How far would you go to avoid a luggage up-charge?

Baggage fees have certainly become one of the big bugaboos of the travel industry over the last several years. Airlines have gone from offering two free bags to one free bag to no free bags, with notable exceptions like Southwest's "Bags Fly Free" promotion. Some airlines also offer free checked bags for their reward program credit card holders, or elite members of their reward programs. Some credit card providers or hotel chains offer to reimburse baggage fees, too.

I've taken airlines up on last-minute offers to upgrade to first class, not just for the extra legroom but also thanks to the realization that I'd get a meal on board, several complimentary alcoholic beverages -- and, yes, no bag fees. Normally, I'll skip the $300 upgrade offers, and I laughed when offered a first-class upgrade at $768 for a 2-hour flight from Newark to Atlanta, but when Continental's web check-in page gave me the option of a $79 upgrade for my two-leg itinerary last September, I grabbed it.

Usually, though, I'll suck it up and pay the $25 to check my bag. Since my flights out of a regional airport are almost always two-leg if not three-leg trips, that saves me the hassle of schlepping my bags through the airport from gate to gate. (Of course, it also increases the risk my bag won't make it to my destination, but I've mostly done OK.)

Once, I remember stuffing a pair of jeans and an umbrella in my laptop bag, and putting on a jacket, to get my suitcase under the 50-pound mark to save the $50 up-charge on the "overweight" bag. That's about as far as I'd go.

Thanks to flight attendant Heather Poole, author of Cruising Altitude, we know of one guy who decided to wear 70 extra articles of clothing to avoid that baggage fee! The article in Digital Spy says the "unidentified passenger turned up at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China" and "took out and wore more than 60 shirts and nine pairs of jeans," with batteries, thumb drives, and device chargers in his various pockets, to avoid paying for luggage that went over the weight limit.

How about you? Are you happy to pay the baggage fees, or would you jump through hoops to avoid them?


Brad Ackerman December 20, 2012 at 12:54 am

I fly B6 or WN because they have more comfortable seats, more legroom, and at least pretend that they don't think of us as self-loading cargo. The bag fees are part of the last item, but not a necessary part — I'm okay flying AS, whereas I'll go out of my way to avoid DL or (Cthulhu forbid) UA.

UA-NYC December 20, 2012 at 05:45 pm

Hey Mark, a couple questions: - do you have any UA status? - what was the routing? - what was your fare basis / bucket?

Sounds like an infamous CO "TOD" as we call it

PK December 21, 2012 at 11:48 am

Funny thing. I never had to pay a baggage charge. All the airlines I chose didn't have it apply. I don't fly that much though. But if I started hitting them more often, I'd go through loops, within reason, to avoid them. Then again, I'm the kind of guy who turned off texting to avoid paying $10 more a month on my cell phone plan. If they're reasonable, I would double up and consolidate our family's bags into one monster bag at 49 pounds. It helps to avoid overpacking too!

For the airlines, no doubt this is a real win-win since even the hoops helps them out. They get customers to be doubly motivated to qualify for elite status or use their airline credit card.

Funniest baggage story: I put a 19 inch CRT monitor in as checked baggage (45 pounds, in a box), a big suitcase AND a carry on of frozen crab, notebook computer, and backpack. The FA griped but let me on. The pilot had to be notified about dry ice (but approved.) I've been largely good apart from that.

Mark December 21, 2012 at 11:56 am

UA-NYC, I have never had any status beyond "member" on United or Continental, though I've been Silver off and on with US Airways. (Not lately.) The route was ATL-EWR-ITH, and ATL-EWR was the only mainline leg. No recollection of which fare type I'd booked.