Business Travel

Australian Airline Baggage Charges: Lifehacker's Complete Guide

You can score airline tickets cheaper than ever these days, but the charges for luggage can produce a nasty sting in the tail. Here’s what the biggest national providers — Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar, Tiger, QantasLink, Rex and Skywest — charge for baggage on domestic sectors, and how to avoid getting rorted

Picture by Hamish Blair/Getty Images

Baggage policies at most of those carriers have been tweaked over the last year (most notably at Virgin back in March and Tiger following its relaunch), so we figured a comprehensive and up-to-date guide would be useful. Aggressive offers such as Tiger’s push for $10 fares may sound tempting, but once you factor in what baggage costs you, the gap with other airlines isn’t always so great. Considering the total cost is one of the most important elements when trying to book cheap flights.

No matter which airline you fly, some basic principles apply:

  1. The cheapest way to fly is to only have hand luggage. Most airlines we’re looking charge you a fee to check any baggage in the hold, so if you can stick with carry-on only, you’ll save money and potentially leave the airport faster. I’ve taken this policy to ludicrous extremes with various Lifehacker experiments, but judging by the crammed overhead lockers I see on most flights, it’s a widely-adopted approach. Bear in mind you’ll be restricted in the size of what you can take (an area that’s frequently if not universally policed), and you won’t be able to carry large items or sharp or dangerous objects. Make sure your bags fit the size limit specified by the airlines: it’s relatively easy to get away with excess weight, but harder if your items are too big to fit on the plane!
  2. If you need checked baggage, book when you book the ticket. Without exception, rates for excess baggage at the airport are much higher than if booked in advance. Work out what you’ll need and pay for it up front. Frequent flyers and business class passengers generally get additional baggage allowances. Fares often vary depending on distance (flights from Melbourne to Sydney are cheaper than from Townsville to Melbourne, for instance.)

For each carrier, we’ve outlined what their domestic hand luggage policy is, what (if any) free allowance you get, how baggage fares are calculated on regular fares if you book in advance, and what they charge (invariably more and often loads) if you don’t get around to it until you hit the airport. Rules on just how much baggage you can take vary with each airline, but remember: you’ll never get away with a bag weighing more than 32kg because of OH&S rules. In practice, 20kg is a more realistic limit on domestic flights.

International policies are rather more complicated, especially if you transit between different airlines; we’ll cover that topic in a future post. We also haven’t listed rules for outsize sporting goods, as those vary hugely by airline and sports type. If you’re planning a surfing or golfing holiday, check with your airline first.

Most airlines stick to the same size limit for hand luggage: 48cm by 34cm by 23cm. Some will also allow a suit bag or musical instrument, but it pays to find out specific policy if you’re a travelling musician. Regional airlines generally have tighter rules due to smaller aircraft, and that also affects some remote destinations (Qantas has tougher rules for Olympic Dam, Lord Howe Island and Mount Hotham).

Looking to shrink your bag size? Check out our guide on what not to pack.

Qantas

Hand luggage allowance: 2 items, each weighing no more than 7kg. (Qantas won’t normally check the weight of your bags if you use mobile, web or kiosk check-in.)

Free checked baggage allowance: 1 item of no more than 23 kg. Qantas Club members get one item of up to 32kg; Gold frequent flyers get 2 pieces of up to 23kg each; Platinum frequent flyers get 2 pieces of up to 32kg each; and business class passengers who aren’t also a frequent flyer (unlikely, frankly) 2 pieces with a total weight of no more than 32kg.

Baggage fees when booking in advance: $20 per piece, maximum two pieces weighing no more than 23kg each. (Qantas Club members and Gold and Platinum frequent flyers can have up to 32kg each.)

Baggage fees at the airport: $30 for the first piece, $60 for the second piece and $20 extra per item for each piece over 23kg.

Virgin Australia

Hand luggage allowance: 2 pieces with a combined total weight of no more than 7kg. (Virgin won’t normally check the weight of your bags if you use mobile, web or kiosk check-in.)

Free checked baggage allowance: None on Saver fares. 1 piece up to 23kg on Flexi fares. 2 pieces up to 32kg each in business class. Silver frequent flyers get 1 free piece up to 23 kg; Gold frequent flyers get 1 free piece up to 32kg; Platinum frequent flyers get 2 pieces up to 32kg each.

Baggage fees when booking in advance: Pricing is in two tiers based on distance flown. For Tier 1 (shorter flights), 1 additional piece is $12, 2 pieces are $32, 3 pieces are $52. For Tier 2, 1 additional piece is $15, 2 pieces are $45, 3 pieces are $75. All pieces must be 23kg in weight or less; gold and platinum frequent flyers and business class ticket buyers can go up to 32kg.

