Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tips for controlling baggage fees

When you book a flight, the rate quoted at any online site is only part of what you will really pay to get from point A to point B.  Want extra leg room or boarding priority? It’s yours for a price. Taxes and fees add up, even if you’re using frequent flyer miles.

Baggage fees add another chunk of change to the cost of your flight, but there are ways keep those from wrecking your travel budget.  If you know you’ll be checking a bag, be sure to factor the cost for round trip travel, which can be $50 and upwards, when pricing tickets.  Extra or overweight bags will cost considerably more—from $20 to $300 depending on the airline.

If possible, choose airlines that don’t charge for bags: Jet Blue allows one checked bag, and Southwest Airlines allows each passenger two free checked bags. Some airlines offer enticing packages for a fee; United Airlines’ Premier Travel charges $47 for extra leg room, priority security line and check-in, and two standard checked bags. In many cases, the overall cost may be less than paying for checked bags alone, especially if you have more than one.

Sign up for a specific airlines’ credit card if you fly on that carrier often. Baggage fees are waived for card holders (and other people traveling with them) who have Continental OnePass Plus or Delta Air Lines SkyMiles cards. Of course, check annual fees for credit cards, but typically the first year is free, and then you can decide if it’s worth renewing.

The best strategy, if you can swing it, is to avoid checking any bags. It’s possible to travel for a couple of weeks using items that fit into a standard 22-inch carryon (supplement with a backpack or roomy shoulder bag). You might have to gate-check the suitcase on smaller planes, but there’s no charge for that. Bonus: You don’t have to wait with the crowds at baggage claim, so you can exit the airport more quickly.

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