5 Ways to Pack Smart and Avoid Airline Baggage Fees


how to pack vacationAs you put the final touches on your summer vacation budget, don’t forget one often overlooked line item: airline baggage fees.

Unless you’re an airline credit card holder or a frequent flier with elite status, which may grant you a pass on those fees, it will cost you—usually at least $25 each way—to get your luggage on the plane. And that can add up.

Last year, U.S. airlines made a whopping $3.35 billion in checked bag fees, according to a report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. One surefire way to avoid these pesky surcharges? Stash your luggage in the overhead compartment. You’ll save cash—and time at the airport.

We know what you’re thinking: You’re a notorious overpacker, and there’s no way you could stuff everything you need into a bag small enough to fit in an overhead bin.

To prove it can be done, we asked organization and travel pros to share their smart packing tips for any vacation—from a big city sojourn to a getaway in the great outdoors. The consensus among our packing experts: It’s as easy as picking (and mixing and matching) just a few key items.

RELATED: Travel Checklist: What to Bring With You Internationally

  • Jamie N. Kirk

    Fly Southwest?

    • ksgirl73

      If you don’t mind your luggage getting lost and arriving after you do.

  • Anonymous

    You can also check in online with a slightly bigger bag that may not fit in the overhead bin (From experience, TSA will not say anything) and then gate check the bag for free!

  • Lc

    Interesting article, but for its length, I think it has gaps…

    Missing from the article is the advice to wear the heaviest or bulkiest gear you’re bringing. Yes, you have to weigh the nuisance of unlacing trainers or tugging off boots at security versus boosting extra weight into the overhead bins, but airlines are getting crabbier about heavy stuff overhead (and who needs to put their back out before the holiday has even begun).

    Why pack anything lotion or fluid except medical necessities? Unless you’re heading straight out into the Amazon or arriving on whatever day local stores will be closed, you can buy small quantities of sunblock or shampoo or whatever when you arrive. In fact, many airports have arrival-side shops, so you can grab what you need without breaking stride to the cab rank or rental car desk. Emphasis on “small” — don’t buy a bottle that would last you a month at home; I ditch any leftovers at my last hotel if I’m determined to dodge baggage fees.

    Lightweight wool for outdoorsy trips is great for winter, but for summer travel, I’d go with made-for-purpose modern fabrics that are designed to wick away sweat for those layers next to the skin.

    Incidentally, international flights inflict checked bag fees much less often than domestic, so check the airline’s policy before getting in a lather about fees overseas.

  • Jasper

    I understand the concept but besides 3 pairs of shoes, how many of each of the other items do I bring including under garments? What do I do about toiletries?
    On a cruise that has formal nights; how can one not bring a suit if not a tux? I would think a sport jacket defeats the idea of a formal night.

  • dkl

    It is so worth the $50 to me to not have to schlep a stupid bag through multiple airports (my city never fles direct to where I want to go). I also never want to be one of those annoying people on the plane who’s holding up everyone else wrestling his bag into/out of the overhead bin. Plus, I’m in the wine industry, so I have a cellar full of wine I get free or at a huge discount. I can fit 6 botles of wine plus all the clothes I need into a checked bag, saving me $150-250 on vacation–double that if my husband does the same. And I’m a redhead, so I can’t take the chance that more sunscreen will be available at my destination (always expensive and sometimes sold out at beach destinations.) Bottom line: I’ll keep checking my big bag and feeling sorry for everyone who doesn’t.

    One tip I have used: if your destination uses the US Postal Service, stuff whatever will fit into flat-rate boxes and mail it home, or even to your destination. When we go to our winter home, we mail books, hobby supplies, extra shoes, etc., for much less than an extra bag or overweight luggage fees.

  • ksgirl73

    Even using small travel sized liquids I still have more than the allotted amount. Not to mention that with airlines cracking down on overhead space it’s just as easy to pay the $25 to check it in. I usually show way early anyway to get a decent priced ticket so even with that I still pay less than Southwest sells for with my luggage prices factored in. Plus who wants to deal with your clothes being all wrinkled because you tried to squeeze everything into a carryon.

    • Frank

      I always fly Southwest when I can because they get there on time. I don’t check anything so I don’t lose my bag. My latest trip I am flying Spirt and next time I will be gald to go back to Southwest because Spirit is driving me crazy with fees for bags, seat selection and endless crap just to get on their website.