Airline fees are pervasive these days. Baggage fees are particularly obnoxious, because passengers are increasingly forced to check in bags thanks to the shrinking amount of carry-on space. We do not know where the space is going, but we are pretty sure it is not for extra legroom. Some airlines even charge for carry-on bags!
Even with the pressure on airlines to raise fees, there are still ways to check in bags for free within the airlines' rules – as well as a few ways that could work if you are willing to ask and negotiate.
- Fly Specific Carriers – Among larger domestic airlines, Southwest still allows passengers to check in two bags for free. The smaller Cape Air still allows free carry-on and gate-checked bags on its Cessna 402C and Britten-Norman 2 airplanes, plus your first checked bag on its Cessna 208A airplanes for domestic flights, excluding trips to the Caribbean. Southwest in particular has made complimentary checked bags an effective marketing tool, so they will avoid imposing bag fees for as long as they possibly can.
Do confirm that your luggage meets the weight and dimension restrictions and verify that any oversized or unusual luggage meets the free checking-in criteria.
- Frequent Flier Programs – If you travel frequently, membership of frequent flier programs can earn you a waiver of bag fees, among other perks. Limits will vary by airline, and may be tiered – for example, American Airlines' AAdvantage Program currently offers one, two, or three free bags based on your mileage program status.
- Credit Cards – Credit cards that are co-branded with airline companies often allow you to waive fees with that specific airline. As with frequent flier programs, there are also other benefits associated with the card. Check out our list of air miles credit card offers.
Unless you are traveling frequently with the same airline, this may not be worthwhile. Consider if you will use the card often enough to matter, whether the interest rates are favorable, whether the rewards are worth the potential fees and interest charges, and if opening another account will adversely affect your credit rating. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes by joining MoneyTips.
- Upgrade When You Can – If you can upgrade your ticket to first class, there is a decent chance your bags will fly free – first-class passengers do not typically pay luggage fees.
Buying a first-class ticket straightaway will be far more than the bag fees, but an upgrade offer at the counter can be low enough to make the baggage fees a wash. You will still pay more, but you will get a lot more value for this extra money.
- Stretch the Overhead Space – If you have a bag on the borderline of fitting into the overhead compartments, you may be able to gate-check it for free. In the interest of keeping things moving, ticket agents at the gate will often offer a gate check of slightly oversized bags, as long as you are not grossly overusing the privilege.
- Look for Travel Programs – Occasionally you can find a package travel deal where your luggage fees are covered; for example, a baggage fee credit on your hotel bill for a trip to a resort destination. This doesn't occur very often, but it is worth looking into.
You may even be able to negotiate with a hotel or resort to give you offsetting credit, especially if you are traveling off-season. If you ask, the worst they can do is decline your request.
- Exceptions – Check with your airline for items that may be exceptions to the luggage fee rule, such as strollers and car seats. You may be pleasantly surprised.
With some planning, you may be able to save baggage fees the next time you travel. We hope that you will not have to apply your savings to some other newfangled airline fee. How soon before we have to factor in the "oxygen surcharge?"