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.