Baggage fees at the airport: Ouch! 1 additional piece is $40, two additional pieces are $100, 3 additional pieces are $160. Any additional pieces are $120 each, and overweight (above 23kg) items attract an additional $40 per-item charge.

Jetstar

Hand luggage allowance: On Starter fares, one main item and one small item with a combined total weight of no more than 10kg. (Jetstar won’t normally check the weight of your bags if you use mobile, web or kiosk check-in.) Business class passengers can take three items, with a total weight of 20kg and no item weighing more than 10kg.

Free checked baggage allowance: None on Starter fares. Business class fares include up to 30kg. (Note that Jetstar doesn’t allow connections on domestic flights, so if you take two flights you’ll pay luggage fees on both.)

Baggage fees when booking in advance: Jetstar’s rules are the most complicated (and not particularly well-explained on its site). A 15kg bag costs $13.50 on a short-haul flight at the time of booking, rising in 5kg increments to $40 for 40kg (split over two bags). On longer-haul flights, that ranges from $16.50 (15kg) to $45 (40kg).

Baggage fees at the airport: At the airport, you’ll pay $70 for a 15kg bag allowance, plus $15 per kilogram for each excess kilogram. This could easily be more than your fare.

Tiger

Hand luggage allowance: 2 pieces with a combined total weight of no more than 10kg. Tiger weighs your baggage at check-in (and there’s no mobile check-in option), so trying to sneak on extra weight can prove expensive.

Free checked baggage allowance: None.

Baggage fees when booking in advance: For flights under 1 hour and 45 minutes, 15kg of baggage costs $15; 20kg costs $17.50; 25kg costs $35; 30kg costs $70. For domestic flights over that time, 15kg of baggage costs $17; 20kg costs $18.50; 25kg costs $35; 30kg costs $70. (Tiger won’t accept items over 30kg.)

Baggage fees at the airport: $70 for a 15kg bag on sub-1 hour and 45 minute flights, plus $15 for each extra kg; $90 for longer flights, plus $25 for each extra kg. (That includes a $5 airport administration fee, as if the fee itself wasn’t large enough!)

QantasLink

Hand luggage allowance: 1 item weighing up to 7kg on Dash 8 aircraft; 2 items of up to 7kg each on other aircraft. (QantasLink won’t normally check the weight of your bags if you use mobile, web or kiosk check-in.)

Free checked baggage allowance: 1 item of no more than 23 kg. Qantas Club members get one item of up to 32kg; Gold frequent flyers get 2 pieces of up to 23kg each; Platinum frequent flyers get 2 pieces of up to 32kg each; and business class passengers who aren’t also a frequent flyer (unlikely, frankly) 2 pieces with a total weight of no more than 32kg.

Baggage fees when booking in advance: $20 per piece, maximum two pieces weighing no more than 23kg each. (Qantas Club members and Gold and Platinum frequent flyers can have up to 32kg each.)

Baggage fees at the airport: $30 for the first piece, $60 for the second piece and $20 extra per item for each piece over 23kg. Picture by purpleairplane

Rex

Hand luggage allowance: 2 pieces with a combined total weight of no more than 7kg.

Free checked baggage allowance: 15kg (with maximum linear dimensions of 140cm).

Baggage fees when booking in advance: Not applicable — Rex assesses bag weight when you check in.

Baggage fees at the airport: $6.60 per kilogram over 15kg, and $16.50 for any item exceeding 140 centimetres in total dimensions. Picture by Simon_sees

Skywest

Hand luggage allowance: One piece of up to 7kg.

Free checked baggage allowance: 20kg (with maximum linear dimensions of 158cm).

Baggage fees when booking in advance: Not applicable — Skywest assesses bag weight when you check in.

Baggage fees at the airport: $10 per kilogram over 20kg (up to 32kg). Picture by Andrea Castelli

Looking across the board, we can make a few observations:

  • On national carriers, Qantas has the most generous overall allowances. For carry-on, Qantas is more generous than Jetstar and Tiger, which are both more generous than Virgin.
  • Virgin and Tiger have really over-the-top at-airport charges for checked baggage. If you haven’t booked luggage in advance, resist the urge to shop!
  • Booking more than 20kg of luggage with Tiger is overpriced (the pricing policy is clearly designed to encourage a single bag of 15kg of less).
  • Unsurprisingly, regional airlines (QantasLink, Rex and Skywest) have tighter restrictions on size and weight, but they don’t impose separate baggage charges and their policies are rather more straightforward.

To emphasise the importance of paying for baggage in advance on most airlines, check out this table detailing what you’ll pay to check just one 20kg bag on each airline on a short flight:

Baggage charges aren’t the only element in your airfare, but they’re an important factor — and one which you have far more control over than taxes or other fees. Plan your luggage carefully and you’ll save heaps. Happy flying!

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman has an in-built resistance to paying separate fees for luggage, but sometimes it can’t be helped. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


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