Fees Upon Fees

Do the airlines think we are dumb? They rightfully charge us to fly us across the country and around the world, but they don’t expect us to bring anything with us when we go? Most of us blindly assumed we would be able to travel with the stuff we’ll need for our trip. Instead airlines are now charging us to check bags and bring items onboard.

Last year airlines collected $13.5 billion. That’s a 43% increase over 2008. Every major U.S. airline company, with the exception of one, rolled out new baggage fees in 2008.

The true outrage in most travelers’ minds is the recent introduction of charges for carry-on luggage. Spirit Airlines began charging fliers up to $45 per person each way for carry-on luggage.

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Airlines are increasingly looking to baggage fees and charging for mid-air snacks to boost profits. It is conceivable to pay more in fees for two pieces of luggage, a single carry-on and eating a snack while on board than the cost of the actual ticket.

Though it seems these fees are here to stay and services we took for granted are now considered a luxury. As a person with family scattered across the U.S. I investigated how to beat these new fees from the airlines.

First, consider shipping your luggage ahead of you. A few years ago this wouldn’t have made any sense but with the increase in fees it’s actually cheaper!

Shipping carriers UPS, FedEx, and DHL all have special programs aimed at shipping airline traveler’s luggage to their destination ahead of their flights.

A local newscast actually tested this theory. They filled two suitcases with a week’s worth of clothing and toiletries and poured the contents into a UPS box, took it to the store and weighed it. They found out it would only cost $35 to ship the box from Salt Lake City to Miami, FL. That’s $25 cheaper than American, Continental, Delta, United and US Airways. And $15 cheaper than Virgin America and Spirit. In fact it was cheaper than every airline except for JetBlue, which does not charge for checking the first bag.

Below is a chart of 10 airlines and their baggage fees. Please note fees are based on domestic flights with fees paid at the ticket counter.

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In addition, shipping companies provide prepaid labels when you are ready to return home from your travels. You simply repack your items in the shipper’s boxes, slap on the pre-paid labels and take them to the front desk who will gladly give your boxes to the delivery services.

Beyond saving money, you save time and hassle. You won’t have to have airport security go through your unmentionables just to find a bottle of lotion that is over the liquid limit. You can go to the head of the line at security without bags, tracking information for your boxes is free so you can know where you bag is at all times including when it arrives at your destination. You don’t have to wait at the baggage terminal when you get off your flight. Simply walk off the plane to your transportation without juggling multiple pieces of luggage. Plus the shipping companies will hand deliver your things to any hotel, residence or business. One location does not cost more than the other.

But there is a trick to shipping luggage. You must ship your clothes and provisions in the shipping companies boxes, not in your luggage pieces stuffed inside their boxes. Although shipping companies offer this as a service, the added weight of the luggage pieces drive up the cost of shipping beyond what makes sense financially. The boxes are re-usable and come with handles for easy lifting and carrying.

If you’re too afraid to ship your belongings ahead of you consider renting! Large items like sporting equipment make airline execs salivate. You might as well be carrying around a sign that reads, “Will Pay More to Fly.” Don’t give big business another reason to charge you higher fees! Consider renting items you’ll only use a few times during your travels. It’s often less expensive to rent items like as golf clubs, skis, or bicycles than it is to travel with them, especially if you have two bags to check in addition to your large item. Most airlines charge $100 for your third bag, and that’s just for one way!

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It’s also a great time to join an airlines’ frequent flier program. Most airlines offer baggage fee discounts to members of their frequent flier programs. You can also get baggage fees waived if you fly often and earn enough points to become “Elite” or “Preferred” status. Typically this status also allows you to board first and upgrade your seating accommodations cheaper.

If you have a credit card that earns you miles or points for future flights check with them to see about discounting or waiving baggage fees. Some airlines, including Delta and Continental, have credit card loyalty programs that allow card holders to check the first bag free.

Also if you fly more than twice a year look into flat rate baggage fees like the one offered by United Airlines. For $249 a year, you and up to eight travel companions can check up to two bags per United flight. Baggage fees on domestic United Airlines flights are $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag. For a round trip that’s $120. If you fly round trip three times a year or twice with multiple family members you’ll save money by paying the flat fee.

Being aware of how much the airlines charge for bags is your best bet for keeping travel costs down. Factor in the baggage fees when comparing ticket prices because one airline might have a cheaper ticket, but you’ll end up paying more once you take into account how much extra it’s going to cost you to check your luggage.

Keeping Money in Your Pocket,

Nancy Patterson


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