bags would have cost $800 roundtrip without Premier 1K. The savings from status make hassling with elite promotions worthwhile!"

Nikki Covington, a part-time nurse and mom of two, swears by credit card status shortcuts. She reveals, "the free checked bags from my Delta Reserve card saved me nearly $400 on our Disney World trip this year." By charging all expenses to accumulate the required spend for a status extension, Nikki renewed her complimentary checked bags benefit right before the family vacation. She didn't even need to step foot on a plane herself to reap huge luggage fee savings. Learning to maximize these unique credit card offerings delivers big beyond earning points and miles.

Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Pay Fees Upfront

Paying checked bag fees upfront can be a clever way to avoid surprise charges at the airport for travelers resigned to checking luggage. By prepaying for bags online during the booking process, you lock in current rates and dodge pesky fee hikes down the road. While no one likes handing over extra cash upfront, this proactive approach offers peace of mind.

Family travel pro Roberta raves about the upfront fee payment strategy, explaining that "by just biting the bullet and prepaying for 3 checked bags on our Hawaii trip, I dodged a $100 price hike from when I booked." With her husband and two teens, checking luggage is unavoidable. But after once getting burned by a last-minute fee increase announcement from American, she now always pre-pays.

Business road warrior Brian relayed a similar account, sharing "on a recent business trip, I paid for my checked bag during online check-in only to have Delta announce higher fees the next day." By settling upfront initially, he locked in the lower rate. Brian admits that the upfront cost stings a bit. "But it hurts a lot less than being surprised by a $50 price jump at the airport!" he laughs.
Others like student traveler Maya simply see upfront payment as the honest thing to do. She explains, "I know I'll have to check a bag on my semester abroad, so just biting the bullet and paying upfront is the right thing." Maya has been burned by unlabeled basic economy fares disallowing free checked luggage. Now she proactively pays bag fees when booking to avoid feeling nickel-and-dimed down the road.

Some credit card experts even recommend prepaying bag fees to maximize rewards. Andre advises charging checked bag costs during booking and earning points. Later flight changes can then refund the fees to essentially earn free points. He explains "I book flights on my Sapphire Reserve with prepaid checked bags for the 3x travel points. If plans change, the refunded bag fees become pure profit!"

For nervous or first-time fliers, paying upfront brings peace of mind. Sierra admits to always prepaying for checked luggage despite having airline status for free bags. She explains, "I get terrible anxiety about hidden fees and just want the peace of mind of having paid for everything upfront." Even if Sierra ends up not checking a bag, she considers the prepayment an "angel on her shoulder."

Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Travel Credit Cards with Free Checked Bags

Strategically leveraging credit cards with free checked baggage perks is a savvy way for travelers to avoid airline luggage fees. By understanding which cards offer this benefit and planning spends accordingly, you can save hundreds per trip.
LA-based business consultant Marcus Shinn relies on the Citi AAdvantage Executive card free checked bag perk for family vacations. He explains, "with two young kids, checking bags is inevitable. But as an Executive cardholder, I get free bags for up to 8 companions on American Airlines flights." This benefit allowed Marcus and his family to check 4 bags free on a recent Hawaii trip, saving over $400 in fees.

Part-time Alaska Airlines flyer Molly Kline also uses credit card freebies to negate fees. Thanks to her Alaska Airlines Visa Signature, Molly gets a free first checked bag for herself and up to 6 others on Alaska flights. As a Seattleite frequently visiting family in Anchorage, those savings add up. She estimates around $300 per year in waived fees thanks to her card.
Maximizing free checked bags via credit cards does require understanding qualifications. Patient practice nurse Susan Chen explains, "I make sure to charge $25,000 yearly on my United Explorer Card to re-earn the free checked bag benefit." She times big work expenses like conference travel around end-of-year deadlines. Come family vacation season, free bags are unlocked.

Being strategic with spending categories can also pay dividends. Food blogger Alicia Chen targets bonuses by swiping her Delta Gold Amex at restaurants. She explains, "using my card at restaurants helped me earn Medallion Qualification Dollars for Silver Status - scoring free checked bags." Outside of Delta flights, Alicia maximizes everyday spend on her no-fee Wells Fargo Propel card. This optimizes rewards earnings towards her bigger family vacations.
Credit card couples can also double-dip on free bags. S.F.-based spouses Thread and Chai each hold a Southwest Priority card, scoring 4 free checked bags per flight between them. As frequent campers hauling lots of gear, those free bags are a big perk.

Baggage Fee Breakdown: How to Avoid Airline Luggage Fees and Save - Weigh Your Bag Before Flying

Frequent flyer and savvy travel hacker Torsten Jacobi swears by weighing his bags at home before heading to the airport to avoid surprise overweight fees. He explains that “after once having to frantically repack my bag at check-in to avoid a $100 charge, I now always weigh bags in advance.” Torsten recommends using your own bathroom scale or investing in an inexpensive digital luggage scale found for under $10 online.

By weighing bags at home, you can proactively adjust packing to avoid costly airline fees. Most airlines charge $50 or more for bags exceeding the standard 50 pound limit for checked luggage. Even avid carry-on user and packing expert Jenny Walters admits she was caught off guard on an international trip. “I somehow didn’t realize my wheeled duffel would exceed weight limits once souvenirs were added.” She now uses hanging scales to weigh bags while packing to avoid last-minute panics.
Retired teacher and cruise enthusiast Linda Perkins always builds in a bag weighing buffer. She shares “I aim to keep bags around 40 pounds so that I have some wiggle room should I pick up any unexpected gifts or mementos during my trip.” Linda has developed a system for advance weighing - placing her open suitcase on the bathroom scale, zeroing it out, and then adding items one by one while monitoring the weight.

Tech CEO Dom Price relies on digital luggage scales for accuracy. He says “I clip the portable scale directly onto the handle of my suitcase to get an exact readout of the weight.” Dom then fine tunes his packing based on the results. He explains that “if my bag is 52 pounds, I’ll take out the extra pair of shoes I had tossed in.” Accuracy is key when flying European discount carriers with rigid weight rules.
No matter your packing style, advance weighing pays dividends. Minimalist backpacker Leah Chen admits to cutting it close on weight. “I’m always trying to squeeze everything I need into the smallest possible bag for long solo trips. Knowing the exact weight helps me trim any excesses.” She still cringes recalling an overweight bag fee in Peru that could have been avoided with a quick pre-trip weigh-in.

For families checking multiple bags, a few pounds per person can add up. Mom of three young kids Alicia Morris has embraced advance weighing to keep all of their bags fee-free. “Between clothing, snacks, toys and electronics, our bags fill up shockingly quick.” She now hosts a “weigh-in party” where her kids excitedly load suitcases onto a scale while she helps them edit items to get under the limit. A little prep work saves their family of five $150 or more in overweight bag charges each trip.

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