The Baggage Puzzle – Baggage Fees Explained & Tips To Reduce Them

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.

  • Joe Davis

    Andy, why would you put an apostrophe on fees?

  • Nancy

    WHen I visited my parents frequently I left a few sets of clothes and minimal personal items at their house. Voila! Cross country flight with just a carryon.
    I have also used Walmart – can buy a couple of outfits for the price of a checked bag. This works best if you are familiar with the area and know that you can do this within a day of landing.
    I am also a fan of taking clothes that I am tired of and leaving them behind. Especially shoes!

  • Scott

    Since they claim that overweight bags cost them more due to the cost of fuel…..why dont they charge more for overweight people? Why must I be subjected to sitting in the middle seat with 2 fatties next to me? Better, instead of worrying about how much the bags weigh when you check in, have everyone stand on a scale and charge them overage fees if they are not at the average height/weight.

    • Janine

      Please don’t ever buy an airline, or if you do inform the world ahead of time. It is folks like you who enjoy nickeling and dimeing folks to death. Is everyone in your family a Barbie or Ken doll? Not so in my family. I have a co-worker who is a size 2 and thinks all the rest of the world is overweight except herself. Perhaps the two of you should get together, purchase an airline and fly only persons of a certain weight. Get a grip. This is the United States of America and we come in all different shapes and sizes–where do your prejudices begin and end??

  • Ruth

    Too many people try to use only carryon luggage, 2 or 3 at a time, and therefore the first boarders get the overhead space. There need to be limits placed on what can be carried on board!

  • Jodie

    I have been told that some airlines will take your bag at the door of the plane to be stowed in the baggage area in the hold of the plane. This saves space in the overhead bins. I have also been told that if you have to change planes, the airline will check these bags all the way through to your destination. Has anyone done this? I’m going to try it on my next trip.

    • Michele W

      We do it all the time. The airlines do not always offer this. Usually it depends on whether they expect a full flight. If itis a full flight, they like to free up some room in the bins. Just go to the desk once you arrive in the waiting section of the airport and ask them if they are checking in carry ons for the flight to __________. It is really worth it to us, though you do then need to go to baggage claim to retrieve your bags.

  • Nana

    “Carry-on coats and jackets”

    Especially helpful when they have big pockets! I’ve put a scarf, pair of gloves, a balaclava, and a book in one, saving room and weight in the luggage. It’s the little things that often add up.

  • Carmaig

    One time in Austin, I ended up mailing my dirty laundry home to make room in my bag for all the swag I picked up st the conference I’d been attending. The cost of postage was much cheaper than the fee for the additional box I would have had to check.

    • Nana

      Great idea!

  • mary

    Very helpful information

  • Dotty

    No overhead space or full flight, take advantage of checking your luggage at the gate.

  • rhonda

    since southwest has taken over air tran, does this mean that there is no baggage fee?

    • Rebecca

      Good news, Rhonda… We found this on

      1st and 2nd checked bag fees will be waived for any itinerary purchased through an AirTran channel that includes a Southwest segment (weight and size restrictions still apply).

      Sounds like as long as your itinerary includes a Southwest segment, you can now fly AirTran without those nasty baggage fees!

  • outraged

    Spirit airlines has gone a step further….they charge you even for carry-on baggage!

    • Rebecca

      That IS pretty outrageous!

    • Peg

      Frontier Airlines charges for carry on baggage unless you book your tickets at We booked our Frontier flights on Orbitz.

      Their charge for a carry-on bag was $50! Checked bags were $25 each.

    • David

      That’s absolutely true! I put my 12 yr old daughter on Spirit from BWI to DFW, and paid $100 for unaccompanied minor. She took a carry on bag that’s been used on more than three other domestic and international flights. On her return journey, Spirit charged $ 50 claiming it was bigger than permitted size. I’ve always taken literal measurements and checked weights before leaving home to avoid rude shocks. It’s flatly wrong to milk travelers of money in these kinds of dishonest schemes. A carry on bag cannot be ok one way and be deemed bigger two weeks later on the return journey of the same airline’s return ticket!

    • Janine

      Indeed, they do. And, you purse LADIES is considered your personal carry on item.

  • barbe kray

    Found it more reasonable to pack a joint bag and check it than pay for 2 carryons with Spirit “discount” airline. 40 # limit is doable for two persons staying in a condo with laundry facilities visiting a warm climate destination!
    I still think the fee sucks!!!

  • Elizabeth

    To travel light, try to stay in places where you have easy access to laundry.

    • Rebecca

      Great suggestion, Elizabeth!

  • Krista

    You have to be careful of that 1 carry-on/1 personal rule sometimes with international flights. A few years back I had a layover at Heathrow, where I had to clear security again, and they would only allow us to board our connecting flights with ONE item. I wasn’t the only person with a problem though…we were all trying to stuff our purses and laptop cases into our carry-on.

  • tatrim

    Great travel tips! Thanks for sharing!

  • Gina C

    Id rather they just raise the prices of the ticket..just another racket..they start charging to use the overhead bin like some have already, i just wont fly anymore. screw them

  • simelaway

    true that!!


    i always move clothes to a extra spot in my closet. Clothes that I don’t wear but are still good. I don’t donate them anymore. I bring EVERYTHING on my trips and leave them behind. I often bring them down the street and see if a homeless person can use them. A free cap or tee shirts are the first to go. I often have an ugly sweater or extra sweat shirts….after all, the folks on my vacation spots don’t know me…I have it down to an old tooth brush or plastic comb….old shoes….I have plenty of room to bring home new stuff. If Im going to visit…I mail an entire box ahead for about 11 dollars….The holes in the underwear? All left behind………

    • Rebecca

      That’s one we’ve never heard before Dennis… Thanks for sharing!

    • renae

      With ya there. I have left more underwear in more places than I would care to mention. Also, any trips close to Mexico, I cross over and buy what I call ‘disposable’ socks

    • Janet

      As a Travel Agent in the past, we would often recommend that if possible, you give away the clothes that you take on a trip, especially if you are going to a poor country. That gives extra space for those new clothes or souvenirs that you might want to purchase while on your trip. When visiting my daughter, I can just take underwear and borrow her clothes, since we wear almost the same size. That is another way to keep from carrying extra whenever possible.

  • Jason

    First class is the way to go. Free baggage and big seats.

    • Krista

      First/Business class is definitely the way to go. If only I could afford it every time… :)