When planning bargain air travel, neglecting baggage fees can easily overwhelm ticket savings. Here’s what you need to know about different airline baggage fees and how to avoid paying them when you arrange your summer travel:
Bag Fees Are Big Business
Airlines sucked up $6 billion dollars in baggage fees last year. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, that’s a record. Bag fees are only one component of airlines’ “ancillary revenue,” a category including preferred seats, extra legroom, premium meals, expedited security, and early-bird boarding. Ancillary revenue reached $27.1 billion industry-wide in 2012, CNN noted.
How Bag Fees Took Flight
The Boston Globe recently reminded readers how bag fees originated. Consultant John Thompson brought baggage fees to the North American skies, advising airlines in 2008 the fees could offset soaring fuel prices. United Airlines took the first plunge, and others followed suit.
Airlines Boasting Best Domestic Baggage Policies
If you’re carrying baggage on your family vacation, the cost of checking it could mirror the expense of bringing a friend along. That’s why it’s important to evaluate baggage charges upfront when weighing bargain fare offers. Here’s what some airlines are charging on domestic flights this summer:
* One free carry-on and a small additional item are usually standard. Exceptions? Spirit collects $35 for carry-ons, $30 for the first checked bag, $40 for the second, and $85 for bags three through five, if designated at booking. Surcharges apply to bags declared during check-in. FARE club members catch a $10 per charge break.
* Allegiant also charges $35 each for first and second bags paid in advance, including carry-on, while third and fourth bags cost $50 each. A hefty upcharge awaits customers paying at the airport: $50 for the first two bags, $100 for bags three and four.
* Southwest allows two checked bags free.
* AirTran charges $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second.
* Jet Blue gives travelers one free checked bag, and charges $40 for a second and $75 for a third.
* Checked bags fly Delta or American Airlines at the rate of $25 for a first bag, $35 for a second, and $150 for each additional bag. First class and business travelers get a reprieve in the form of three free bags.
* United impedes comparison shopping by not directly disclosing fees on its website. Instead, it requires inputting frequent flyer identification or flight confirmation numbers into a calculator to display baggage fees.
* On US Airways, it’s $25 for a first bag, $35 for a second, $125 for a 3rd and $200 for 4 bags and up. Travelers receiving preferential treatment include its own and its partners’ frequent flyers (tiered benefits), unaccompanied minors already paying for assistance, and active U.S. military on personal trips.
How to Avoid Paying
You can avoid most bag fees. Choose airlines that set liberal free bag allowances whenever feasible. If that fails, join frequent flyer programs to see if that won’t score you a free bag or two. Life Hacker published a synopsis of the best plans for baggage bennies. Paying with select airline-branded credit cards can also make those bag fees vanish, so if you have one, check its terms.
A critical mistake to avoid is packing in oversized luggage. Check your airline’s size requirements and pull out your tape measure to confirm your bags comply.
If all else fails, cram everything into your carry-on.