Avoiding Check-In Fees


We've all been there. You are packing for a trip, trying to keep things at a minimum. Should you go with the all black wardrobe? How much space will jeans take up? You don't want to spend a week without a choice of shoes, but how many pairs can you possibly fit in your suitcase? Will you really need that jacket in summer weather?

Baggage fees charged by the airlines have only made the agony of packing worse. But there are steps you can take to avoid them.

A recent Consumer Reports survey found that fees were the top two biggest complaints Americans had about air travel – baggage fees No. 1, and general "added fees" No. 2.

In proposing a new consumer protection rule, the U.S. Department of Transportation said this week among other things it wants to require airlines to better disclose baggage fees to passengers when they buy tickets and to let passengers know any time fees are increased.

The DOT also wants refunds of the fees and expense reimbursement when bags aren't delivered on time. The new rule is expected to take place in the fall.

Southwest Airlines is still allowing passengers to bring two bags for free. Spirit Airlines is charging not only for checked bags but $45 for carry-on.

So how are consumers responding to baggage fees?

A recent TripAdvisor poll found that in order to avoid paying checked baggage fees while flying, 36 percent of fliers brought only carry-on bags and 39 percent have flown with airlines that don't charge baggage fees.

For the carriers, of course, the bottom line is the bottom line. Don't expect the fees to go away anytime soon. But before you book a great airfare deal, be aware of the extra fees you might have to pay (see our chart below).

And to lower or avoid fees, also consider these baggage tips in preparing for your trip.

1. Pay baggage fees online

Some airlines charge more at the airport for baggage fees than they do online. Sidestep the charges by paying online before you arrive at the airport.

2. Check in two suitcases rather than one heavy one

Most airlines now charge a fee of $15 for your first checked bag. But they'll ramp up that charge if the bag is overweight – sometimes as high as $39 to $175. You may be better off bringing a second suitcase and paying the $25 second bag charge.

3. Buy lightweight luggage

With the various fees, several suitcase manufacturers, including TravelPro and Delsey, are promoting the fact you can avoid overweight luggage (and subsequent overweight fees) by buying bags that themselves don't much increase the numbers on the scale.

4. Even if you are just bringing carry-on, keep it light

Some airlines have beefed up policing the weight of your carry-on. Even if your bag is small, if it's heavy you may be forced to go to the check in desk and pay a fee (a particular problem if you haven't allowed time for that). Keep in mind bags with wheels are heavier than, say, duffels or backpacks.

5. Wear as much as you can onto the plane

Airlines do not restrict the weight of your clothes and items you carry on your person. So put fashion out of your head and wear your heaviest clothes in layers and your heaviest shoes and fill your pockets with heavier gadgets and accessories. You will of course be asked to remove them at security, but then are free to wear everything on the plane.

6. Buy your toiletries at your destination

Toiletries not only take up space, they are heavy. Plus, of course, you are restricted in bringing liquid toiletries through security in your carry-on (liquids have to be 3 ounces or less and in a see-through plastic bag). Avoid the weight and nuisance of having to show the items by buying what you need when you get to where you're going.

7. Consider shipping your bags

Check the prices. You may find FedEx and other delivery services cheaper than what the airline charges for an overweight bag.

8. Throw out stuff as you travel

This tip is an oldie but goodie, but if you bring a worn pair of shoes or other items you can easily dump en route, you'll have more space in your luggage to bring back souvenirs.

9. Dump the laptop and bring a netbook or use an internet cafe.

Yes, we know, you love your laptop, but with its cords it's a heavy item. Consider alternatives.

10. Bring a big pocketbook

Carriers typically allow one carry-on bag and a "personal item" which is usually a pocketbook or briefcase. So don't go with the wristlet or other tiny bag, when you can carry a bigger one.

Here's what top carriers are charging for fees:

US Airways
Virgin America
Booking Fees
(on phone/in person)

Seat Selection

Prices vary
$10 for extra legroom
$10 for priority boarding
$9 and up for Economy Plus
$5 and up for aisle or window towards front
$35 and up for Main Cabin Select
Ticket Change
$75 ($50 online)
First Bag
(online/at airport)

Second Bag
(online/at airport)
Blanket and Pillow
$7 (includes mask and earplugs)
$12 (includes mask and earplugs)
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