5 Ways to Minimize Baggage Fees When Flying

By Craig Ford on 8 June 2010 (Updated 17 September 2014) 22 comments

In the near future, people may need to get loans to be able to afford the baggage charges when they fly.

As you probably already know, Spirit Airlines is going to start charging up to $45.00 for people to take a carry-on on the airplane. With only a few exceptions, long gone are the days that your luggage will accompany you on a domestic U.S. flight without an additional charge.

Frequent travelers don’t worry as much about baggage costs as they are often taking short trips that only require a carry-on or they are premium frequent flyer members so they get free baggage check in. But, what about the family of five that only flies one or twice a year?

Fortunately, there are still ways to save money on baggage.

1. Buy Southwest Airlines tickets

The baggage cost you save by flying Southwest Airlines is amazing. At Southwest, each ticketed passenger can check two bags free of charge. Recently, some family members purchased tickets on a particular airline because they get the airline points and, as they said, “They (Southwest and another airline) both cost the same amount.” However, once you calculate for the baggage, there is a significant difference in price. This leads to point number two.

2. Calculate the total cost when you book travel — don’t forget about the baggage cost

While you’re in the vacation booking stage, you need to add all the extra charges. Decide what is the best deal based on which will give you the best price in the end (once all fees are paid), not the best price today.

When calculating the cost of travel, if you are traveling as a family you need to seriously consider the cost advantage of driving. A trunk full of free baggage might be enough reason to consider driving.

3. Consider a credit card that offers free baggage

Many co-branded airline credit cards will offer perks like free baggage or priority check in. If you travel very often or have a large family, the free baggage alone might be worth getting the credit card.

4. Prepay for your baggage

If you know you will be paying for baggage, go ahead and prepay online. Several airlines offer a discount when you pay online rather than at the check in counter. It is never a huge savings, but every few dollars here and there saves you money. When you book your airline tickets, always be sure to read their baggage policies before booking. If they do allow you to prepay for bags at a discount and you know you will take bags then go ahead and pay now to save the money.

As an example, with Spirit Airlines, your carry-on will cost $45.00, but if you prepay online, you’ll only pay $30.00. A little forethought can save a big chunk of change.

5. (Warning: extreme measures) Don’t take clothes on vacation

Just the other day, I thought, “If I flew Spirit Airlines, would it be worth taking any clothes on vacation?”

In my family, there are two adults and three kids. My youngest daughter is less than 2 so she doesn’t get a seat.

Let’s say that we were each going to take a checked bag and we had two carry-ons between the family and we pay at the airport.

Each checked bag would cost $25 by four passengers for a total of $100.

Each carryon bag would cost $45 by two bags for a total of $90.00.

My family total baggage cost = $190.00

Now, check this out.

For the last 5 years, our family has bought 80-90% of our clothes at second hand stores.

I just looked at our budget, and last year we spent around $150 on clothing for the entire year.

Should my family pay $190 to transport our $150 worth of clothes? If my family had to pay $190 to transport our $150 worth of clothes for a week long vacation, we would not be taking clothes on vacation. I’d probably plan an extra 2 hours into the vacation on the front end to stop at the local second hand store to stock up on clothes.

But, hey, I can be know to be frugal (or is it cheap?).

Would you ever consider buying some second hand clothes on vacation to avoid baggage fees? What are your thoughts on Spirit Airlines fees? How do you save money on baggage when flying?

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Guest's picture

I have been reading some of the articles on your website this morning and

I have to say that I am really enjoying them. There is a lot of good

information here. I will be coming back soon for some more reading.

Thanks, Amalia

Guest's picture
Kate

The airline baggage fee irritates me SO much! You are no longer providing a cheaper and easier way to fly imposing all these fees. I would rather you just charge me up front in the ticket price instead of being hit with all these fees once I get the airport.

I wish I could fly Southwest but they do not fly into my airport. And the second hand store is a good idea, it would depend on what you were going out of town for. If it is a wedding, I wouldn't want to leave that up to chance.

Guest's picture

I agree that airlines are really laying on the extra charges. I think I heard that one Irish airline is going to start charging passengers to use the bathroom! Your idea about buying clothes once you arrive in your destination is definitely an interesting idea, but you would still have to bring luggage along to transport your new clothes home with you, right? I think you should stick to your first four points, all which help alleviate these annoying charges.

Guest's picture
JB

The best way to avoid baggage fees is mail or ship the items to your destination. Easier and simpler.

Guest's picture
TP

Until I lose quite a bit of weight, I would not even think of depending on finding clothes on vacation. I have enough trouble finding plus sized clothing that actually covers me in the states.

Guest's picture

Flying has always been pretty expensive, but it looks like it's about to get even worse.
But many airlines offer discounts to those who prepay for their baggage online. Check airline policies on baggage policies before booking. Do some plans , maybe 1 month before you travel..happy trip!!:)

Guest's picture
Guest

Good points. I live 1300 miles away from everyone in my family, so air travel is a fact of life for me ... and sadly, Southwest doesn't service their area. For shorter trips, I would love to edit down to a carry on only, but I have long, thick, curly hair. There's no possible way that my hair styling products alone could fit into 3 ounce bottles in a ziplock bag!

Guest's picture

What about buying those bags and sucking the air out of them to compress your clothes?

