Top Five Ways to Avoid Baggage Fees

The New York Times has an article today instructing readers how to avoid baggage fees. I was intrigued, and a little wary. What are they going to recommend? I wondered. Packing lighter? Ways to scam the system? The reality was both more and less interesting than I had feared. Their main tips were:

  • Fly airlines that don’t have baggage fees. Duh.
  • Take advantage of airline credit cards whose cardholders are not charged baggage fees. This is actually a pretty good one. The article reminds readers that there are often hefty fees associated with member credit cards, but even a $150 annual fee is paid for with two round trip tickets, in baggage fees alone.
  • Use vacuum seal bags in your carryons in order to pack more. This is a good idea, and I use a form of this with my packing cubes. The issue is that you can inadvertently pack so much that you can’t lift your suitcase into the overhead bin. I have come close to this even without vacuum sealed bags! (Another question—where do you find a vacuum cleaner when you’re traveling? Do you just ask Housekeeping?)
  • Use Scottevest and other brands of clothing whose trench coats and vests have pockets capable of holding everything from an iPad to a folded shirt. Again, this could be a good suggestion for some. But where do you put your coat when you’re on board the plane? On your lap? Under the seat in front of you? Airlines (and other passengers) don’t like it when coats are in the overhead bins. So where does a coat filled with clothes and electronics go?

My main concern was that it was going to be an article about sneaking extra bags on board or intentionally bringing a bag on the plane that wouldn’t fit in the overhead bins. Luckily, there was none of that. But where were the common sense suggestions? For instance, pack less. Condense your toiletries. Etc. Obviously not everyone is going to be able to avoid checking bags all the time. There are certainly circumstances that call for lots of stuff, or maybe bringing lots of liquids (I’m thinking specifically of taking wine on vacation). But I was very surprised that no one mentioned simply bringing less stuff as a way to avoid baggage fees.

So. Here are Road Warriorette’s Top Five Ways to Avoid Baggage Fees, a.k.a. Packing 101:

  1. Plan outfits ahead of time. Bring clothes that go together and that can be worn with more than one thing.
  2. Stick to one color family. It’s easiest to bring clothes that can be worn interchangeably if you base them around a single neutral—typically black, brown, or navy. This also makes planning shoes much easier.
  3. Wear things more than once. I will usually one bring one pair of slacks or a skirt for every two days of travel. Based on experience, I recommend bringing enough tops for each day, but will re-wear cardigans, scarves, belts, jewelry, and other accessories.
  4. No more than three pairs of shoes, including the pair on your feet. Shoes are among the bulkiest things we pack, so the fewer pairs you bring the better. I am a shoe addict, so this is very hard for me. But it forces you to really plan your outfits ahead of time!
  5. Condense toiletries. Unless you are traveling for a really long time, you can absolutely pack enough shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, moisturizer, and other necessities in a 3 oz bottle. I get refillable ones from Aveda and use my normal products, although you can find refillable bottles anywhere. If you only put the required liquids in your quart-sized bag, you should have plenty of room for everything you need.

The truth is, most business travelers don’t avoid checking bags to avoid fees—they do it because of the enormous time savings, both before and after your trip. I only fly Southwest and American, and I wouldn’t get charged baggage fees for either one, but you can bet I never check my bag unless I absolutely have to.

Readers, what are your best tips for avoiding baggage fees?


  1. Space Bags makes travel space bags that you seal then roll up to push the air out. I love them – I was able to pack clothes for a family of four in one carry-on wheelie bag (but yes, you can make your bag too heavy if you’re not careful).

    The bags are also nice if your luggage gets searched – the agents can inspect items without rifling through your delicates.

  2. It really comes down to knowing what you do and don’t need.

    Not only is this easier when you fly a lot, it’s also often easier for business (or any pursuit with more of a routine) vs more general leisure travel. I still think about what I bring for leisure trips.

  3. Title seems misleading… Seems you only point out 3 real methods

    1) Fly airlines with no fee

    2) Use airline credit card to avoid fee (the only useful advice)

    3) Don’t check a bag

  4. The most annoying thing about that article was at the end where (expectedly) the person said that most fliers would like to pay more for their tickets so they could have no bag fees. I think if an honest poll was taken it would show that very few agree with that. Hell, I am a 1P on UA and I rarely check bags even though it is completely free.

  5. I have quite a few Scottevest jackets and I usually put them at my feet or in the overhead. There isn’t a problem putting your jacket in the overhead after it is full with wheeled bags. Then, you put your jacket in all the extra space.

  6. Here’s an extra tip: Wear an extra coat as you pass through security. Maybe even an extra layer of clothing underneath. Fill the pockets with any extra things you want to carry.

    Then, once you’re past checkin / security, just take the coat off. You now have an extra “carry on.”

    Kind of cheesy I know, but being able to sneak just a little bit of extra stuff on board has been useful at times.

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