10 tips on airline baggage fees.

bigstock-Pile-of-various-styles-of-old--16539629The airline industry in the US charged $ 1.7 Billion of baggage fees in the first 6 months of 2012. You can be sure that later figures, when published will be even higher.

How does anybody avoid them? If they can’t be avoided, can they at least be kept sensible? How might they impact our families more than others?

Let’s start with that last question. It is quite possible that in order to accommodate your child’s special needs, you will need to bring extra things that are unique to your situation. We’ll address some of those later on but first should try to give some thoughts that should be useful to everybody.

The first and obvious thing to note is that all of these fees are confusing and that, probably, a tidy part of that very big number above arose out of passengers not understanding the fee structure. Here are some tips:

1. Read your airline’s policy. Do this before packing and allocating your things to the various pieces of luggage. See note about pre-purchasing below.

We have found a site that seems to be pretty good at keeping up to date with the policies of most of the domestic airlines. It is: AirlineBagFees.com That said, the fees do keep on changing and it makes sense to check with your airline’s site in addition to this one.

2. Understand that policies are expressed per person. What matters here is that if, say, the first checked bag is free, then for a family of 2 adults and 2 children it gives you a total of 4 bags free.

3. Understand that charges are applied in both directions. Whatever the fee, it will be applied both on the flight out and on the flight home.  It may even be worse. We have heard of at least 1 airline that charges for bags by the segment. If you are unfortunate enough to have connecting flights, that may mean charges for 4 flights, 2 in each direction.

4. Avoid multiple charges. Many, but not all, airlines compound their charges. What? For an oversize, over weight bag, they can charge you their basic bag fee plus the oversize fee plus the over weight limit fee. Yes, it is possible to end up paying over $ 200 for one bag. It is highly likely that 2 bags that are within their limits will cost less than 1 bag that exceeds both.

5. Measure and weigh. Size limits are set in terms of width plus depth plus height. If in doubt, read how to measure on your airline’s website. Weigh before you go. You may have 1 bag that is over the limit and others that are well under. It will certainly pay to distribute the weight evenly and avoid the over limit charge on that 1 bag.

6. Know the rules for Carry-on items. Spirit Airlines were the first to start charging for carry-on bags. They won’t be the last. Even so they distinguish between carry-on bags that need to go in the overhead bins and “personal items” which can go under the seat in front of you. They don’t charge for the latter but both items have size limits.

Most airlines don’t currently charge for carry-on bags but they are still the subject of size limitations and you should know these in advance. If you have something that turns out to be too big, you may have to “gate check” it and that may incur an additional fee.

If you avoid that complication, you should be able to bring 1 carry-on bag plus 1 personal item for each passenger without charge.

7. Look before you book. It may be useful to look at what the airlines’ bag fees are while comparing fares before you book. It is possible to have 2 fares on a route where fare A is only cheaper if you don’t check a bag and where fare B, which looked higher, actually turns out to be better if you are checking bags. Additionally, some fees are lower if you pay for them at the time of booking than they are if you pay at a later stage.

Now what about the special considerations for families traveling with autism?

8. Consider other factors when booking. Don’t get totally hung up on bag fees. Do remember that there are other factors than bag fees, or even total price, to consider when booking flights. You need to look carefully at routing and timing in order to find flights that best suit your child’s needs. Take a look back at our posting Which Flight ? Which Seat ?

9. Take special care about carry-on versus personal item. Again remember that the limits are per person. If you are a family of 5, that will give you 5 personal items, for any airline plus 5 carry-ons with those that allow these free.

Your special considerations should take account of what needs to be in the personal item. When the airplane is taxiing, taking off and landing you cannot access whatever is in the overhead bins. Have one or more of the personal items contain things like the iPad and other non-electronic games/pastimes are needed. Also make sure that any medications that you need are easily accessible.

10. Figure if shipping ahead is a better option. We have advised some parents to take familiar pillows and other items of bedding from home so that you have familiar feeling and smelling items for children who may have sleeping issues. Weight isn’t the problem here so much as bulk. Oversize is your constraint. It may make sense to ship these items ahead via UPS or similar if they would cause problems with regular sized luggage. If, however, you can get them get them into your bags without exceeding the limits, they do make good soft insulation for breakable items.

11. Call your travel agent for help. We don’t know of any travel agent that will come and pack for you. Even we can’t offer that! Your travel agent should, however, be prepared to check policies for you in advance and give you some assistance with planning. By the way, we do appreciate that this is tip number 11 when we promised 10 but just consider this “going the extra mile”. We always do.


  1. Stefan Braham says

    Or come join us at Southwest Airlines – first two bags fly free! Family of four? Eight bags fly free. Hope to serve you onboard!

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