Just a thought---I wish I could remember what they're called.

Guest's picture
Olivia

To David at Money Crashers,

An alternative to that is to get the 2 gallon ziplock bags, lay folded clothes flat in them, close the zipper most of the way, roll them tightly from the sealed end and then close the zipper. That takes out a ton of air, saving space, but obviously not weight.

Guest's picture
Olivia

All thrift stores are not alike. You might not snag as good a deal as you got at home and certain seasonal things might not be available, (like boy's long pants with intact knees). It may be cheaper to mail clothes to your destination than purchase or pay luggage fees. Depends on how much you want to have with you and how often you want to launder. And with kids in tow shopping is already a challenge, let alone after a plane trip. What about wearing layers onto the plane and taking one carry on for the kids?

The past few times we flew anywhere we took carry on backpacks, sink washable clothes, (like the kind found at Campmor), and a stretchy clothesline (Rick Steve's site). Careful planning allowed us to stay under very low weight limits. We wore our coats/jackets onto the plane. But those fees would be killers.

Guest's picture
Michele

Southwest doesn't fly into my airport, either.
I have an arrangement with family in California, North Carolina and Maryland. I leave clothes at their homes so I now don't have to pack anything more than undies in a big purse that goes under the seat in the airplane. I also use the family shampoo and conditioner, hairdryer and curling iron. Same with a raincoat or sweatshirt. I also wear a couple of outfits on the plane, like a long sleeve shirt under a short sleeve shirt, jeans that go with anything and always a versatile sweater. It's always cold on the plane, anyways!
Other than that, I check with the hotel where I'm staying to make sure they have a hairdryer and hair care products.
Another thing to consider is that if you are one of the last ones on the plane, and you have a larger carryon with wheels, they will ' check' it for free since they always run out of room now if they don't yet charge for carryon luggage.

Craig Ford's picture

@Kate
At first I was also bothered by the airline fees. However, I think it actually reflects more about the consumers than the airlines. When buying tickets we only think about the ticket price. Airlines know if they include it in the price, some will pass them over for a 'cheaper' airline.
@Creditshout
I actually do something similar to Michele (comment below). Since we frequently visit family in Canada and Wyoming, we are slowly starting to get a second wardrobe at each place.
@JB
I just did a quick check at the US Postal site and sending a 40 pound bag (TX-WY) would cost $26 and you would have to wait 5 days. Getting it in 2 days is $52. I think people would be better off paying the $25 (average) charge.
@Tp
Good point. If you have specific clothing requirements, it would be hard to expect to find anything.
@David and Oliva
I thought about including something like that, but decided most people have trouble keeping bags to the 50 pound limit without any space saving tips. However, using ziplock bags is a great way to keep your clothes in better shape and protects them in case anything explodes in your bag.
@Oliva
I agree. Often people 'stumble on' good deals at second hand stores. When you know you NEED to buy it, then you'll probably spend more than normal.
@Michele
I do the exact same thing - scatter clothes across the country. On a recent trip to North America, I picked up some wamer clothes that I left in Canada last time I was there and I left a suit in Houston. Eventually, I'll probably need to rent a Uhaul and drive around the country picking up all my clothes.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

Similar to #3 (get the right credit card), check to see if various services/discount programs/clubs/etc you're already a part of qualify you for not paying baggage fees. I get a (slight) discount on a couple of airlines through my employeer. And, with Airtran, that comes with not paying the baggage fees. Not sure how widespread this is, but not a bad thing to look into.

Craig Ford's picture

@GT0163
Great tip. I think a lot of people have access to discounts they don't even know about. It never hurts to ask if there is a discount available.

Guest's picture

Charging money for carry-ons is only gonna put more burden on the travelers. But what cannot be cured must be endured. Your tips are definitely gonna help the travelers in reducing their expenses while traveling.

Guest's picture

Tell my wife and two teen daughters that a 7 day vacation does need 3 outfits per day each.....one by the pool, one for lunch locally and then one for dinner downtown. Oh and a separate (I kid you not) suitcase for hair straighteners and hair dryers...

Guest's picture
LKA Mom

Here's a trick we use when you're traveling with kids: we check our daughter's car seat (which is free for most airlines) in a car seat bag which allows us to add a couple of things in the bag. In fact, our last trip, we fit most of her clothes in a small duffel strapped into her seat. Same goes for strollers. We checked our stroller in a stroller bag, and all our shoes/boots and outerwear were in the bag as well. We were basically able to get the equivalent of a checked bag for free.

Craig Ford's picture

@LKA Mom
There are a few advantages of traveling with infants and this is one of them. I think if you're brave enough to travel with kids you should get unlimited baggage :). For the last five years we've made international trips with our kids every year.
Oh, here's a tip. If you can make your baby cry at the baggage counter they probably won't mess with charging you if anything is due.

Guest's picture
Venapro

Another tip is to use vacuum seal bags to compress some of your luggage.

Guest's picture
Guest

One can also ground ship clothes in advance via UPS, USPS etc.

Guest's picture

How much extra weight are you talking about?

Guest's picture

Good points: I live 1300 miles away from all my family, so that air travel is a fact for me ... and sad, Southwest does not serve these shorter trips, the only place I like to change, but I have long, thick, curly hair. There is no way that one can hold 3 ounces bottles of hair styling products ziplock bag.