Upgrade to first class? Tips to cut down on baggage fees

Posted January 11, 2018 7:45 a.m. EST

It's been less than 10 years since airlines started charging for every checked bag, but already the new fees can add hundreds of dollars to travelers' vacation budgets.

Lorraine Henry, a small business owner and frequent flyer, said the boom of baggage fees is unfair to people like her who travel a lot.

"I hate it," Henry said. "I don't think it's fair to the consumers and to people that have to travel."

Henry said she travels frequently to teach sewing expos around the country. Those trips add up to about a third of her year, and each trip means checking bags on each flight.

Those fees can pile up fast.

"I'm talking $1,500 a year just in baggage fees," Henry said.

Frequent travelers, though, have unpacked some tips to cut down or skip baggage fees altogether.

Experts say flyers should freeload on the freebies: Child car seats and strollers can be checked for free, so travelers can zip other items in those travel bags.

Also, don't pay for overweight bags. Instead, pack the heaviest items in a carry-on so more stuff can be squeezed into checked bags without hitting the 50-pound limit.

"You'd be surprised at what lengths I go to on my carry-on," Henry said.

Try wearing luggage, too. A jacket with multiple pockets can be filled with more items, worn onto the plane and then stowed away once on board.

Booking a flight with an airline-branded credit card can also cut down on costs as many carriers will waive baggage fees for cardholders and companions.

For the people who travel the most, like Henry, experts recommend trying to reach the airline miles level that offers free bags. For Henry, that means flying 50,000 miles every year.

"If I have to have more, then I will throw in an extra trip somewhere to get those miles," Henry said.

A final tip: Sometimes upgrading to first class—or a class that waives checked-bag fees—can be cheaper than paying for more luggage. Do the math to figure out which method offers the best deal per passenger.