Travel Fees: Get Over It and Purchase the Right Bag for a Low Price

By Betsy Brottlund on 27 April 2010 14 comments
Photo: Razvan

In January, major air carriers increased the baggage fees yet again to help offset the costs of lower ticket sales and all-around lower ticket prices. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, around $740 million were collected in just the third quarter of 2009 for baggage fees alone. Continental Airlines took in $270 million last year and predicts it will take in $350 million in 2010 for checked bags fees. At $20 (American, United) to $25 (Delta, Continental, US Airways) per bag, that's a lot of luggage.

And, it is. But to avoid fees, passengers are leaning towards carry-on items over checked baggage. This creates even more bags that need to be safety screened by the TSA. With that come security concerns which lead to other rules and procedures that the TSA will eventually put in place.

Until then, let's give the cabin crew a break and stop blaming them for the airlines' nickel-and-diming and just purchase a bag that is lightweight, sturdy, and fits nicely in overhead compartments.

For carry-on business bags, you don't have to worry so much about rough handling on the material because it isn't going up and down those conveyor belts, and the handlers won't be throwing it onto the plane. Think about choosing exotic or full-grain leathers because they can last for a lifetime. On the other hand, a simple ballistic nylon material will do just fine.

You do have to worry about weight, however, since you'll be the one lifting it up to fit it in the overhead bins and the airlines also have strict weight restrictions for carry-on bags. The weight limitations differ from carrier to carrier, but typically you're looking at anywhere from 25 lbs to 45 lbs depending on whether you are flying domestic or international. On Wikitravel, you can find a list of all the weight restrictions before you go out and buy a bag.

Bags made out of aluminum are typically more sturdy and lightweight. Those made out of cheap plastic may be lighter, but can break after just a few uses and will be hard to fit in small overhead spaces. Many manufacturers have created lightweight products that are also sturdy, such as Landor & Hawa's Sub-0-G luggage series for around $130 or Eagle Creek Tarmac's ES 22 series for around $300. I'd go with the Landor & Hawa bag since it won "world's lightest luggage" at the 2009 Travel Goods Association Product Innovation show. The Sub-O-G is 30" tall and weighs just over 6 lbs, whereas Eagle Creek's ES22 bags are around 8 lbs and only 22" in height.

Most manufacturers now build carry-on bags with special zip-pockets so you can easily find items without scavenging through all your personal items in front of other passengers. It's also typical for manufacturers to include side compartments for files and laptops. One carry-on that is known for its expansion capabilities and pockets is the Helium Fusion Expandable Suiter Trolley. For around $100, this bag costs the same as checking your bag on five flights. What a steal!

However, some fashion experts in a article say you should just eliminate the extra side pockets because they take more space. I disagree.

Regarding hardware, functional wheels are important so you can move around tight spaces and talk on your cell phone while drinking a frappaccino and maneuvering around the airport. Business travelers rave about the Atlantic Graphite Lite 2 Upright Spinner because of its ability to turn 360 degrees easily. As a lightweight and lower priced carry-on ($120), it's currently a very popular bag.

For the best deal, you can go to sites like eBags and Amazon. At Luggage Online, you can usually get 20-30% off the retail price.

On the other hand, if price isn't an issue and you're more concerned about grabbing a coffee and perhaps leaving your bag with the guy on your redeye that wouldn't stop yapping, Heys USA's BioCase (also a winner at the Product Innovation Awards) only opens for the correct fingerprint registered with the bag. As I mentioned, it's pricey with a tag of $2200 or more, but the 20" carry-on has biometric technology...probably not the cheapest thing to develop.

This is a guest post by Betsy Brottlund. Betsy is the Marketing Director for Resource Nation and Everything Business.

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Guest's picture

It just makes me so mad that they charge for bags - I would rather just include the price in the ticket so there are not any surprise monetary additions when I arrive at the airport.  Not to mention that now Spirit airlines wants to charge for carryons.  Perhaps I will just start buying all my vacation clothes at a thrift store when I arrive or just layer 8 outfits on top of each other before I get to the airport. 

Maybe if the airlines started to provide the amazing service of years ago people wouldn't mind the extra charges - but everything these days has a fee.  Customer service is out the window. 

Guest's picture

Or you could fly Southwest where you first 2 checked bags are still FREE!

