6 ways to save on baggage fees

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How to Avoid Annoying Airline Fees

Since May, 2008 when American Airlines announced that it would be the first U.S. airline to charge for every checked bag, it's been downhill for frugal flight passengers. Now, nearly every airline in the U.S. and Canada charges around $25 for the first bag their customers check (and more for the second and third). But don't worry! You can avoid these fees if you're a savvy flyer. In this article, I'm going to break down six cures to the checked baggage fee epidemic.

The Costs

Before getting into how we can save on bags, let's go over the costs.

Generally airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag for each direction of your journey, meaning you'll pay $50 for a roundtrip flight. While $50 may not sound like a crippling fee, when you're hunting for a great deal on a flight, it can end up being a large percentage of your overall fare — and that's just for one checked bag.

That $50 is a steak dinner for two, it's eight beers at a nice restaurant, it's a nice bottle of wine and a museum entry ticket. That $50 is enough to make you think twice about your baggage fees on your next flight.

If you're traveling with a family, you can save upwards of $125 each journey (much more if your bags are overweight). So let's get started with some tips.

1. Become Elite

If you're a frequent flyer (usually 25,000+ miles per year), you can become an elite member of your frequent flyer program and reap some pretty amazing rewards. One of them will likely be free checked bags on your flights. Other rewards include free upgrades, free food, and unlimited booze.

American Airline's AAdvantage program offers one free checked bag for Gold members, two for Platinum members, and three for Executive Platinum members.

If you don't think that you're going to be traveling all the way around the world and back each year and thus don't qualify for elite status, then you may want to utilize the next tip instead.

2. Use the Right Credit Card

Airline loyalty programs like Delta SkyMiles, United MileagePlus, American Airlines AAdvantage, JetBlue TrueBlue, and Southwest Rapid Rewards all have their line of co-branded credit cards. These credit cards offer a variety of travel perks, including free checked baggage.

If you're a frequent flyer, or you always fly with the same airline or airline partner, then you should definitely consider choosing a credit card that will maximize your flight benefits with that airline. Baggage fees are usually just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to credit card rewards. You can earn some pretty nice perks by putting your flight purchases on the right credit card.

3. Pack Smart

In 2010, Spirit Airlines started charging for carry-on bags, but luckily no other airlines (aside from Frontier) have followed suit so far. This means that you can sometimes pack all of your things into a carry-on sized bag to avoid baggage fees. You might be surprised at how easy this can be done! (See also: 15 Packing Secrets From a Professional Traveler)

One tip that works quite well is to wear all of your bulky clothes on the plane to free up space in your bag. I'm not saying that you should dress in everything you own like Joey from Friends, but you can definitely wear your jacket, jeans, and sweater on the day of your flight to lessen the load in your bags.

If you're trying to avoid overweight baggage fees, then wearing your bulky items and carrying as much in your carry-on may just save you a lot of money. A 60-lb checked bag can cost you upwards of $90, so if you can put some of that weight in the cabin, you'll be keeping some money in your wallet.

4. Fly With the Right Airline

Sorry, guys! This list is slowly dwindling down and you now only have one option for free bags in the U.S. — Southwest Airlines. JetBlue was the only other airline that held out on baggage fees until June, 2015 when they announced that the first checked bag would be $25 for all passengers.

Southwest is still holding out and they actually allow two free checked bags for all passengers. Go Southwest!

Click through to see the top rated airlines of 2015:

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6 ways to save on baggage fees

14. ExpressJet, 70.3 percent

(Photo by Jesse Grant/WireImage)

13. Envoy, 71.4 percent

(American Eagle has recently been rebranded as Envoy)

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

12. Southwest Airlines, 71.8 percent

(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

11. Frontier Airlines, 73.4 percent

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

10. United Airlines, 76.4 percent

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

​9. American Airlines, 76.8 percent

(Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

8. JetBlue Airways, 77.3 percent

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

7. SkyWest, 78.7 percent

(Photo by Stephen Hilger/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

6. Virgin America, 81.8 percent

(AP Photo/Virgin America, Bob Riha, Jr.)

5. US Airways, 82.1 percent

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

4. AirTran Airways, 83.9 percent

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, file)

3. Delta Air Lines, 84.4 percent

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

2. Alaska Airlines, 89.7 percent

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

1. Hawaiian Airlines, 93.2 percent

(AP Photo/Hawaiian Airlines Inc., Chad Slattery, File)

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5. Upgrade

You may cringe at the idea of spending double the price of your ticket just for some extra leg room, good service, and a fancy meal, but flying first class doesn't always have to be expensive. Delta, for example, sometimes offers seat upgrades for $90 at check-in. First class allows you a free checked bag and often offers more weight allowance.

