6 smart ways to bypass checked bag fees every time you fly

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© AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

  • Families who want to save on airfare should watch out for checked baggage fees. These fees are typically $25 or $30 per bag, which could add up to hundreds of dollars for a family on a round-trip flight.
  • There are numerous ways to avoid the costs of checked bags, including flying airlines that don’t charge fees for bags and packing carry-on luggage only.
  • Also consider the prospect of signing up for an airline credit card that lets bags fly free. There are numerous options available, including the United Explorer Card and the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

The hidden costs of air travel can add up if you’re not careful. While airport coffee and snacks are obvious extras to avoid, another hidden cost to be aware of is the price of checked baggage. A few airlines, including Southwest, let bags fly for free, but others charge exorbitant amounts if you want to bring more than a backpack or personal item.

Saving on checked bags is especially important if you have kids in tow or a big travel party. Forking over $25 for a single checked bag may not ruin your travel budget, but what if you check bags for your family of four? And for every single leg of your trip? You could easily wind up paying $200 or more in checked baggage fees – that’s what.

Want your stuff to fly for free? Consider these six tips:

If you want to check bags freely without worrying about the cost, look for an airline that doesn’t charge baggage fees. Southwest Airlines is the most popular option in this realm (and sometimes the only option!) since it lets each flyer check two bags for free. This is one of the reasons Southwest is so insanely popular with families, along with the fact that its flights are affordable.

While Southwest is known for offering affordable domestic flights, don’t forget that the discount airline also flies to Mexico and the Caribbean. This means you could save big money flying to destinations like Aruba, Turks and Caicos, and Jamaica, plus get two checked bags per person for free. 

You can also consider picking up an airline credit card that offers free checked bags, although this strategy works best if you typically only fly with that airline.

If you fly with American Airlines on the regular, for example, you can pick up the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard to score elite benefits such as priority boarding, 25% off in-flight purchases, and free checked bags for you and up to four travel companions on your reservation.

Fly Delta instead? Consider the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express to get similar benefits – priority boarding, 20% discount on in-flight purchases, and a first checked bag on Delta flights for you and up to eight travel companions.

If you’re a United flyer, consider the United Explorer Card, which offers a free checked bag on United flights for you and one traveling companion on the same reservation when you pay for your flight with the card.

The reality is that most major airlines offer a co-branded airline credit card that grants you and a certain number of companions a free checked bag. Make sure to check your airline’s offerings so you know for sure.

Some travel credit cards also offer annual airline credits that can be used for travel incidentals such as checked baggage fees. The Hilton Honors Aspire from American Express, the Platinum Card® from American Express, American Express® Gold Card, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve are popular options that offer this benefit.

Just note that some cards require you to specify an airline for your travel credit. The Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit is good for any travel expense you make during the year, but the Hilton Aspire, Amex Gold, and Amex Platinum Card require you to select an airline by the end of January each year. 

Some airline frequent flyer programs let elite members avoid paying for checked baggage. For example, American AAdvantage Gold members get one checked bag for free, while Platinum and Platinum Pro members get two free checked bags. Executive Platinum members get up to three checked bags with no fee required.

Delta Medallion members also received waived checked baggage fees for themselves and up to nine travel companions on their reservation, depending on their status.

Whether you fly Southwest to avoid paying for checked baggage or use elite status or an airline credit card to avoid the added cost, you do have to remember that these perks only apply to luggage under certain weight limits. Most domestic airlines set the limit at 50 pounds for checked baggage and they’ll charge more for baggage that exceeds this weight limit – even if you have a free checked baggage perk.

If you tend to pack a lot of heavy items, make sure your baggage doesn’t exceed weight limits before you leave the airport. You may get mixed results if you try to weigh large suitcases on your personal scale. We suggest picking up a luggage scale on Amazon – you can get one for about $12. 

Finally, you can avoid paying for checked baggage if you’re able to pack everything you need in a standard carry-on-size bag. Make sure to check your airline’s terms and conditions to note their limits for carry-on luggage, then pack strategically to ensure all your items will fit.

There are a ton of strategies people swear by to pack lighter and fit more into their suitcases, including using packing cubes, “rolling” all their clothing, and choosing luggage with various compartments. However, you’ll almost always need to pack less if you want to avoid paying for checked bags. This may be a chore when you’re traveling as a family, but it’s not impossible.

Also note that you are generally able to bring a personal item on the plane in addition to your carry-on bag. This could be a briefcase, a smaller handheld bag, a backpack, or a purse provided it is small enough to fit beneath the seat in front of you.

Click here to learn more about the best rewards credit cards in 2019.

RELATED VIDEO: This Airline Is Getting Rid Of Bag Fees For Certain Oversized Music & Sports Equipment (via Buzz60)

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