Seriously though, I agree, if you are going to use a carry on....follow the guides.  So many flights are delayed because they are playing the suitcase shuffle by people putting purses and backpacks in overhead instead of under the seat in front of them and putting the bags in the overhead compartment the wrong way.  If you listen when you board, they will tell you the optimal way to save space.

Guest's picture


Guest's picture

The RedOxx AirBoss is the BEST carry-on ever. Well worth the price. I am a frequent business traveler and love it.

No weight wasted on wheels. Easily fits a weeks worth of clothes. Fits beautifully into the OH bin. And I can walk much faster through the airport than anyone dragging a wheeled bag behind them.

Guest's picture

I have similar thoughts. If I'm not checking something, I'm not bringing enough that I can't carry it through the airport. So I'm not going to waste weight and space on wheels. I have an old Eddie Bauer duffle bag that is the perfect size for a weeks' worth of warm weather clothes or a weekend in cold weather. It easily fits in the overhead compartment and is easy to carry, even when I'm also carrying a full backpack. It's also soft sided so it can be squishes into smaller spaces than most of those hard sided wheeled bags.

Guest's picture

Hmm--I decided I wanted a wheelie carry on for my move to France (and just because it's useful), so I checked Craigslist.  I got one for 10$.  I love it.  I doubt it's any important brand name and I'm sure I don't care.  It even has an outside full-lenght pocket for me to slide my laptop into.  And yes, I can steer it while sippling a late ;)

Guest's picture

Ummm... the problem is most of us have kids and can clearly tell you don't if you think you can carry on everything.

Guest's picture

Its funny how some business is always making money off of some unfortunate situation. How did this all come about?  Over priced Fuel cost. 

Guest's picture

I have read widely about this new development in air travel and it is my understanding that 'fees' are not subject to taxes for the airlines-- so they have found a tax loophole that allows them to generate income without an additional tax burden. If the checked baggage charge were rolled into the ticket price, the airline would have to pay tax on that amount. So we taxpayers/flyers are paying twice on this one-- for the new checked baggage fee and again as taxpayers who have to pay more of the tax bill that airlines have cleverly avoided.

Guest's picture

"...airlines also have strict weight restrictions for carry-on bags. The weight limitations differ from carrier to carrier, but typically you're looking at anywhere from 25 lbs to 45 lbs depending on whether you are flying domestic or international."

Not sure what airlines you fly with but in Australia our carry-on limits are substantially lower - 5kg/11lbs (domestic) and 7kg/15.5lbs (international) There's no way a person can carry enough clothing, toiletries and other essentials within those limits. Our CHECKED allowances are 20kg/44lbs (domestic) and from 20-32kg/44-70lbs (international) depending on carrier. And these were also the limits we had on our American Airlines flight in the US in 2009. If we had carry-on limits that high, there would be no room for passengers in the cabins, and we'd have to sit in the hold.


Guest's picture

Are the weight restrictions ever enforced on carry-on bags? I've never seen any checks on carry-ons in or out of the US (granted, I don't travel outside of the US very often).

Guest's picture

I have had to check a carry-on bag before when flying internationally due to it being over weight limits, but only when I am flying TO the US, never FROM the US.

Guest's picture

I had an interesting experience recently when I traveled back home to the US from Canada. I checked in, and took my carry-on through toward customs/security. There, I was sent back to check my bag, because apparently it was too big. So, I backtracked to the counter, and checked the bag. I asked what the fee was, and they said that there was no fee. I subsequently found out that if I had checked the bag when initially checking in, I would have had to pay a fee - $29, I believe. However, since I tried to carry it on and was sent back, there was no charge.

Interesting loophole, it would appear. I DID NOT personally try to take advantage of this, as I didn't know about it. Had I known, I still would have checked it in (as a rule follower). That said, I'm curious what others would do if they had this knowledge ahead of time - which I didn't in this case.

Guest's picture

A great idea but a poorly written article. First, a 30" tall bag is too big and would be gate checked (which is now charged by Delta and others). Second, alternatives to wheels are bags like the eBags Weekender, Tom Bihn bags, OPEC, MLC and other bags that are "convertible" to a backpack or over the shoulder and these are much lighter weight than the "super light weight" 6 lb mentioned above. These types of bags also allow both hands to be free - much easier to carry that coffee and answer that email than holding a handle! Third, help your readers to PACK these smaller bags - and are great resources to pack light and efficient.