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Posted: 2:39 p.m. Friday, June 20, 2014

Avoiding Airline Baggage Fees Is Easier Than You Think

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By Andy Prescott, Contributor

ClarkHoward.com


Do you know what I hate? Airline baggage fees! I think they are a sneaky way for airlines to get more money out of their customers. Taking a suitcase with you when you travel isn’t some kind of fancy extra luxury, it’s a necessity. And because taking a suitcase with you is an expected part of the travel experience, it should be included in the price of your ticket, not treated as some kind of add on.

Another reason I hate baggage fees is they make shopping for airline tickets more complicated than it should be. When you do a search for flights and a list of available flights along with the price pop up, you should be able to take one glance at that list and know which flight is the cheapest. Adding extra junk fees (like baggage fees) on top of the regular price makes this process unnecessarily complicated. The prices you see listed might incur an extra $50 or more added on to them which could obviously sway your booking decision.

So, I don’t pay baggage fees, and you don’t have to either. Here’s how you go about avoiding them.

Fly an airline that doesn’t charge baggage fees

The easiest way to not pay this fee is to fly on an airline that lets your bags fly for free. While some airlines let only their elite level frequent fliers take their bags on for free, there are a couple of airlines that allow all of their customers to bring a suitcase along with no additional fees.

JetBlue allows its customers to check 1 bag at no cost, while Southwest lets you check 2 bags. Flying these airlines not only keeps you from having to pay these fees, it also sends a message to the airline industry about what you think of their junk fees. Chances are they won’t notice your message, but you might feel better knowing it has been sent all the same.

Use carry on luggage only

If flying on JetBlue or Southwest doesn’t work for you, you can still avoid paying these fees by taking along a carry on luggage that you don’t have to check. I’m sure this isn’t the first time you have been told to pack light, but if you are still checking a bag, you should reconsider. The immediate benefits of taking only a carry on are enormous.

Besides saving you money, it also saves you time. After landing, most people are excited to either get out and start sightseeing. Or, if you have arrived at your destination, you want to get home as quickly as possible. Taking only carry on luggage will save you a lot of time because those poor suckers who checked a bag will be hanging around the baggage carousel for the next 30 minutes hoping that their suitcase eventually shows up. You, on the other hand, are already out the door.

Another reason to carry on your suitcase is for security. Most people have either had a checked bag lost, stolen, or damaged by an airline. Checking your bag means you know where it is at all times, and you won’t be spending half your trip trying to figure out how to replace everything after the airline loses your suitcase. Even if you are checking a bag, it is still a good idea to keep valuable or fragile items with you, instead of putting them in the checked bag.

Packing light just makes your life easier. Who wants to lug a couple of heavy bags around a strange city on buses and subways that are already packed? Not me! Having 1 small bag makes it easy to get anywhere I want to go without slowing down.

Learn how to pack light for travel

I learned the art of packing light many years ago when I went on a 4-month backpacking trip through Europe. Having to carry all your stuff around with you everywhere you go is a great motivational tool to help you understand what you really need and what you don’t. While preparing for this trip, I read books by the great travel writer Rick Steves that gave guidance on how to pack light. Steves' tips can be found here.

The one thing I would add to Steves’ advice is that extra pairs of shoes are 1 thing that really makes packing light difficult. Shoes are bulky, heavy, and are difficult to fit in a suitcase since they can’t be folded up or rolled up like other clothing can.

The best option when it comes to shoes is to bring only the pair on your feet. If this doesn’t work for you then you should be OK with 2 pairs. To save space in your suitcase, it is best to wear the bulkier, heavier pair of shoes and pack the lighter, more compact pair. If you still can’t fit your second pair of shoes into your carry on luggage then remember you are also allowed to bring 1 small personal item -- such as a purse -- onto the plane with you. Cleaning the unnecessary stuff out of your purse and putting your shoes in there is an option.

Try mailing your stuff

If you just can’t quite fit everything into your carry on luggage, there is 1 more way you can avoid paying the $50 airline baggage fee. You can send it via UPS/FedEx to your hotel. While the price you pay will vary depending on the size and weight of your package, there is a pretty good chance you can get your stuff there and back for significantly less than the airline’s fee.

I did this a few years ago when my wife and I eloped and got married in Las Vegas. Between the wedding dress and the extra pairs of dress shoes, we knew there was just no way we were going to be able to fit everything in our carry on luggage. Rather than pay the baggage fees, it occurred to me that it would be cheaper to mail the extra stuff to our hotel in Las Vegas. I called my hotel and asked if I could mail myself a package at their address. They told me they would be glad to receive my package and hold onto it until I checked in and directed me on how to address it. When I checked in I asked for the right department and sure enough, the box I had mailed was there at the hotel waiting for me. On the last day of our trip it was easy to find a post office and mail it all back.

Conclusion

By following my tips there is a pretty good chance you will be able to go on your next flight without paying those nasty extra junk fees. I am sure many of you veteran travelers have other tips on how to avoid these fees, so let’s hear them. What do you do to avoid airline baggage fees?

Andy Prescott is a CPA and the author of ArtofBeingCheap.com, a website he describes as an instruction manual to saving money. Andy enjoys spending time with his family, travel, and finding new and exciting ways to pay less for stuff.

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