How to Beat Airline Luggage Fees

Posted by in Articles, personal finance | 18 comments

I’ve never been one to pack a million suitcases to take on a one-week trip. Instead, I try to limit my luggage to one checked-on piece and maybe one carry-on. However, since most airlines now charge for checked on luggage, I’ve had to get creative with my packing. In my pursuit to save anywhere from $25 or more, or the cost of checking on luggage with major airlines, I’ve figured out a solution for cutting the cost of flying: Take a backpack!

One thing I’ve realized during my traveling is the less you have to carry in your hands, the better and a backpack is a perfect solution. Carrying a backpack on your back down a tight airplane aisle is much easier and faster than wriggling a smallish carry-on down the aisle. Does a backpack work for every trip? Of course not. But it will work for many trips, especially if you plan accordingly:

  • Travel to tropical regions - the warmer the climate, the less bulky clothes you have to pack.
  • Travel during the spring and summer season – again, warmer temps mean less bulky clothing.

Most backpacks expand more than you think. For example, my $40 backpack that I use for my books, work and school was a great option for me when I traveled to New York this past May. I took a couple of pairs of pants, a few shirts, a sweater, a light-weight windbreaker (it can get cool in New York in May), and a pair of slip-on shoes. I was able to squeeze it all into my backpack.

Backpacks expand more than you think.

I even packed my toiletries in the front, small pocket using Zip Lock baggies and small containers. I kept my toiletries to a minimum since most hotels provide hair dryers, small shampoo and conditioner bottles, and a few other things you might not want to take with you – and friends and family can share if you’re staying with them instead.

Small, clear baggies work great and get you through security.

A few tips for using a backpack in lieu of any other luggage:

  • Wear your most bulky clothing that you’ll be taking on your plane ride, including heavier shoes. Smaller items fit more easily into your backpack.
  • For women, you can still take your purse. I was able to fit a couple of items in my purse once my backpack became over loaded.
  • Make sure your backpack can fit under the seat in front of you for standard class travelers. The benefit of a backpack is it’s easier to take than a small carry-on and will fit in front of your legs so you don’t have to fight for a space in the overhead compartment. You also won’t have to wait to grab your bag when you depart the plane.

This summer, I’m attending my sister’s wedding. I plan to take my backpack and that’s it. However, my husband and I will need access to our nice clothes; a dress, a suit and dress shoes. These items won’t fit in our backpacks and will become horribly wrinkled if I try to stuff them in. Solution: We’re shipping our “nice” clothes ahead of time to the hotel. Using UPS or FedEx and shipping a garment-sized box (flat and mid-length) will cost just less (about $5.00 less) than checking one piece of luggage. And, there’s less chance of the suitcase getting lost since we can track the shipment with a tracking number!

Summary of benefits of taking a backpack on a trip:

  • No checked luggage fee.
  • Reduced possibility of luggage getting lost.
  • No wait time at the carousel after leaving the plane. Just grab your backpack and go!
  • Hands-free bag. You can actually hold on to your kid, your coffee, or your partner without loosing your grip on one or the other. :)

As far as I’m concerned, backpacks are the best invention since sliced-bread.

How do you travel – light or heavy? Would a backpack work for some of your trips?

18 Comments

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  1. Money Beagle

    Since all these baggage fees have gone into place, we’ve avoided them by simply not flying. Not that we would have been traversing the country if the fees hadn’t been in place, but all the nickel and diming (or actually a lot more than that!) has made destination travel an option that quickly gets thrown out when we’ve made vacation plans over the past several years. Now that we bought a camper, it seems the airlines will remain at the bottom of our list for the immediate future.

  2. MoneyCone

    My dad has a simple philosophy – if you can’t carry your luggage (not roll), you have too much stuff!

    Has worked very well for me!

  3. krantcents

    I usually do carry on when the visit is relatively short 4-5 days). Longer trips are usually overseas and I travel using business class and can avoid fees.

  4. Little House

    @Money Beagle
    I’m not big on flying all over the place either (and traveling by camper is much more fun!) But, for visiting family on the east coast, flying is the way to go. ;)

  5. Little House

    @MoneyCone
    That’s a good philosophy! I recently picked up my parents from the airport and they had 5 bags of luggage. And they weren’t small. They were going on a 2-week cruise to to Panama and they brought so much stuff, it barely fit in my Element! Way out of control. ;)

  6. Little House

    @krantcents
    Longer trips do require more stuff, but if you normally travel light, then luggage doesn’t get out of hand and the fees aren’t out of control.

  7. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter

    These are great tips LH. We are huge backpack travelers. We have compression bags, go toobs, and anti wrinkle clothes. We also pack really light and just do laundry while we are away. It is so much easier, especially when you have to run to catch your flight. It’s hard to run with a suitcase. As well, backpacks squish so they fit in the over head bins a lot easier.

  8. Jeffrey

    I usually bring a carry-on and a backpack so I don’t have to check any bags. It’s not a huge backpack, so I can count it as my “personal item” and simply store it under the seat in front of mine. Then I put the larger piece of luggage up top.

    I just bought a new, slightly larger backpack so maybe I’ll take only that on my next trip.

    • Little House

      @Jeffrey – The nice thing about a backpack only is that you don’t have to fight for a space in the overhead compartment and wait for others to get their stuff out. With a backpack you just get up and go!

  9. Hunter - Financially Consumed

    I travelled with a messenger bag and a small roller-carry-on when I flew to Chicago last year. I prfer to travel lighter, for all the reasons you point out here. Of course, coming home from Chicago, there was not enough cabin space for all the carry-on bags. I checked mine, and they lost it! Another reason to travel light.

    • Little House

      @Hunter – That’s a really good reason to carry only a backpack; most air attendants won’t make you check it. And I think the chances of the airline losing your luggage being checked at the gate are pretty high (this has happened twice to Mr. LH!)

  10. Kris @ Everyday Tips

    We have flown to Florida before where all of us put our clothes in a carry on bag (there was a washer and dryer where we were staying, which always helps). This past time though, we did check one bag and put the rest in carry ons. Just made things a little easier, and since many of our plane tickets were free, I didn’t made paying the 25 dollars each way.

    • Little House

      @Kris – There are definitely times when I’d want to check on a bag, but since I flew with just a backpack last May, it was such an easy experience I’m really trying to stick with that for future travel!

  11. retirebyforty

    I usually carry a passenger bag and a roller carry on as well. I haven’t had to pay luggage fee yet. On a longer trip, I’d rather wash clothes than carry more stuff.

  12. 101 Centavos

    I’d hate to pay luggage fees. I try to travel as light as a I can, and a backpack is a great way to do that. I once packed a couple days worth of clothes *and* business files in my Targus. It was a little tight. On the same trip the following month I added a small roll-on.

    • Little House

      @101 Centavos – Wow, that’s impressive! Clothes and business files. :) But I can see that business travel might require a roll-on, especially when it comes to taking work with you!

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