How to Avoid Luggage Fees This Memorial Day

Do you remember the good ol’ days, when you could walk onto a plane, put your carry-on bag in the overhead compartment, sit down and wait for the plane to take off (all while pretending to ignore the kid kicking the back of your chair)?

We haven’t been on a flight in which there was enough room for every passenger’s carry-on bag in years. And it’s not like they’ve done anything about those pesky seat-kickers, either.

Lucky us: Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner. Yay!

More and more passengers are cramming their carry-on luggage and fighting for overhead space to avoid checking bags, all as a result of airlines’ fees. Other passengers, according to The New York Times, drive as many as 50 or 100 miles to airports served by Southwest or JetBlue, which don’t charge for checking bags.

Customers are going to great lengths to avoid baggage fees, like taking out airline credit cards, which often allow flyers to check the first bag for free. Mind you, many of these cards charge annual fees ranging from $55 to as much as $450, the Times reported.

How Much Does Baggage Cost Nowadays, Anyway?

On domestic flights, most large U.S. airlines (like American, Delta, United and US Airways) charge $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag.

Good exceptions: JetBlue allows customers to check their first bags for free (but charges $40 for a second bag). Meanwhile, Southwest allows customers to check two bags for free.

Bad exception: If you buy your ticket online and are not a member of the “$9 Fare Club,” Spirit Airlines will charge you $30 for a carry-on bag—not to mention $28 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second. Even worse, starting in November, Spirit is slated to charge $100 to some customers for bags in the overhead bin!

Oh, the Lengths People Will Go …

From wearing special travel clothing with tons of built-in pockets to fit miscellaneous travel goods like electronics and even folded clothing items—imagine a hoodie with 14 pockets or a jacket with 24 pockets!—to vacuum-packing clothes to fit a massive amount in carry-on bags, customers are going to great lengths to avoid paying baggage fees.

And we get it: Refusing to pay luggage charges is often as much a point of pride as it is a money-saving maneuver.

Luckily, lawmakers and lobbying groups are starting to push back against these fees, or at least mandate that airlines be upfront about all their fees on their websites. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, even introduced a bill late last year detailing services passengers should get for free, like a free checked bag, the Times says.

But until the golden day when airlines stop charging us fees out the ear, we have to deal with the reality that is.

That’s why we’ve put together a guide for packing your carry-on as efficiently as possible. May the best air warrior win!

Packing carry-on guide

1. Try Bundle Packing

For the best way to pack your clothes for maximum space and minimum wrinkles, try bundle packing. Bundle packing involves wrapping clothing around a core, such as a toiletry kit or a rolled up pair of socks. It's more space efficient and clothing-friendly than folding and stacking clothes, or even rolling. One of the method’s biggest proponents is light packing expert Doug Dyment, who has given his expert tips on NPR and The Wall Street Journal. Check out Dyment’s diagram of how to bundle pack.

2. Use Every Bit of Space

If you follow our first tip and pack your items as bundles, you should have some larger bundles (with, say, a toiletry case as your core and shirts wrapped around the outside). Start with those bundles at the bottom of your suitcase, along with other large items like jeans and thick sweaters. Save small items like socks and undergarments for last--after the major pieces are in, stuff these little guys into every spare crevice, like the hollows of your shoes and the corners of your packed suitcase.

3. Remember the Liquid Rules

We know how it feels to have our favorite face lotion confiscated—and the feeling is decidedly not good. Skip the drama by making sure your containers with liquids or gels are all under 3 ounces, and that they all fit into a 1-quart clear plastic zip-top bag. Pack the bag toward the top of your carry-on because you may have to take it out and put it through the security scanner separately.

4. Know What You Can and Can't Take Onboard

Although the TSA doesn’t allow items like knives or sharp scissors, know what you are allowed to bring. Safety razors (pretty much any normal razor you could buy at a drugstore) are allowed, as are tweezers, knitting needles, nail clippers and blunt or super-short scissors.

5. Limit Yourself to 2 Pairs of Shoes

Shoes take up space, so pack ones that multitask, and limit yourself to a practical pair and a dressier pair. Comfortable flats with a bit of dressier detail (i.e. in patent leather, or with some embellishment) are ideal suitcase companions because they are light, take up little space, and can multitask for anything from walking around to going out to dinner. If you’re going somewhere warm, nice flat sandals can be your multi-tasker; if you're going somewhere colder, low-heeled boots work well. Place them in dust bags or plastic bags so they don't dirty the rest of your belongings.

6. Let Yourself Recharge

Don’t forget chargers for your phone, music player, camera and connector cables in case you’d like to upload anything to your computer. Tuck chargers into the outside pocket of your suitcase, if you have one, for easy access.

7. Separate Out 'Personal Items'

You’re allowed one true carry-on bag, plus one personal item like a backpack or purse. Think about which items you’ll want to have on hand during your trip, and which ones you’re okay putting away in an overhead bin. In your purse: wallet, cell phone, iPod, books and magazines or digital reader, a bottle you can fill with water, lotion and lip balm for the dry cabin air, gum for takeoff and landing, and ear plugs in case you get placed next to a screaming baby.

8. Choose Your Luggage Wisely

Although some airlines allow slightly larger carry-on bags, you should be safe across the board with a bag that’s 22” x 14” x 9”. Remember that adding a lot of stuff to external pockets can add extra girth, which might get your bag rejected when it’s time to board. Leave a little extra room in your purse or backpack so that if your bag won’t fit into the test luggage sizer, you can move around some surplus belongings.

One Last Packing Tip ...

Include what you’ll be wearing as part of your packing list. Before you start packing, list out everything you’ll take, so you don’t over-pack too many “just in cases” in the end. If you’re having trouble fitting everything into your luggage, choose to wear some of the bulkier items like boots or jackets.

  • Mara Pandolfo

    Great article!  One pet peeve: you say to bring a bottle of water in carry-on, but I think you mean an Empty water bottle to fill up after you get through security, since they still aren’t allowing liquids.  One tip I can share is that there are flexible water bottles for sale from a bunch of different brands that are very compact and can be rolled and stuffed anywhere when empty and hold 1-2 liters when full.  I highly recommend them for trips!  And definitely love your ear plugs tip!!

    • amkade

      Hi Mara,

      You’re totally right, that is what we meant. I just edited the sentence to make sure it’s clearer. Thanks for your eagle eyes!

      Allison

    • Us

       # 3. Remember the liquid rules.  She covered your pet peeve… and you can buy water once past security to take on the plane.

  • Chantal

    I second that, great article!  I’ve also learned that it can be much cheaper to ship luggage via UPS or Fedex a couple days in advance to your hotel (or back home) if you want to bring more than what fits into a carry-on bag and avoid paying too much.  It takes a bit more planning, but it can be worth it in some cases!

  • Crumpdee

    Carry on’s cause slow exiting of the plane.  But, you can take your carry on to the gate and check it there for free.  Walk on to the plane empty handed and without all the fuss a carry on creates…Just pick it up at the baggage claim.

  • http://twitter.com/deaconhayes Deacon Hayes

    I hate luggage fees. So, as you indicated my solution is similar: I fly Southwest Airlines :)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2UCRGQXUJZW4BI2FXEHYMS34TE Liz

    Another smart tip for shoes.  Bag them separately or in pairs in small plastic bags like what a newspaper comes in and to keep the rest of your clothes clean.