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7 Strategies for Avoiding Checked Baggage Fees

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Christopher Elliott contributed this article to MSNBC about checked baggage tips for travelers:

1. Bring Less:  Obviously, the best way to avoid paying for a checked bag is not to bring one in the first place.  “Keep your bags as light as possible,” advises Barbara DesChamps, author of :It’s In The Bag:  The Complete Guide to Lightweight Travel.”  How can you tell if your luggage is overweight?  I’ve been testing a Balanzza digital luggage scale that’s very portable, and at a $24.99 list price, doesn’t break the bank.

2. Fly a no-fee airline:  JetBlue Airways doesn’t charge for the first checked bag.  Neither does Southwest Airlines.  In fact, it doesn’t charge for a second bag, either.  Both of these companies have acknowledged what the rest of us already know:  People travel with at least one bag.  Shouldn’t we be rewarding these airlines with our business?

3.  Look for loopholes:  They still exist.  For example, US Airways exempts all of its frequent fliers, passengers traveling to and from Europe or Asia, Star Alliance Silver and Gold status members, unaccompanied minors, first class passengers and active duty military.  Is anyone left?  Mark Mitchell, American Airlines’ managing director of customer experience, recently said that only 1 in 4 passengers pay luggage fees.

4.  Ask someone else to pay:  Hotels are mindful that first-bag fees can hurt their business, so they’re offering to cover the fees.  One of the first was Kimpton hotels.  My friends over at Amelia Island, FL, have a new program called “pack your Bags for Amelia Island” that offers air travelers an $80 room credit for checked baggage fees.  If you have to pay for a checked bag, why not pass the bill off to someone else?

5. Get creative:  Passengers like Carolina Moore, a marketing consultant in North Las Vegas, NV, are finding interesting ways of avoiding the fees.  When she flew with her nine-month-old son recently, she discovered that consolidating her purse, diaper bag, car seat and port-a-crib into two large (and barely legal) bags allowed her to avoid paying the $15 fee.

6. Exploit policy differences:  Airlines don’t have uniform luggage rules, so when flying on two or more airlines, use that to your advantage.  Consider what happened to Kristi Nelson when she flew from Oahu to Portland recently.  A Hawaiian Air agent in Lihue asked if she wanted to check her bags all the way through to the mainland.  “You bet I do,” she said.  “I thought for a minute and wondered how we would pay the baggage fee for our Northwest flight from Honolulu.”  But when she landed, no one bothered to charge her.

7. Mail it:  Federal Express, UPS, the postal service, or a company like Luggage Forward can help you avoid the fees, but often, these options cost far more than what the airlines are charging.  Then again, they’re probably more reliable.  An overnight delivery service is far less likely to lose your belongings.

Just because passengers can find better ways to check their luggage, doesn’t mean that their arrival and safety is any more guaranteed.  Travel insurance can help travelers in those inconvenient situations.

The baggage delay benefit can assist travelers when they arrive at the destination before their luggage does.  They will be reimbursed for essential items while they are delayed.  This can include clothing, makeup and toiletries.  There is normally a set amount of time that the traveler must be without their luggage before this benefit is applicable.

If luggage is completely lost, damaged or stolen, the traveler might be able to claim those items under baggage and personal items loss.  In most cases, there are overall policy dollar limits, as well as individual item limits.  However, within those limits, travelers can be paid for items that are lost, stolen or damaged during their trip.  Depending on the plan, this benefit may only apply to the flight, or could include the entire trip.  Also, there might be items that are specifically excluded from this coverage, such as:  computers, work equipment, animals, prosthetics and hearing aids, to name a few.

As with all travel insurance, read the fine print carefully if the traveler has a specific need that they want to  be covered.  With baggage and personal items loss, the traveler might want to claim the item under a homeowners policy, depending on the situation.  Always refer to the certificate of insurance for details.