6 Ingenious Ways to Never Pay Checked Bag Fees

When it comes to fees what choice do travelers have? Even Amtrak is adding some (though train travelers don’t pay anything for most bags). Airline passengers grumble but they pay.

Lately I’m hearing about more and more ingenious methods of avoidance. Some are new, some are tried and true, and all will save you some money.

1. Become a billboard

Maybe you’ve heard about Orion, a travel club founded by a former flight attendant turned entrepreneur. Starting in February, the club will pay your bag fees for up to six flights a year, if you allow the club to plaster advertisements on your luggage. (They also give you luggage to use).

What’s the catch? Not much but there are dues for membership which start at $ 19.99 per year. Sure, you might feel funny wheeling around a bag emblazoned with the Geico lizard or a Batman logo, but at least it’ll be easy to spot on the carousel.

2. Sit & zip

One of my employees just got back from Europe where she toted a carry-on bag around; she used a neat packing tip she calls ‘Sit & Zip’. I’ll let her explain.

“Think of those plastic packing bags where you vacuum out all the air, but my method is quicker and easier,” Anne said. “First, you take a piece of clothing, like a pair of jeans, then fold lengthwise with both legs together, then tightly roll it into a tube. Then you jam the tube into an unsealed gallon-size zip bag. Then place the bag on a mattress or chair and sit on it. Hard. Once all the air is out and your bag is flat as a pancake, zip it up.”

She told me she can shove about ten of these flattened bags in a carry-on, filled with khakis, polo tops, even a dress and all came out looking great. Since most airlines don’t charge for carry-on bags, you save the checked-bag fee. For carriers that do charge, check out tip number three.

3. Dress big, pack small Spirit and other discount airlines charge for most bags with on exception: the so-called personal item. This can be a large purse or small backpack, so pack your clothes in that, but wear your heaviest stuff. If you’ll need a coat at your destination, wear it and stuff the pockets with underwear, t-shirts, anything else you can cram in there.

4. Bundle up

If you travel for business or maybe own a company, you may already have an airline-branded credit card. These cards offer a variety of bundled perks, many of which include a free checked bag. But you don’t have to be a road warrior to get one. I like NerdWallet’s list of best cards based on what kind of traveler you are.

5. Fly old faithful

Only one airline still gives passengers checked-bags for free but who knows how long Southwest can keep it up? Other airlines make billions on bag fees so the Texas-based carrier may not be able to resist the lure of fees forever so let’s enjoy it while we can.

6. Get a refund – maybe

Say the checked bag you paid a fee for got lost or went temporarily AWOL and you’d like a refund. You’ve contacted the carrier but can’t get satisfaction. What to do? A website called GetService wants to help. “Let us worry about dealing with customer service,” the company says on its site. While GetService makes no guarantees, at least you’re not the one on hold for hours on end. Plus, GetService does not charge a fee.

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