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Travel - Packing Smart to Avoid Extra Airline Baggage Fees

Updated on August 18, 2014

Airline luggage fees can be an unpleasant attack on your vacation budget.

Most domestic airlines are charging a fee of $25 or more when you check a second piece of luggage. Some airlines are even charging for the first bag. For a family of four, this could easily add $200 to your roundtrip expenses. We've got some tips to help you keep baggage fees to a minimum or even avoid them completely!

This fee is in addition to the strict fees imposed on oversized / over-weight bags.

U.S. Airlines made more than $3-billion in baggage fees in 2010

Examples of Airline Baggage Fees

How much do the airlines charge to check a suitcase or other baggage

For the air traveller, finding a good fare used to be the big challenge but that's been complicated with fuel surcharges and luggage fees that you pay above the base fare and drive up the cost of travel.

Sample Baggage Fees (Coach Class) As of August 18, 2014:

Airtran - $25 for the first bag, $35 for the second bag.

Alaska Airline - $25 for the first bag, $25 for the second bag. (varies by route)

American Airlines - $25 for the first bag, $35 for the second bag.

Delta Airlines - $25 for the first bag, $35 for the second bag.

Frontier - $25 for Carry-on, if purchased in advance - $50 at departure gate / $20 - $25 for the first bag, $30 for the second bag. (check for discounts when you prepay online)

Jet Blue - $0 for the first bag, $40 for the second bag.

Southwest Airlines - No charge for the first or second bag.(We love Southwest!)

Spirit Air - $25 for Cary-on, if purchased in advance - $50 at departure gate / $20 - $45 for the first bag, $30 - $55 for the second bag. (varies by route)

United Airlines - $25 for the first bag, $35 for the second bag. (check for discounts when you prepay online)

US Airways - $25 for the first bag, $35 for the second bag. (check for discounts when you prepay online)

Ways To Minimize the Fees imposed on checked bags

How To Avoid Paying Airline Baggage Fees

1. Clearly read the weight & size allowance for the one bag and make the most of it - but don't go over the limit. Pack a box, if necessary. Remember that the fee for a bag that exceeds the weight allowance is often higher than the fee for checking a second bag.

2. Make the most of your carry-on allowances. A couple flying together can check one bag that includes liquids, razors, and all the things not allowed in a carry-on. Then make the most of your carry-on allowance for clothing and other items. Checking one bag, instead of two, will save $50 roundtrip with certain airlines. Remember that Frontier and Spirit are now charging for carry-on bags.

3. Ship items directly to your resort by mail or UPS - this isn't usually a good value if you're only shipping one bag but sometimes pays off if you have a lot of luggage or bulky sports equipment. Check to be sure that your hotel doesn't charge a fee for receiving and storing this type of shipment.

4. Pay the fee but minimize the number of bags checked - check one big bag, rather than 2 smaller ones for your family. Small children have small clothes. If you have two children, pack all their clothes in the maximum sized suitcase allowed. Depending on the airline, eliminating one suitcase can save $50 roundtrip

5. Utilize a shopping and delivery service for diapers, bottled water, snack items, etc. The service fee for having those purchases delivered to the resort will be less than fee for an additional bag.

6. Keep luggage fees in mind when purchasing tickets. A United Airlines fare might be $10 lower than Southwest airlines but Southwest doesn't charge a baggage fee so your over-all cost might be lower with Southwest. Of course, you need to make sure you have the total cost of your airline tickets - fees can differ from airline to airline.

7. Check to see if your airline offers a discount for pre-paying the luggage fees online.

8. Ask if you qualify to waive baggage fees. For example, military personnel or being at a certain level in the airline's frequent flier program may exempt you from the fees. Do you fly one airline all the time? Find out if having the airlines credit card will exempt you or reduce airline baggage fees.

9. Ask if there are items that can be checked without incurring a baggage fee. For example, child car seats, carriers, strollers, wheelchairs, walkers, and other personal assistive devices or medical equipment may be exempt from fees.

Tips for maximizing your carry-on bag...

1. Did you know that the middle seat usually has the most under-seat space? The curve of the plane's exterior reduces space under window seats and the aisle seats have a smaller space to help keep the aisles wide and clear. Choosing a middle seat will give you a little more room for your duffel or backpack....or even for your feet, if you can imagine that!