An overweight bag on Delta can cost around $90, so why not enjoy some comfort, free booze, and a free meal along the way? Definitely ask about upgrades at check-in.

WestJet in Canada offers upgrades to Economy Plus Seating for between $15–$50 and it includes food, more leg room, a drink, and a free checked bag (worth $25). Definitely worth considering.

6. Go Ultra-Light

If you're a frequent flyer, it's probably worth it for you to invest in lightweight luggage. The amount of money that you can potentially save in overweight baggage fees will likely be far more than the cost of the bag over the course of a year.

Some regular suitcases can weigh upwards of 20 lbs — empty! Buy purchasing ultra-lightweight luggage, you can get this down to around seven lbs. That's 13 lbs lighter, and if you're that much overweight, this luggage could save you around $60 in your return journey!

You Don't Have to Go Far

Some people go as far as to avoid flying altogether, or even shipping their bags with an independent courier service like VIPbags to avoid fees, but you really don't have to go that far. By using the tips in this article, you should be able to rid yourself of the baggage fees, while still flying comfortably on your next vacation. (See also: 10 Most Creative Ways to Avoid Airline Fees)

More From Wise Bread:
How to Get Through the Airport Faster
7 Fool-Proof Ways to Stay Within Your Travel Budget
10 Ways to Get Free (or Almost Free) Airline Tickets

Also see the best tips to save money on a road trip:

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How to save money on a road trip
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6 ways to save on baggage fees

1. Calculate your expected fuel cost before your trip. It’s always wise to get an accurate estimation of how much to budget for gas beforehand. GasBuddy's fuel calculator is an excellent tool to get an expected price point. Just enter your vehicle information, startpoint and endpoint, and the app will calculate how much you’ll spend.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

2. Don’t fuel up near popular areas. You’ll find inflated gas prices near popular tourist destinations and metropolitan areas, so it’s worth venturing to the town over for more affordable prices. For example, gas costs on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway in California are considerably higher than the stations a few miles off the main highway.

Photo credit: Getty

3. Fill up your tank at truck stops. You'll often find the cheapest gas prices here. 

Photo credit: Getty

4. Download gas apps. Apps like GasBuddy and GasGuru come in handy by computing the cheapest station in relation to your current location.

Photo credit: Getty

5. Drive efficiently to save gas costs. These 5 fuel-efficient tips are proven to maintain a full tank longer:

           1. Turn off your AC

2. Engage cruise control in low-traffic areas

3. Avoid rapid acceleration and braking

4. Inflate tires close to maximum

5. Avoid speeding

Photo credit: Getty

6. Travel with friends. Traveling with a few buddies is an efficient (and fun) way to save cash by splitting the cost of a tank.

Photo credit: Getty

7. Grocery shop in advance. Pack water and snacks beforehand in a cooler -- inflated convenience store prices will eat away at your budget.

Photo credit: Getty

8. Bring reusable water bottles. Filling up a water bottle is cheaper than buying a Poland Spring at every stop.

Photo credit: Getty

9. Buy fountain drinks over bottled drinks. If you’re craving a Mountain Dew, fountain drinks give you a better bang for your buck over bottled soda.

Photo credit: Getty

Use Yelp: Download Yelp on your phone to see the best restaurant offers in your area.

Photo credit: AOL

11. Take advantage of restaurant deals. Chances are there will be tons of chain restaurants along the way, so use sites like Groupon and GiftCardGranny to get a deal on the road.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

12. Load up on free coffee and breakfast from hotels for the road. Take advantage of a free meal and avoid Starbucks and other expensive coffee shops.

Photo credit: Getty

13. Avoid staying in popular areas. Tourist-driven and metropolitan areas are often paired with inflated prices, so find a place to sleep in surrounding towns.

Photo credit: Getty

14. Check out sites like Airbnb, Tripadvisor, and Kayak to score the best low-cost lodging deals.

Photo credit: Getty

15. Rent a car. If you don’t own your own vehicle, renting a car beforehand for as cheap as $22 a day on sites like ExpediaHotwire, and Travelocity can be a great deal.

Photo credit: Getty

16. Alert your bank. Sometimes banks will deem charges in new cities as fraudulent and cancel your cards.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

17. Stick to budget-friendly activities. Some ideas include hiking national parks, visiting beaches and checking out a town’s culture by walking the streets and venturing into a street fair.

Photo credit: Getty

18. Take advantage of student discounts. If you’re currently a student, bring your student ID for maximum discounts.

Photo credit: Getty

19. Download road trip planning apps. Apps like Roadtrippers are a great way to help plan and finance your new excursion.

Photo credit: Getty

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