Carry-on-only travel is totally doable with these pro tips.
Airline baggage fees are on the rise, with four major U.S. airlines boosting their fees in the past month.
Yes, it’s only a $5 increase, with the first checked bag now $30 and the second $40, on domestic flights. But the fees are per person,each way. A family of four checking one bag per person a piece will pay $240 round trip for bags when flying on American, United, Delta and JetBlue.
Aside from buying pricey tickets in first class or business class, which include free checked bags, here are five ways to avoid bag fees:
1. Sign up for an airline credit card or other credit cards that include free bags among the perks. The free bag allotment and other fine print vary by airline and credit card. Most airlines’ entry-level frequent-flyer credit cards (read: lowest annual fee) allow the cardholder and at least one companion to check the first bag for free. That’s the case with United Airlines’ MileagePlus cards from Chase. American’s Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Master Card allows free bags for up to four companions on the same itinerary. However, the new no-annual-fee card from American, the AAdvantage Mile Up card from Citi, does not come with any free bags. Delta’s SkyMiles credit cards from American Express allow one free checked bag for up to nine travelers on the same reservation. On United, you have to buy the airline ticket with the credit card, but American and Delta allow cardholders to receive the perk regardless of the type of payment as long as their credit card is linked to their frequent-flyer account and the frequent-flyer number is on the reservation. And the primary cardholder must be traveling. You can’t give your credit card to your kids to get free bags on a trip without you, even if they’re additional card members on the account. Got a question about whether you get free bags with your airline credit card? Ask the airline on Twitter.
2.Fly or spend (with the type of credit card mentioned in No. 1) your way to elite status in an airline’s frequent flier program. Airline frequent flier programs have a variety of tiers, with names straight out of a jewelry store: silver, gold, platinum, ruby, emerald and more. Status comes with a lot of perks, including free checked bags. Policies vary by airline and tier.
3.Fly Southwest Airlines. The airline famously allows two free checked bags per passenger. Be sure to compare fares, though. Despite the airline’s marketing, Southwest’s fares aren’t always the cheapest. The higher bag fees do tilt the equation more in Southwest’s favor, with the value of two free bags up to $140 round trip per person.
4. Pack light. This is a no-brainer, of course. Fit everything into a carry-on bag and stow it in the overhead bin for free. You can also bring another personal item that fits under the seat. There are legions of travelers who brag about visiting Europe for two weeks with a carry on.
Major airlines still allow free carry-on bags, deciding for now not to follow discounters Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier in charging for carry-on bags. One notable exception here: United’s cheaper basic economy tickets do not allow passengers to bring a standard carry-on onboard. All items have to fit under the seat, and gate agents monitor the size of the bags because basic economy passengers board last. American recently reversed its policy on basic economy tickets to allow standard carry-on bags, matching Delta’s policy. (That does not guarantee a spot in the overhead bin, though, because space fills up quickly on busy flights and late boarders often have to have their bags checked last minute.)
5.Check a bag at the gate for free. This is a) a gamble, b) not a policy you’ll find on any airline website and c) only applies if you have a standard-size carry-on you usually check because you don’t want the hassle of hunting for overhead bin space.
Airlines have been checking carry-on bags for free at the gate since the advent of baggage fees a decade ago. On busy flights with a slew of carry-on bags, they often ask for volunteers who want to check them for free so they don’t have to check them last minute as bins pace fills up, potentially delaying the flight.
Travelers who paid to check their bags at the curb or ticket counter don’t always take kindly to the practice, and some say the practice will increase with higher bag fees.
The risk is that airlines don’t ask for volunteers and you’ll have to pay to check it or hoist the bag into an overhead bin. Even if there’s no announcement, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they are seeking volunteers to gate-check carry-on bags.
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