A Very Brief History of Airline Baggage Fees
United Airlines started the party in 2005 by instituting airline baggage fees but things didn’t go into full swing until 2008. Two years later, the airline industry has more than 7.8 BILLION reasons annually to continue charging ancillary fees and a proven business model to do so. Delta airlines alone took in more than $1.65 billion in ancillary fee revenue in 2008. Is it just me or does it seem like the airlines hold weekly creative brainstorming sessions to come up with new fees and increase the established ones? The point here is that these fees are successfully making the airlines significant revenue and while not liked, have been accepted by the general public and legislators. What this all means is that most likely, they are here to stay. As traveling underwater photographers, this is especially poignant because we typically carry a lot of gear when we travel. The fact that our gear is fragile and expensive increases the complexity. If the fees aren’t going away, we need to find strategies for reducing them or better yet, eliminating them. That’s going to be the subject of a few upcoming blogs.
Making Sense of Airline Baggage Fees
The first thing is to understand that ancillary fees like luggage fees really add up. So when shopping and comparing ticket prices, make sure and factor baggage fees (and any other ancillary fees) as they can now amount to 10% or more of your ticket price. It’s possible that a ticket which at first glance appears less expensive than another may be more once you add in all the extra fees. The best way to find current info on airline baggage fees is to go directly to the airline’s website. Fees change so rapidly now that you need to be careful of independent resource sites that list fees as they may not be up to date. In fact, I’ve found on a couple of occasions where airline agents at the check in counter don’t even know of a recent change. Get the updated info, print it out and carry a copy of it with you. Keep in mind that airline baggage allowances vary significantly even within one airline depending on destinations and that the fees that apply to your flights are the ones that were in effect the day you bought your ticket, not the day you travel.
One effective strategy is to make sure you have elite status with at least one airline. Look at the difference below – and see how different the fees are depending on destinations. There are also discounts for checking in and paying for your baggage online.
From Delta Airline’s website; Checked Baggage Guidelines
For travel within or between the United States and Canada, U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico:
First checked bag: $23 USD if checked in online or $25 USD at the airport kiosk, ticket counter or curbside
Second checked bag: $32 USD online or $35 USD at the airport
For travel between the United States or Canada and Europe:
First checked bag: No fee applies
Second checked bag: 50 USD/CAD/EUR if checked in online or 55 USD/CAD/EUR at the airport
For all other international flights:
You may check up to two bags that meet our size & weight restrictions at no extra charge when traveling internationally to or from most destinations outside of the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
SkyMiles Medallion® members traveling in Economy may check up to two bags up to 70 lbs each at no charge.
Is a Frequent Flier Program the Right Strategy for You?
Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It means that 80% of your business is coming from 20% of your customers. The airlines know this and are charging non elite members and rewarding elite members appropriately. Focus your miles on one carrier to get elite status. The fact that most carriers are now part of one of three larger networks (Skyteam, Star Alliance or One World) makes this easier. For instance, you may need to fly on a Continental jet but can still book it through United and credit the miles to a frequent flier account you have there. But even if you don’t routinely rack up a ton of miles, it is still possible to get in on an airlines elite flyer program and one hack is by using the airlines’ branded credit card. You can earn up to 20,000 elite qualifying miles with Delta’s Platinum AMEX card and you only need 25,000 to qualify for Silver elite. Another hack is that at least two cards – from Delta and Continental – waive the first checked bag fee as a perk of the card.
Airline Baggage Fees Don’t Apply to Your Carry On Bags
Recently, to a storm of controversy, Spirit Airlines announced it would impose a fee for carry on baggage. The response was as harsh as it was unified and one sided. Nobody including U.S. Senators thought it was a good idea and as such, it is unlikely that this will become an industry standard. This is important because your free carry on allowance from U.S. based airlines is the last big loophole for the traveling underwater photographer. First, you get a laptop bag or camera bag gratis. That counts as your “personal” item. In my laptop bag, I carry my laptop, back up hard drives, cleaning kit, portable photo printer, batteries and chargers. This effectively offloads a lot of weight from my checked baggage. Next, you get one additional carry-on but it can weight up to 40lbs. This loophole has been left open because there are so many businessmen (paying full fare tickets) that travel with a carry on bag instead of checking luggage. Instead of putting your suit and change of clothes in your carry on bag, you can use this as your primary camera bag. Note that foreign flag carriers, especially in Europe have dramatically lower carry on weight limits. However, if your flight originated out of the U.S., they will usually waive these on the return.
In over 15 years of traveling the world with my dive gear and underwater photographic equipment, I’ve never paid a baggage fee – not once. In an upcoming blog, I’ll show you exactly how I do it.
*This post was written Wed. Funny enough, on Wed. night the DOT made some new proposals including:
- $1300 involuntary bumping compensation if the substitute flight is scheduled to arrive more than two hours after the original for domestic and four for international. (currently $800). If less than these hours the proposal is $650 up from $400.
- Expand the new tarmac delay rule to include foreign carriers.
- Contingency plans for delays must be published (meaning adequate food/water/toilets).
- Banning price increases after the purchase of an airfare.
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