Whether you’re heading out of town for Thanksgiving or Christmas or plan to fly anytime during the year, you can save money by taking a moment to check out the following baggage fees and packing tips.
Listen: Air travel analyst Rick Seaney and Editor Anne McDermott on packing-like-a-pro to save some dough.
Carry-on vs. Checked Bag
First thing to ask yourself: carry-on bag or checked bag? Consider these pros and cons:
Reasons in favor of checked-bags
- Long trip and there’s lots to pack
- You’re flying JetBlue or Southwest which does not charge a checked-bag fee
- You have an airline-branded credit card which gives you free checked-bags
- No worries about boarding early to grab overhead bin space for a carry-on
- No bag to haul around during long airport layovers
Reasons in favor of carry-on bags
- Most airlines don’t charge carry-on fees, except for Allegiant and Sprit
- Fewer worries about bag thieves since your bag is with you*
- A small bag that fits under the seat in front of you means no worries about bin space
- Quick exit from the airport, as there’s no need to wait at baggage carousel
*See the exception under Baggage Tips
Either way, use a bag that’s sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of air travel and baggage handlers. You may also want something colorful since your basic black bag is a favorite of bag thieves.
Watch the weight of checked-bags: Most airlines allow you to stuff 50 pounds worth of belongings in a checked-bag. Penalties for overweight bags can be severe – as much as $200 one-way on American and United for bags weighing more than 70 pounds. Check an airline baggage fee chart before you begin packing.
Watch the size of checked-bags: Most airlines charge extra for odd-sized suitcases and items like sports equipment or outsized packages. If it’s also above the weight limit, you’ll be hit with two extra fees.
Carry-on considerations: As noted, Allegiant and Spirit charge a range of fees for carry-on bags, which can vary greatly depending on point-of-purchase (beginning Nov. 6, Spirit will charge $100 for carry-on fees paid at the airport gate).
Also, most airlines strictly regulate the size of carry-ons – if it’s too big, you may have to check it and pay the fee. Final consideration: if your flight is on a smaller regional jet with limited bin space or if there’s simply not enough bin space on your flight, you may be forced to check your carry-on.
Important reminder: Never put valuables in a bag – keep them on your person. Better yet - except for must-haves like cash, credit cards and ID - leave all your valuables at home.
Know the TSA’s Security Requirements
Know the liquid rule: Liquids in containers bigger than 3.4 ounces are prohibited in carry-ons, but so are other popular holiday items like home-made gravies, sauces and jams which are considered liquids.
Know the wrapped gifts rule: Gifts must be unwrapped at security checkpoints. If you don’t do it, the officers will do this for you. Tip: Lighten your load and avoid unwrapping by shipping presents ahead.
Know the gun rules: Most weapons and even items that could be construed as dangerous are banned from carry-ons. While guns can be transported in checked luggage, they must be declared in advance, unloaded and packed according to security requirements.
Pack only what you need: A lot of travelers routinely over-pack and many find they never don all the clothes they bring. Plan a vacation wardrobe ahead of time and ditch items you merely like in favor of the clothing you’ll actually wear. Other tips:
Roll-up your clothing: This ‘sausage-like’ method gives you more space than traditional ‘flat’ packing plus clothes come out surprisingly wrinkle-free.
Wear your heaviest clothes: Put on those hard-soled shoes and bulky coats and make sure parka pockets are stuffed with small items of clothing or things like charging cords for electronics. If you’re traveling to a warm climate, consider purchasing a light-weight, multi-pocketed vest and filling those pockets.
Don’t pack the shampoo: Buy toiletries when you arrive at your destination to save on space and weight. Also, many hotels routinely provide free shampoos and lotions as well as hair dryers.