When Is Checked Baggage a Good Idea?
A high percentage of travelers make it a point to avoid checked baggage whenever possible. The extra fees, transportation issues, and need to lug it up multiple flights of stairs in historic hotels make the entire process more feel like more effort than it’s really worth. Sometimes however, all of the packing organizers and precision packing tips in the world just aren’t enough to fit all of your items into a single carry-on bag. That’s when it’s time to make some tough decisions about what comes with you on the trip, and what needs to stay behind. (See also: Vacation Hack: 7 Tips for Single Bag Travel)
When You Shouldn't Opt for Checked Baggage
There are, of course, times when it’s better to bail on checked baggage and consider other options such as traveling with one bag to avoid extra luggage fees. Following are some examples.
Will Shipping Keep Things Simple?
If you are heading to a single destination and are able to mail a box of your belongings for less than it would cost to send a single bag, consider doing so. Be advised, however, that shipping isn’t always the simplest solution. I’ve made many a move where I didn’t have an address prior to getting on the plane, or the address I did have was for a corporate or mailbox address some distance from where I would actually need to access my things. Then there’s the concern of what hours these other offices are open if your flight arrives outside of regular business hours.
International travel can cause additional wrinkles when it comes to accessing shipped boxes. Ministry approval, overseas shipping charges, and more can enter into the equation.
Do You Have One or More Tight Flight Connections?
The likelihood of lost or delayed luggage increases when the time between connecting flights is extremely limited, especially if you are changing carriers and terminals as well. This creates extra time constraints for baggage handlers as well, and the chaos only increases at larger hub airports. You can risk it if you’re feeling adventurous, but for my money it’s worth considering skipping checked baggage in these situations if you are able.
Are Your Financial Circumstances Extreme?
If pennies are in serious need of pinching, then your perspective on whether or not a $20 to $50 checked baggage fee is a big deal may be radically different from someone with a six figure job who isn’t currently looking for work or putting children through college. When you find yourself in this situation, put your best packing skills to work and limit yourself to a single bag.
When Checked Baggage Might Be the Best Solution
Sure, shrinking your wardrobe selections and gear essentials to fit into one bag seems to be the most common advice these days, but there are times when checking baggage can work in your favor.
Are You Moving?
If you are relocating your family or yourself a great distance and need to have a few critical items available immediately after you land, then it can be worth the extra baggage fee. Having your entire wardrobe available, along with such necessities suas important paperwork and comfort items for your pet can make all the difference when you need to hit the ground running without a hitch.
Are You Going on a Long-Term Trip?
Provided you won’t be country hopping every five to seven days, long-term travel to a specific destination might mean that checked baggage can be helpful. For example, if you are going to be there for multiple seasons and need to have business outfits as well as active wear and yard work clothing for a house sit, then $50 is a small price to pay for your sanity.
Will Replacing Items on the Road Cost More?
If you’ve painstakingly built your wardrobe at sales, consignment shops, and yard sales, and a longer trip would require you to replace those clothing items at a higher cost, then this is also a situation where checked baggage might be the right solution for you. Granted, if you are only going for a short time, then I’d recommend limiting your clothing selections. Otherwise, it might benefit you to remember that in some countries, things like curves and long legs can be difficult to accommodate, resulting in a high price tag for custom clothing if an item gets irreparably damaged.
Is This a Billable Expense?
If expense reports and business receipts are a large part of your travel reality, and your employer routinely schedules trip agendas on your behalf which require you to be decked out in cocktail attire one minute and adventure gear the next, then checked baggage is a fair line item to include in your next billable expense submission. Also, if you represent a client in such a way that you need to bring large amounts of clothing and tech gear with you on every trip, then billing them is certainly an appropriate measure. Public relations professionals and corporate trainers would both fall into this category.
Will the Checked Items Allow You to Make More Money?
If you will be participating in a trunk show event or have a money-making hobby that will allow you to drum up extra cash while you travel, paying for checked baggage may be your best bet. Do you paint caricatures, photograph birthday parties, or teach professional workshops that can easily be worked into a mid-length trip? Consider packing your gear and making a bit of cash during your next extended vacation. As long as you can make more than the cost of the baggage fee, you’re all set.
Is Transporting Your Bags a Logistical Issue?
If not, and you feel like the extra baggage will give you a bit more wardrobe or professional freedom when you get where you’re going, then there isn’t much of a problem. Especially for those who aren’t required to travel constantly, an occasional checked baggage fee isn’t necessarily a financial deal breaker. So unless you have to lug all of your own bags two miles from the train station in the rain in the middle of the night to get to your hotel room, maybe you’re better off springing for the bag. Of course, this is greatly dependent on travel style and the destination’s infrastructure. Some places have no additional support whatsoever, so an extra bag truly can be a logistical nightmare. Believe me, I’ve been there. More than once.
Are You Allowed Free Checked Baggage on Your Flight?
I’m all for traveling on a budget, but if your chosen carrier allows a complimentary checked piece of luggage with the price of your ticket, what’s the problem?
To be clear, I am one of those travelers who tries to avoid checked baggage whenever I can. However, the frequency with which I travel and the number of connecting flights I need to take whenever I do so greatly contribute to that decision. The truth is, with the way I make a living, it gets harder and harder to avoid the additional luggage when I travel for any length of time. So when I have the option to skip a bit of stress and check an additional bag from time to time, I don’t have a problem indulging if the situation lends itself to such.
What about you? Do you avoid checked baggage like the plague or do you too have certain situations where you feel it’s worth the splurge?