6 tips for saving money on airline baggage fees


Portugal, Lisbon, Humberto Delgado Airport, passengers at baggage claim carousel. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)© Getty
Portugal, Lisbon, Humberto Delgado Airport, passengers at baggage claim carousel. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

Are you sick of the airlines playing “gotcha!” with your bags? These tips will help you navigate the “Game of Fees” and end up a winner.

Or, at the very least, these tricks could help you save something.

Choose your bag carefully

The Big Three: Passengers flying economy class on American, Delta and United pay nothing for a carry-on bag; a single checked bag will cost you $60.

The Discount Carriers: Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit charge for all bags, and in some cases, a checked bag is actually a little cheaper. Be sure to look check the “optional fees” section on your airline’s website.

Basic Economy Class: United charges a fee for carry-ons in its cheapest Basic Economy class, but what I consider a bigger bother is that Basic Economy passengers cannot bring carry-ons into cabins; instead, they must be checked and there is a fee. This is changing on some Basic Economy travel, though; for example, American’s Basic Economy now allows carry-ons in the cabin for free, but since Basic Economy folks usually board last, there may not be any bin space left for these bags so they can wind up in cargo anyway (but at least there is no fee).

Pay early

On some airlines, bag fees remain the same no matter when you pay, but discounters like Spirit and Frontier rise between the time you book your flight and the day of departure. Here’s how fees change on Spirit for a cross-country U.S. trip in the summertime:

Carry-on:

  • Pay at booking: $36
  • Pay online later on: $46
  • Pay at the airport: $55
  • Pay at the departure gate: $65

Checked-bag:

  • Pay at booking: $31
  • Pay online later on: $41
  • Pay at the airport: $52
  • Pay at the departure gate: $65

You can actually save money on both kinds of bags if you belong to Spirit’s $9 Club, but the dues cost $60 a year.

Put your bag on a diet

If a bag is too heavy, you’ll pay an overweight fee — and it isn’t cheap. Discounters charge the least, starting around $50, but large carriers like American will charge $100 for bags over 50 pounds. and $200 over 70 pounds. The price can also fluctuate depending on destination. For example, overweight bags heading to China, Japan, South Korea or Hong Kong on American will be charged an overweight fee of $450. And that’s in addition to the regular bag fee!

Use a credit card with passenger perks

How familiar are you with your credit cards? You might be in for a pleasant surprise or two. Some will accrue miles, some even deliver perks like free bags. If you’re not sure, go online and look for freebies or give them a call.

Fly the airline with no bag fee

Southwest is famous for offering free carry-ons and free first and second checked bags (though you’ll pay for overweight suitcases, $75 a pop). But before you decide this is your new favorite airline, please read tip number six.

Always do the math: Ticket price plus bag fee

When you shop for a trip, always compare airfares; then, check out the baggage fees, add them in, and then compare the total of the flight and the fees. That’s the only way you’ll know for sure which is the best deal for you.

Finally, no matter what kind of bag you choose, always pack light, so your bag will be easier to maneuver, have room for souvenirs, and yeah, maybe save you some fee money.

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