How to save on checked baggage fees

During six plane rides over the last three weeks, I have watched passengers attempt to cram oversize bags into too-small bins, argue with flight attendants who wanted to gate-check their bags (for free) and delay the gate departure for the rest of us.

No matter how irritating all of that might be, as long as carriers charge ever-rising fees for checked bags, passengers will continue to complain, argue and be unhappy.

So what are the best ways to avoid checked baggage fees?

1.Fly Southwest or JetBlue. They’re the only carriers that still do not charge for the first checked bag. Southwest even lets passengers check a second bag each for free, while JetBlue charges $35 for the second bag.

2. Pack lighter. I know this doesn’t work for everyone (some people are just packaholics) and it really doesn’t work for parents traveling with small kids. Although two adults flying with three small children would be entitled to carry on five bags, who’s going to pull them all through the airport? But checking five bags can add $125 each way to travel costs, or $250 to a round-trip family vacation. So, instead try to pack one or two larger suitcases. It’s less to pull through the airport and will at least reduce checked bag fees. Just be mindful of overpacking a big bag. Overweight baggage fees can eat up any savings. All carriers have a section on their website outlining baggage policies and charges.

3. Consider shipping ahead. Depending on how much you’re taking along, it might be worth a trip to FedEx, UPS or even the Post Office to send things ahead. It might not save a lot of money, but it will save the hassle of pulling several bags and several children through the airport. And it will eliminate altogether the chances of the airline losing your bags.

4. suggests three other ideas for saving money on checked bag fees. One is to be a frequent flyer, although I’m sure people who fly more than 25,000 miles a year are light packers who rarely check a bag. Another suggestion is to book a hotel that will rebate your checked bag fee. The third is to get an airline credit card, which allows you to rack up frequent flyer miles with every purchase and may waive baggage fees if the ticket is booked with card. Be careful there, however. Unless you’re a heavy packer and realitively frequent flyer, the credit card annual fees on airline cards can be steep.

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