How To Avoid Baggage Rorts When Flying

Baggage fees can end up being a substantial portion of your plane ticket fees if you don't plan ahead. Here are our five top strategies for not getting slugged with over-the-top charges.

Picture by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

We've already covered the specific costs charged by each Australian domestic carrier in a comprehensive guide, so we won't repeat that information here. Instead, we'll remind you of the underlying approaches that will ensure you're not paying hundreds of dollars simply to get your bag on a flight. These strategies are worth remembering regardless of the airline you fly.


1. Check Airline Policies

Airlines differ widely in their baggage policies and charges, so check for the specifics, especially if you're overseas and it's an airline you haven't flown before. That's especially important on multi-sector international flights: the rules that apply to your main carrier won't necessarily apply to smaller local ones.

As a general rule, bargain carriers often have higher baggage charges than established national carrier airlines (they have to make money somewhere), and smaller regional airlines often have tighter weight restrictions. But you shouldn't make any assumptions: check the rules regarding weight, dimensions and other details on the airline web site. Don't make a booking if you're not clear on the details. National laws can also be relevant: for instance, you can't check locked baggage in the US unless it has a special TSA-compliant lock which allows airport security staff to open and inspect its contents if necessary.


2. Take Carry-On Luggage Only

Judging by the crowds I see fighting for overhead baggage space every time I board a flight, this is a popular approach. If your trip is brief and you can fit everything into a regulation carry-on bag, then this can make your trip cheaper and quicker (no hanging around at the baggage carousel). Just remember the key points:

Find out the regulations applying to your carrier and stick to them. Airlines that let you check in online or at a kiosk won't necessarily weigh your baggage and you'll usually get away with a heavier-than-approved bag if the size looks reasonable, but it's not always the case. Tiger, for example, weighs all carry-on baggage domestically, and it often happens with overseas flights. If your bag is too clearly large to fit overhead or you are carrying far too many bags, you'll be asked to check it at the gate, which can involve potential extra expense and may result in your luggage coming on a later flight than you. It's also a matter of simple courtesy: it's not fair or reasonable to bring four bags and then complain there's no room in overhead bins to store them.

Beware of liquid restrictions. Australia is relatively unusual in not restricting the carriage of liquids on domestic flights. That's rarely the case elsewhere in the world, so if you're flying outside Australia and only using carry-on luggage, make sure your toiletries are under 100 mls and fit into a single clear plastic bag.


3. Pay Fees When Buying Tickets

If you are flying with an airline which charges for checked baggage, it's always better to pay in advance (ideally at the time you book your ticket) rather than waiting until you depart. To remind you how much difference this can make, here are the charges you'll pay for a single 20kg checked bag on Australia's domestic airlines if you book in advance and if you pay at the airport.

Some airlines will let you add a baggage request to your ticket after booking. While that will normally be much cheaper than paying at the airport, bear in mind you can get hit with additional booking and credit card charges. Get organised, plan your luggage needs, and pay when you book the ticket.


4. Check Weight

Even if you have paid for checked baggage (or your airline includes it as standard), you need to respect weight limits. Every airline varies, but 20kg for a single bag is a widely-used guideline. (In Australia, occupational health and safety rules mean anything weighing more than 32kg isn't allowed.)

You may be able to weigh your baggage on a bathroom scale, but balancing and reading can be difficult. If you travel with any frequency, a digital luggage scale can be a worthwhile investment. You can score one easily for under $30, and they're light enough to be worth packing themselves if you're planning a shopping-centric trip.


5. Stick With An Airline

Airlines generally give more generous baggage allowances to frequent flyers. If you regularly use one airline for work trips and thus have higher status, you'll often be allowed more items and more weight in each item. Even if your work trips are all hand-luggage-only affairs, that can be useful when it comes to booking your longer-haul trips. Picture by Caroline McCredie/Getty Images


Have other strategies to cut down on baggage fees? Share them in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is so going to judge you if your carry-on luggage is bigger than regulations allow. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    Stick with Qantas and you can't go wrong. End of story.

      Insightful

        But it's true. Airlines should not charge for check in baggage if they aren't prepared to strictly enforce carry on rules. One need only travel on any US domestic flight to see the depths of hell that will ultimately result otherwise.

          I completely agree. The bags that some people try to fit in the overhead in the US (and it's more increasingly common in Australia) is ridiculous.

            I was at the airport on Saturday and noticed that they have actually started weighing carry on luggage for quantas and several other airlines and it is limited to 7kg per passenger, this doesn't include things such as camera bags and handbags apparently.

              I've been weighed sometimes to QantasLink, but if you check in online or via the phone for a larger airport there's no real way for them to check as you never interact with counter staff. (Ditto for Virgin and Jetstar.)

                You still need to get your BP scanned as you exit the terminal towards the aircraft. If the staff at the gate notice you carrying a bag that appears to be too big or too heavy, they ask you to place it in the size-and-weight checker that is at almost every gate. There is no escaping that part of the process.

    Yea my dad got caught with that tiger 'fee' when his baggage was over. He went back to the main melboure airport, Got a plastic back, unpacked his check on in the a carryon bad. Checked back in with no problem. Still the same weight on the place but it cost him $165 less? WTF?

    While not cost related, everyone should be familiar with this security problem.
    http://www.itstactical.com/intellicom/physical-security/travel-security-announcement-breaking-into-a-suitcase-with-a-ballpoint-pen-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/

    Pack light and pack compact. There are many articles on this subject online and while none are going to be perfect for your circumstance, there are a lot of good ideas. I travel and stay overnight domestically in Australia a lot and I often wonder what people have in those massive bags!

    On sticking to one airline and using loyalty schemes, remember that these loyalty schemes exist to benefit the airlines and their partners, not the customer. They should be evaluated accordingly. In my opinion you are better off choosing the best fare/flight.

    As a frequent MEL/SYD flier the way people push the limits on carry
    on baggage is unbelievable. Amusing to watch people try to wrangle
    oversize bags into spaces that were never designed easily fit
    something that big.

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