Baggage Fees Explained
For those of us who travel on a regular basis, baggage fees are just a necessary evil. When these fees began approximately five years ago, it was in direct correlation to the rising costs of jet fuel. When the price per gallon for fuel jumped more than 40 percent in 2008, airlines knew that they could not sustain a profitable business without increasing their net gains.
Travelers dislike seeing higher ticket prices and comparison shop largely based on that metric, so instead of increasing the cost of buying a seat on the plane, airlines began adding extra fees. These fees include payment for increased legroom, making last-minute flight changes, fast-tracking through security lines, and purchasing upgraded in-flight meals. However, the most common, and possibly the most irritating, new fee was for baggage.
The Baggage Puzzle
Most airlines offer free transport for one carry-on bag and one personal item, allowing a small bag in addition to a purse or business case, but the fees for checked baggage varies from airline to airline, and it can be a confusing web of baggage counts, weights, and escalating fees. As passengers, we need to know the size and fully-packed weight of each checked bag to estimate the travel cost, and many airlines have extra charges for what they consider “oversize” baggage. However, the dimensions and weights vary from airline to airline, so it is nearly impossible to remember the specifications and the fees.
It is a tough situation for everyone involved. Of course, no one wants to pay these outrageous fees. The airlines need methods to earn extra income to pay for rising costs, and we must have our luggage when we travel. Baggage is completely necessary for travel when the allowable size of carry-on luggage is too small to contain more than one outfit and a toothbrush. No one wants to arrive for a week-long Caribbean vacation without a swimming suit and beach towel, two items not typically included in a carry-on bag. So we grudgingly pay for our baggage to be stowed somewhere deep in the airplane and hope that it will be there when we arrive at our destination.
The airlines know that we need our big suitcases and our baby gear that are too large to take directly into the passenger areas. While we may be able to forego the need for upgraded in-flight meals, we cannot give up our personal belongings.
Saving Money on Baggage
Luckily for us, there are ways to save some money on baggage fees or possibly avoid them all together.
• Switch airlines – Southwest Airlines allows up to two free checked bags if they are within the airline’s size guidelines. This can be especially useful when travel with luggage is unavoidable.
• Rely on a carry-on – If it is possible on a short trip to only pack in a carry-on bag, this is the best option for saving money. Almost every airline allows free carry-on luggage.
• Oversee the carry-on bag – Extra fees may even be applicable to carry-on bags that exceed the allowable dimensions and weights provided by the airlines. If the bag does not fit under the seat, it will likely be charged an overage fee.
• Carry-on coats and jackets – Rather than shoving these bulky pieces of clothing into a checked bag, which will become larger and weigh more, they can be worn and carried on the airplane. Even during hot weather, it saves money to carry-on a large sweatshirt and use it as a blanket or pillow on the plane than to pack it into a checked bag.
• Pack light – Keep packing to the minimum necessary for the destination, and avoid adding unnecessary items at the last minute. Investigate whether there will be laundry facilities or shopping available near the airport or hotel where additional items could be purchased if necessary.
• Make substitutions – Consider investing in an eReader for frequent travel instead of several books, and try packing a jacket instead of several sweatshirts. These substitutions will save space and therefore weight fees.
• Make a comparison – It may be more economical to pack and check two smaller suitcases rather than stuffing everything into one oversized bag. Many airlines offer deals for checking two or more bags that make it cheaper than paying overages for a large bag.
• Consider shipping bags – For longer business trips or extended vacations, bags can be shipped overnight to save money and avoid lost baggage.
• Try an airline credit card – Many airlines reward their members by waiving baggage fees on checked bags. This is also true for many frequent flier programs.
Sometimes, no matter how prepared we think we are for our travel, baggage fees could become unavoidable. Maybe the handle of the bag just will not tuck in far enough to meet the required dimension, or the scale reads a tenth of a pound over the maximum, but there will be times that we get trapped with extra fees at the gate. Always plan some contingency money just in case something like this happens to cover these costs without digging into your funds for the trip.
Although we do not like airline baggage fees, they are going to continue and we may see lots of additional new fee’s introduced, something that is noticeably prevalent with the budget airlines in Europe. It’s worth remembering that when comparison shopping for a flight don’t just look at the cost of the flight itself.