When you're already spending on airfare, rental cars, and hotels, it can really feel like just too much to have to spend an extra $25 or $30 for a checked bag.
Airlines have long charged fees for extra heavy checked bags, but it's only recently become standard practice to charge for simply checking a bag. The going rate is about $30 for the first bag, with prices rising for each additional bag.
But, there are ways to avoid these fees. Here are our tips.
Book an airline that doesn't charge baggage fees:
There are still some airlines that don’t charge fees to check bags. That means if you’re looking at two flights of similar prices and one option is on a free-to-check airline, you can choose that option and save money (if you will need the service). This can come in particularly handy if you have a larger item like a travel golf bag that has to be checked in.
Southwest Airlines lets you check two bags for free, regardless of your ticket class or where you’re flying. Same goes for Ravn Alaska and Penair if you’re flying within Alaska, according to Kayak.com. Hawaiian Airlines has free checked bags for international flights, and many international carriers do not charge for checked bags, including Air France, Air New Zealand, Emirates and Korean Air, according to farecompare.com.
Book the right ticket:
In addition, some airlines offer airfare classes that include checked baggage. For many airlines, if you purchase a premium ticket (premium economy, business, or first class), you get free checked baggage, said Kelly Soderlund, a spokesperson with the travel planning website www.hipmunk.com.
You also get free baggage if you or the person with whom you're traveling hold elite status with the airline, Soderlund said.
Sara Rathner, NerdWallet's travel expert, also recommends booking a ticket in a premium cabin.
"If you were planning to splurge on more luxurious travel anyway, you'll get a free checked bag to go along with your more spacious seat," she said. "Keep in mind that if you upgrade to a premium cabin after dropping off your bag, you may still be subject to a checked bag fee."
Finally, Rathner recommends using "one airline faithfully and travel often."
"If you travel enough each year, you can attain status on an airline, which would score a free checked bag," she said. "On United, American, and Delta, you'd need to rack up at least 25,000 qualifying miles in the previous year to qualify for status in the next year."
Get an airline credit card:
An airline-branded credit card for you or the person you're traveling with also usually gets you free checked baggage, Soderlund said. Either that, or use a credit card that allows you to apply your annual travel credit towards baggage fees.
“The best way to avoid paying fees is to have a credit card that covers the expenses,” said Janice Lintz, a consumer education and travel writer. “Amex Platinum requires the user to select one domestic airline annually, which is frustrating. I personally like City National Bank’s Crystal Visa Infinite Credit Card with rewards for my airline fees since I receive $250 a year for qualifying airline purchases. That includes domestic airlines, and each of my authorized users up to three people also receives $250 each.”
She added that for international fees, cards like Citi or Chase Saphire Reserve will cover travel fees, "but I like to try to avoid using those cards for baggage since I can use them for airfare," she said. "Capital One Venture and Spark Business will cover any baggage expenses as well."
Tracy Stewart, the content editor of travel deal site Airfarewatchdog.com, said one of the easiest ways to avoid baggage fees is to book tickets using the airline’s branded credit card.
"Cardholders are promised a slew of travel perks, including complimentary checked baggage," he said. "Fly more than a couple of times a year and you can easily make up the annual fee requirement for many of these cards."
When all else fails:
Stewart says one of the simplest ways to avoid baggage fees is also one of the most difficult for travelers.
"Pack sparingly and fit all that you need into just a carry on," he said. "With the exception of United, basic economy tickets now allow passengers a free carry-on and small personal item such as a backpack or computer bag. Sure, it'll require a little editing but you may be surprised by little you actually need. For many, the real advantage in going carry-on only is that you eliminate the need to wait around at the baggage carousel on arrival."
Soderlund also notes that there are some items you can check for free: strollers, car seats, and wheelchairs, plus some airlines will let you bring home local delicacies free of charge.
"Say, a case of wine flying from California on Alaska, or pineapple from Hawaii," Soderlund said. "American Airlines recently cut the fees for sports equipment like surfboards from $150 to $30, and United has also cut fees on California-bound travelers' surfboards."
"You're usually allowed two of the white bags without question, in addition to your carry-ons," she said. "If something is too heavy or just doesn't fit, put it in a duty free bag as a secret way to get past airline restrictions."