Airline Baggage Fees – 10 Tips to Save Time & Money

If you know anything about the history of airline baggage fees, you’ll remember the year 2008. That’s when American Airlines rocked the air travel industry by charging for a first checked-bag.

Sure, the U.S. Travel Association may demand a free bag for every passenger, but it’ll never happen – airlines in the U.S. alone took in more than $3 billion in bag fees last year. They’d be crazy to give that up.

Make Your Cheap Flights Even Cheaper

However, I do have some ideas on saving money, and time – both equally important – no matter how you pack.

Five Tips for Carryon Bag Packers:

Yes, carryons save baggage fees, but I like them because I can zip in and out of an airport quickly. Unfortunately, a lot of people feel as I so, so bin space is disappearing. These tips tackle time and money.

  1. Watch the weight: Airlines like Hawaiian now charge a fee for overweight hand luggage – look at your carrier’s website for weight limits before you fly.
  2. Check in exactly 24 hours before your flight: First to board is first to get the bin space and the earlier you check in, the earlier you’ll board (usually).
  3. Pay extra for early boarding: Some airlines charge fairly stiff rates for this amenity or bundle it with other services, but Southwest’s EarlyBird boarding is a steal at ten bucks.
  4. Beware of fee creep: Allegiant recently launched a carryon fee plus Spirit already has one, and it just added an extra charge for those who wait to pay the carryon fee at the airport instead of online.
  5. Resign yourself to free ‘checked’ carryons: If you’ve drawn a high boarding group number for your flight and fail to secure some bin space, it’ll be checked (but at least it will be free).

Five Tips for Checked-Bag Packers:

You pack too much but you’re willing to pay for it. Even so, you too can save.

  1. Fly Airlines with free baggage allowances: Among domestic carriers, you have a choice between JetBlue (one free bag) and Southwest (two free bags). See the FareCompare Domestic Baggage Fee Chart for more fees.
  2. Use an Airline-Branded Credit Card: Continental and Delta offer branded credit cards that give you free checked-bags – see if your airline (or your own premium credit card such as American Express) will match this. Don’t forget your favorite hotels, either: we’ve seen a number of chains recently featuring bag-fee reimbursement promotions.
  3. Avoid Checking Two Bags: With some airlines now charging as much as $60 to $70 roundtrip for a second bag, do you really need two? No.
  4. Watch the Weight: Overweight charges add $300 roundtrip for one too-big bag. Buy a hand-held baggage scale – at less than $20 at your local big box store, it’s worth it.
  5. Be Creative:  Check the cost of ground shipping your bag – it might be cheaper.

More from Rick Seaney:

10 Ways to Win the Airline Fee War No Matter How You Pack

Learn more about FareCompare and the cheapest days to fly and best times to buy airline tickets for year-round savings.


Published: April 9, 2012