Of all the fees airlines hit us with nowadays, the one that TripAdvisor travelers find most annoying—more than fees for seat selection, in-flight pillows and blankets, or printing your boarding pass at the airport—is the one for checking luggage. In our recent Air Travel Survey, 43% of you found checked-baggage fees to be most objectionable. Since I’ve never in my life paid a baggage fee, and I certainly never intend to, I thought I should share three free and easy ways to get around such charges.
Fly Jetblue or Southwest.
On Jetblue your first checked bag is free, and on Southwest both your first and second checked bags are free. These airlines also have more lenient carry-on bag size limits. The official maximum carry-on size for most U.S. airlines is 21-by-14-by-9 inches, but Jetblue and Southwest allow larger carry-ons: 24-by-16-by-10. Airfarewatchdog has a handy comparison chart that lists all the different baggage fees on different U.S. airlines.
Get the right credit card.
There are credit cards that exempt you from checked-baggage fees—and they typically pay off if you fly more than twice a year on the same airline, or if you fly with family members. The Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World Mastercard covers you and up to four companions when you fly on American Airlines. The Gold Delta SkyMiles card from American Express covers you and up to nine people traveling with you on Delta. And the United MileagePlus Explorer Visa card from Chase covers you and one companion on United. All three waive their $95 annual fee for the first year. I’m not suggesting you replace your main credit card with one of these. I’m simply suggesting you try the card out for free for a year, to test the travel benefits (which include priority boarding), and suss out whether it would pay off enough annually to make it worth keeping.
Pack everything in a carry-on.
I use a rollaboard wheelie that has few structured internal compartments or organizers, since those just take up space and add weight. I organize using Ziploc bags, which take up no space and weigh nothing. One Ziploc bag holds my three-ounces-or-less containers of liquids and creams, of course—in case I need to remove it at the security checkpoint. Another holds dry toiletries, another my electronic accessories, etc. If you’ve got bulky, wrinkle-free clothing (e.g., a wool sweater), you can place it in a Ziploc, squeeze out the extra air, and halve its size. I throw in a couple of extra Ziplocs for use during the trip–say, to hold a damp bathing suit. I place my shoes in small plastic bags saved from trips to the supermarket (they take up less space and weigh less than shoe bags—and won’t wrinkle fabrics they touch). It’s easier to pack light when your clothes match, so I pack only three or four colors (including black and khaki, of course), and solids rather than patterns, and I wear my heaviest and bulkiest shoes and outerwear on the plane. I don’t pack items I’m likely to buy during the trip (e.g., a sweatshirt). I often pack clothing that I was about to throw out (e.g., old underwear or T-shirts), then discard these during the trip to make room for souvenirs I’m bringing home.
How do you avoid baggage fees?