How To

How to Check Your Bags Without Paying Bag-Checking Fees

How to Check Your Bags Without Paying Bag-Checking Fees :: Mint.com/blog

If you’ve flown anywhere in the past several years, you’re aware of the many fees airlines have imposed, on everything from seat selection to early boarding to checked baggage.

In 2012, airlines raked in around $3.5 billion in baggage fees.

Delta is the king of baggage fees, taking in $191 million in baggage fees in the first quarter of 2013 alone.

Additionally, Delta charges separate fees for each type of excess, each way, including number of bags, weight, and dimensions.

[Read: Secret Travel Hacks the Airline Industry Doesn't Want You to Know]

Delta’s fees prompted one passenger to abandon his luggage at Sea-Tac in July after finding out he would need to pay $1,400 in extra fees to get them to New York with him.

Last December, a passenger at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China chose to wear all his clothes rather than pay checked baggage fees.

If abandoning your luggage or wearing all your clothing doesn’t work for you, however, there are other ways to avoid baggage fees. Here are five of them.

Gate Checking

This only works if you have a bag that’s carry on size that you’d rather check than carry.

Take it through security as if you’re going to carry it on. Then ask to have it “gate checked” when you get to your departure gate.

If you’re not brave enough to be that straightforward, wait to board last, when the overhead bins are full, and the airline will gate check it for free based on the lack of cabin storage.

The TSA x-rays gate checked bags at the checkpoint, so it’s less likely the airline will lose your bag.

[Read: 6 New Airline Fees and How to Avoid Them]

Bear in mind that some gate agents won’t voluntarily check your bag for free (particularly if you’re rude or obnoxious about it).

But if you end up having to pay to gate check, you’re no worse off than if you’d checked the bag earlier.

If everyone starts doing this, airlines will eventually catch on, and if history is an indication, they’ll start charging for it (like Spirit does, as you’ll see in the next tip).

Fly Southwest or JetBlue

Southwest lets you check two bags for free, while JetBlue allows you to check one.

The “legacy” airlines, Delta, American, United, and US Airways, charge fees starting at around $25 for the first checked bag.

Spirit charges $100 for carry-on bags checked at the gate, so don’t try the gate check trick mentioned above if you’re flying Spirit.

When you’re booking your flights, you might check out this comprehensive airline fee list, or look at the TripAdvisor fare aggregator, which calculates costs with extras like checked bags factored in.

Get an Airline Credit Card

Some airline-branded credit cards waive first bag check fees. Cards that do this include:

Gold Delta Skymiles
Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage Visa Signature
United MileagePlus Explorer Card

Most credit cards that save you checked baggage fees, however, come with annual fees, which may add up to more than your checked baggage costs if you don’t travel often.

The cards listed above, for example, waive the annual fee the first year, and afterward the annual fee for each is $95.

Weigh Your Bags

While this doesn’t get you out of checked baggage fees, it can save you a bundle on overweight baggage charges, which can cost significantly more than the base charges for checked bags.

United and American charge fees of $100 for each checked bag that weighs more than 50 lbs. on domestic flights.

That’s a nasty surprise you don’t want when you arrive at the airport.

Ship Them by UPS

If you plan a lengthy stay at your destination, you might consider shipping your luggage by UPS.

Four-day shipping for a 55 lb. bag from LA to Chicago, for example, costs $66.24, compared toAmerican’s checked baggage fee and $100 fee for bags weighing more than 50 lbs.

Notify your hotel (or your hosts) in advance so they’ll know to expect the shipment. You’ll greatly diminish the chance of your luggage getting lost, and you can track your shipment online during its journey.

Avoiding checked luggage charges today is almost an art form, as airlines impose fees on every “extra” they can think of.

[Read: 3 Tips for Dealing With the Scammiest Industry on Earth]

However, by choosing your airline (or credit card) wisely, avoiding overweight baggage charges, or gate checking your bags, you can in many cases eliminate or at least reduce the costs of getting your luggage to your destination.

Mary Hiers is a personal finance writer who helps people earn more and spend less.