Or, consider other cards for 50,000 or more miles or points that transfer into United miles with additional flexibility for your everyday spending.
$750 for air / hotel / car bookings. Or transfer points to United, Southwest, Hyatt, and more.
No annual fee.
Baggage fees on airlines aren’t impossible to get around. If you fly the right airline, use the right credit card, or get creative with your booking you have a decent shot at avoiding many baggage fees.
1. Get the right credit card — and get free bags
If your travel includes Delta or Continental Airlines, you can sign up for their credit card and avoid the fee for your first checked bag altogether. On a roundtrip that’s a savings of $50 per bag. And, if you’re traveling with others and each is in your same reservation — every one of them (up to 8 on Continental, 9 on Delta) gets their first bag free as well. That means when traveling with your family you can save $200 or more in just one trip. The key is putting everyone into the same reservation. You usually do that when you first book, but can sometimes call afterward to ‘merge’ them.
Learn more about the cards…you also get generous mile bonuses for signing up:
2. ‘Gate check’ your bag
A lot of people pay to check luggage because they think there won’t be space left on the plane. If the bag you want to check is simply the size of a typical carry-on bag, then you can bring it with you through security and then ask to check it at the gate. Just go up to the agent at the gate and say “I’d like to gate check this bag” and if the flight is full, they’ll be happy to for free on all the major airlines. You simply pick it up at baggage claim at your final destination, or if it’s a small ‘regional’ plane — outside the plane when you land. If it’s not full, you’ll have plenty of room to bring it on board. The key here though is you can only bring one carry-on bag plus one ‘personal’ item. Security won’t let you through if you try to exceed that limit, even if you plan to gate check the bag. But if someone in your party is not carrying on a bag…you can designate them.
3. Choose a different airline
Two U.S. airlines — Southwest and JetBlue have no baggage fee for the first checked bag. Southwest goes one further by letting you bring two bags free.
4. Become an ‘elite’ flyer
People who fly 25,000 miles or more per year on a single airline are generally exempt from bag fees. This is challenging for the average flyer, but if you travel frequently take care to put your flying into one airline or its partners so you can maximize your chances of gaining the ‘elite’ status that allows for free checked bags.
5. Pay extra to avoid the fee
If you fly in first class or business class you won’t pay the fee for your first 2 or 3 bags. This isn’t necessarily cheaper than paying the fee…but if you have 3 in your family planning to check a bag, it may be worth it to upgrade one person in your family to first class on your first segment to get the baggage allowance. Some upgrades can be had at the airport for $50-$150, but space is limited and first class seats are usually full by departure time with ‘elite’ flyers who get free space-available upgrades. You can also consider using miles to upgrade one person in your group to be the ‘baggage designee’ and get 2-3 bags checked free…but be aware airlines now impose a surcharge of $50-$100 for first class upgrades with miles.
6. Ship your bags ahead of time.
If you’re willing to do it up to 4 days in advance, FedEx can ship a bag up to 25 pounds for around $50 round trip to many destinations in the U.S. You get peace of mind of not having to wait at the airport for it, though the fee isn’t much less than what you’d pay the airlines.
For a list of baggage fees by airline, click here.
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