2. Find out whether your airline boards passengers by boarding group or by row. It may be to your advantage to check-in online early so that you can board earlier and have a better shot at space in the overhead bins.

3. Take advantage of gate checking your bag, if offered. Smaller commuter planes sometimes have smaller bins that quickly fill on full flights. There have been several times when the airline has announced at the gate that they will gate-check carry-on bags at no cost. These bags are generally placed in the jetway for pickup as you depart the plane, rather than being sent to the baggage claim area.

4. With most airlines, you are allowed one carry-on item and one additional personal item, like a purse or computer bag. Make the most of that space! Take a larger purse and use it for items you couldn't fit in your carry-on. Having some extra purse room can also save money, if you've gone slightly over the weight allowance on your checked bag. Pull out a few items and stuff them in your purse. Remember that Spirit Air and Frontier both charge for carry-on bags.

5. Find out what size carry-on you can bring. Why limit yourself to a student sized-backpack if you can have a larger bag. All of the luggage companies make "wheelie" bags that are meant to be used as a carry-on. Just know that the airlines change the sizes and you'll want to be sure your bag meets the requirements.

6. Wear your bulky items - like boots or a coat - onto the plane, rather than having them take the precious space in your bag.

7. Roll clothes instead of folding them - this will help you use every inch in your bag. Pack your underwear tightly into a ziplock bag or two and stuff them into your shoes.

8. Remember that you can only bring 3-ounce (or smaller) bottles of liquids and gels like shampoo or toothpastes onto the plane with you. All liquids have to fit in one 1-quart zip-lock bag that you send though security on its own - not in your suitcase or other bag. Larger bottles must be packed in your checked bags.

9. I have a friend who makes room for small souvenirs by taking her oldest underwear and socks when she travels and throwing them away after use, rather than packing them to bring home and wash.

10. Choose hotels with a coin laundry for guests. We save on longer trip by packing less clothes and washing them part way through the trip.

11. Pick a color scheme that allows you to mix and match items. I usually go with blue, white, and khaki for summer travel - then I throw in one red shirt to mix things up a bit. Accessories are small and can add a lot of diversity to your look.

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Items That You Cannot Carry Onto An Airplane

Prohibited Airline Carry-On Items

This list is not exhaustive but gives you a pretty good list of things you cannot take in your carry on luggage. Many of these items can be packed into checked bags, though some may require documentation.

Box cutters

Ice axes or ice picks

Knives (plastic knives are permitted)

Razor type blades (box cutters, utility knives, safety razor blades, disposible razors, etc)

Scissors with lades longer than 4 inches

Swords or fencing foils

Baseball bats

Bows and Arrows

Cricket bats

dumbbells or hand weights

golf clubs

hockey sticks

Lacrosse sticks

Pool cues

Ski Poles

Spear Guns

Ammunition

BB guns

Compressed Air Guns

Paintball markers

Firearms

Flare Guns

Flares

Gun Powder

Parts of guns and firearms

Pellet Guns

Realistic replicas of firearms

Starter Pistols

Axes or hatchets

Cattle Prods (don't you sometimes wish we could?)

Crowbars

Hammers

Drills and drill bits

Saws

Tools greater than 7 inches in length

Billy Clubs

Brass Knuckles

Self-defense sprays

Martial Arts weapons

Night Sticks

Nunchukas

Stun Guns or similar shocking devices

Blasting Caps

Dynamite

Fireworks

Hand grenades

Plastic explosives

Realistic Replicas of Explosives

Aerosol

Fuels

Gasoline

Gas Torches

Lighter fluid

Strike-anywhere matches (one book of safety matches may be allowed)

Flammable Paints

Turpentine and Paint Thinner

Realistic replicas of incendiaries

Chlorine for pools

Fire extinguishers and other compressed gas cylinders

Liquid bleach

Spillable Batteries

Spray Paint

Tear Gas

Vehicle Airbags

Gel-type candles

Get shoe inserts

Flammable liquid, get, or aerosol paint

Snow globes

Knitting needles

Bicycle chains

Infectious items

Self-heating meals

Click here for the official TSA list of prohibited items

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