How to Avoid Airline Baggage Fees

As a passenger, you’re interested in keeping your overall travel costs as low as possible. Many travelers can avoid all baggage fees by using only carry-on luggage and researching exceptions. If you must check bags, you can still plan ahead to minimize the fees you must pay. Since fees are based on the size, weight, and amount of luggage you carry, packing light can help any passenger avoid the worst baggage fees.


EditPacking Light to Avoid Fees

  1. Pack only carry on luggage. Most airlines allow you to bring one piece of carry-on luggage and one personal item (such as a purse or backpack) free of charge. If you can fit everything you need into this luggage then you can avoid baggage fees entirely.[1]
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    • Some budget airlines charge even for carry-on luggage, so check with yours ahead of time to be sure.
    • Your carry on baggage may sometimes be checked (for free) at your gate before departure if the plane is expected to be very full.
  2. Make sure your luggage is within the size limits. Carry-on luggage must fit into the overhead compartment on a plane, and a personal item must fit under the seat in front of your. Check your airline’s website before you depart for its specific size regulations.[2]
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    • Most airlines have a receptacle at the check-in counter or gate that you can slide your carry-on luggage into to verify that it is within the size limits.
    • Keep in mind that your airline may technically have a weight limit for carry-on luggage, though crews rarely take the time to weigh carry on luggage.
    • In the worst-case scenario, when your carry on is weighed and found to be over the limit, you may be asked to check it.
  3. Reduce the amount of luggage you carry. Most people tend to significantly overpack.Carrying as little as possible is the best way to avoid or reduce baggage fees. If you can reduce two checked bags to one, or a checked bag to a carry-on, you’ll see instant savings.[3]
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    • Minimize the number of things you take. For instance, you might think you need to bring five pairs of shoes on vacation, but three will probably do it.
    • Favor a few versatile items over lots of one-use pieces. For instance, if you’re going on a beach vacation, carry a long white button-down shirt: you can wear it with pants, and it can double as a swimsuit cover.
  4. Pack tightly as well as lightly. Balling all of your clothes up and throwing them in your luggage will waste precious space. Instead, roll your clothes up tightly and neatly place them in your luggage. You’ll be able to fit much more in your luggage, and reduce the number of pieces you carry–and the fees you’ll be subject to. There are other ways of squeezing more in. For instance:[4]
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    • Vacuum pack your clothing in compression bags. All you have to do is hook a vacuum cleaner up to an opening on these bags, and it will remove all of the excess air so that your items take up less space.
    • Tuck small items within other items. For instance, roll up socks or a belt and place them inside your shoes.
  5. Wear as much as you can rather than packing it. This is another way to reduce the amount you have to carry in your luggage, thereby lowering potential baggage fees. There are a number of creative ways to do this. For instance:[5]
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    • Wear layers on the plane to reduce what you have to put in your luggage.
    • Wear your bulkiest items, like a large coat, rather than putting them in your luggage. You can always take it off once you’re in your airplane seat.
    • Use your pockets to hold small things rather than putting them in your luggage. You can even fold small clothing items and place them in large pockets of a jacket or cargo pants.
  6. Use the largest allowable personal item. Almost all airlines allow you to carry a personal item for free. This is usually expected to be something like a purse or laptop bag, but a backpack or small duffel will also usually slip by with no problem. Pack as much as you can into this item.[6]
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  7. Put heavy items in your carry-on luggage if you are checking a bag. Personal items and carry on bags are usually not weighed (unlike checked bags). Put your heaviest items in carry-on luggage to make it less likely that your checked bag be subject to an overweight baggage fee.[7]
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  8. Weigh your bags at home. No one wants to make it all the way to the check-in counter before realizing that their bag is overweight and subject to an overweight baggage fee. Do yourself a favor and use a digital scale to weigh your baggage before you depart. If it’s over your airline’s limit, take something out to avoid the fee.[8]
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    • If you are travelling with multiple people, you can distribute items among all the luggage to make sure that each person’s bag is under the weight limit.
  9. Ask which items you can pack for free. Though it’s not always announced, most airlines do not make passengers pay to pack items like strollers, child car seats, and necessary medical equipment. Before you try to stuff items like these into a checked bag and subject yourself to a fee, ask your airline if they can fly free.[9]
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  10. Transfer large amounts of liquids to travel size bottles. Liquids can usually only be carried on board a plane in small amounts, such as 3 ounces or less. If you’re carrying larger amounts of a liquid, you will have to check your bag. You can bypass this regulation, however, by repackaging the liquid in smaller bottles. That way, you can avoid the checked bag fee.[10]
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    • For instance, if you are carrying a nine-ounce container of shampoo, transfer it to three three-ounce bottles instead, and place them in your carry-on luggage.
    • Remember that things for infants (milk, formula or food) and necessary medications are usually not subject to the liquid amount limits.

EditChoosing Your Airline Wisely

  1. Choose an airline that does not charge fees for a checked bag. While most airlines use baggage fees for checked bags as a revenue stream, a few allow passengers to check a bag for free. As of early 2017, carriers such as Southwest and JetBlue offer this option.[11]
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  2. Get elite status with your favorite airline. If you earn special status with an airline based on frequent flyer miles or other arrangements, this often comes with discounts on or elimination of baggage fees. While always flying with the same airline may not mean you have the cheapest ticket each time, you may save money on baggage fees this way in the long run if you frequently travel with lots of luggage.[12]
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    • Contact your preferred airline for information on how to earn elite status.
  3. Check with your airline to see if you qualify for exceptions. Many airlines offer incentives or exceptions for special passengers or classes of flights. These can include the elimination of baggage fees. For instance, some airlines offer a free checked bag on international flights, and many allow members of the military to check bags without paying a fee.[13]
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    • Check with a customer service agent of your preferred airline to see if you qualify for an exception like this.
  4. Sign up for an airline credit card with free baggage perks. Airline credit cards often offer free checked bags as an incentive. If you fly frequently and don’t mind signing up for a card, this can be an option for you.[14]
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    • Typically, you have to use this card to purchase your tickets in order to have your baggage fees waived.
    • Airline credit cards sometimes have special restrictions and high annual fees, so read the fine print before signing up. The card will only be worth it if you save money in the long run by avoiding more in baggage fees than you pay for card fees.
  5. Fly first class. Most of the time, first class tickets are automatically bundled with a free checked bag. These tickets can be much more expensive than those for economy seats, but if you just want to avoid the trouble of paying separate baggage fees, you can spring for first class.
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EditReducing Your Baggage Fees

  1. Spread fees around if you are traveling with multiple passengers. Airlines often charge a fee for a first checked bag, and a higher fee for additional bags (such as $25 for the first bag, and $35 for each additional one). If you are traveling with multiple people, make sure that each pays for their own bag, rather than one person paying for them all–the overall fees will be lower.
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    • For instance, for a group of four people traveling with four bags, it might cost $130 if one person checks and pays for all of the luggage, but only $100 if each person checks and pays for their own.
  2. Ask about ticket class upgrades. Many airlines will offer passengers the option to upgrade to first class or another tier at the last minute for an additional fee. This is usually only offered shortly before departure. While there is a fee for this upgrade, you may decide the comfort and convenience of not having to pay separate baggage fees is worth it. In certain instances, it may even be more affordable than paying baggage fees.[15]
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    • For instance, if you are offered an upgrade to first class on Delta for $90, you will be allowed to check up to three bags without an additional fee.
    • If you were traveling with a group of three, each person checking a bag, your baggage fees might total $95. If one of your group springs for the first-class upgrade and checks all of your bags, you will save a little money.
  3. Use your charm to reduce baggage fees. Sometimes, the decisions about baggage fees are up to agents at the check-in. This means that if you are extra polite, you might be able to avoid fees.
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    • For instance, if you have a bag that is slightly over the weight limit, you would ordinarily be subject to an overweight baggage fee.
    • However, if you tell the agent that your bag is only over the weight limit because you had to put a gift for your adorable 3-year old niece in it, you just might get out of paying the fee.


  • Research baggage fees and regulations for the airline you are flying with before you depart. Plan ahead to avoid fees before you depart, rather than scrambling to reduce your luggage at the airport or being forced to pay.[16]


  • Baggage fees can vary widely from airline to airline. In particular, normal standards for airlines of one country can be quite different than those for airlines from another.
  • Airline policies are constantly changing, so always check for the most up-to-date information on baggage fees before your departure.

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