Baggage fees have airlines turning a profit, consumers upset, politicians outraged, airports envious and comedians mocking airline executives for laughing all the way to the bank. Why are we surprised by the fees and what are the best workarounds?

When the recession kicked in and consumer spending declined while gas prices started to soar, it's not hard to imagine emergency meetings at the major airlines regarding how to make more money off of their existing customer base. In a search-driven, price-comparison shopping world, simply raising airline ticket costs doesn't -- literally -- fly. They had to get creative with ancillary fees -- baggage, scheduling changes, leg room, food, etc.

Baggage is the biggie and they weren't conservative with the pricing. Instead of tacking on a more nominal $5-10 per bag, the going rate kicked in at $25 for the first bag and generally $35 for the second, each way. For a family of four traveling round-trip, that's an extra $200 above and beyond the airfare. Kayak has a useful chart outlining fees by airline, so you can do the total math on a trip and get the true cost. These days, just because an airline is offering the lowest price on the ticket, doesn't guarantee that's the most cost effective option once you add in applicable ancillary fees.

Baggage Fees Vary

Discount carriers like JetBlue (JBLU) and Southwest (LUV) offer everyone a break on baggage fees. JetBlue gives you the first checked bag for free, while Southwest charges nothing for your first two checked bags. Virgin American gives travelers a $10.00 break on the second bag, compared to major carriers. This is not to say the cost isn't absorbed and passed along some other way. Specific fees are sometimes not broken out when reported.

In other cases, even carry-ons aren't immune from surcharges. Budget carrier, Spirit Airlines (SAVE), still allows you to put something under the seat for free, but you'll shell out $30 to stuff anything in the overhead bin if you pay the fee online before you get to the airport. If you wait until you get to the gate, it'll cost $45. But, the ticket cost may be so low, the overall math could be worth it.

The Wall Street Journal broke down what the added baggage fees are per passenger. They estimate it at $8 per flier. That seems a little easier to swallow. It factors in the gamut of people checking in large, heavy luggage and those walking on with a carry-on gratis. When you look at it this way, the current baggage fee structure may be more fair than an across the board $8 hike. After all, if you travel light why should you pay the same as the family that seems to have packed up their entire home?

Frankly, overall, I am surprised there aren't more fees. I suspect they'll start to ramp up other means of monetizing through sponsorship and sampling. Talk about a captive audience for product trials of everything from sitcoms to sippy cups and chapstick to chips. Conan O'Brien should have a field day with all the new material. In the meantime, this week, his show did a spoof showing an airline executive trying (and failing) to keep a straight face regarding how they are barely turning a profit. "Ah, screw it, we're rich!" he finally breaks down and admits.

That's not nearly as rough as the PR blow from the user-generated video by soldiers returning from Afghanistan who were charged for their extra bags. Most major airlines quickly scrambled to expand their policies to allow for 4-5 bags free immediately with the rest reimbursed by the military. They should all be free, on-the-spot and the soldiers should be given every available first-class seat. No military family should be waiting for a baggage expense report to clear, so they can balance their often tight household budget. They've waited long enough to get their entire lives back on track.

Some lawmakers want to make sure all Americans aren't surprised curb side. They want greater transparency and up-front notification around fees. The better move is to work around them if you can. Here are some tips compiled from various sources, including USA Today and based on my first-hand experience flying almost every week for a decade:

Working Around Baggage Fees

Be decisive --
My daughter recently brought seven pairs of shorts for a five day trip to Miami. Enough said. Editing packing selections is an art form and there's tons of related advice around picking neutral colors and optimizing your ability to mix and match separates.

Wear it -- It may take longer to strip down at the TSA security check in, but what you're wearing is one of the most convenient carry-ons. Here's a more advanced move if you are traveling to and from the same place frequently, drop stuff of at an area dry cleaners. You'll lighten your load and check something off your TO DO list.

Spread out the weight -- Checked baggage generally must weigh 50lbs or less. Otherwise, you'll incur overweight charges even steeper (roughly $49 - $175) than the fee for a second bag (roughly $35). If you tip the scales, you may be better of spreading your belongings out in two bags.

Three not the charm --
If you check three bags or more, charges jump to a starting price of $100.00 per each additional bag, each way (it's $125.00 each on Delta). At this point, you could find yourself in a situation where baggage charges may actually exceed the cost of your airline ticket.

Avoid wheels -- Regional jets have exceptionally small overhead bins. Anything with wheels becomes challenging. Lose them of you can and opt for a duffel bag or backpack instead.

Lighter luggage -- If you haven't bought luggage in more than three years, it's come a long way. Most notably, it's lighter with the popular 22-inch carry on now as low as 6lbs down from 10-15 lbs.

Ship it -- With excess baggage or over-sized bags, it may be worth getting a quote from your local UPS store or get a quote from FedEx. There are also "luggage shipping services," such as LuggageForward offering door-to-door delivery to your hotel, cruise ship, golf course or vacation home. Shipping rates are instantly calculated based on three simple criteria: luggage size, travel distance and service level (how fast you want it shipped). Prices tend to be about on par with what the airlines will charge you, but you'll have the added convenience of not having to lug your bags to the airport and not waiting for them in baggage claim.

Go premium or platinum -- If you have a credit card tied to an airline or a high-end membership, free checked bags or an allotment toward airline fees may be one of the "perks."

Get reimbursed -- According to the Business Travel Coalition, almost all corporate policies allow employees to be reimbursed for checked baggage fees. But, your accounting department may wonder why you didn't use more discretion.

Guess who says they need to raise prices next? Airports. Standby.


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moodyblues555

American Airlines is a company treats numerous employees just as rotten as it does its customers -- deceitful and dishonest! Its a company that needs to get rid of its management and treat employees fairly instead of deceiving them. They instruct their employees not to offer information about baggage fees, etc unless specifically asked that question. Why do you think they made so much money in profit? When asked specifically the management denies this, but it was recently all over the news how the airlines hid fees and made a huge profit. They're liars! Do you think the employees just all gained up and decided not to inform passengers about fees unless asked? Their employees are unhappy because many of them are treated like garbage and the newer employees are ripped off big time to pay for the older employees pensions and high pay and benefits plus the managements huge vacations and pay. They're liars and cheats trying hard to hang onto their big bucks while screwing the underlings! Where else can you make $30/hr answering a phone without so much as a high school education? That's why you're getting screwed! And that's not counting the huge vacations and benefits packages. Plus the executives want their big bucks too. The newer employees don't get all extravagance. They're lied to and screwed over everytime they turned around, just like the customers! You'd think all this omission of the truth would be illegal when scamming customers at the airport when they're about to take a trip. And the government employees have their airfare paid for with big discounts while soldiers pay regular mostly higher fares. That's American Airlines for you! Rotten to the core! Let's make sure they're forgiven their fines for violations though!

June 26 2011 at 3:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
johnjon3334

My partner and I have always avoided luggage fees because I drive, and he flies to our destination. He flies to save vacation time, and I drive with our dogs in the station wagon with his luggage on the roof. He used to travel with his bags, but now to avoid these stupid fees, we just pack ahead of time for him, he arrives at the airport with just an attache case and he doesn't have to worry about lost luggage. The hassle for me is minimal, and we enjoy the extra $50 bucks we save to have a nice lunch on our trip. I wouldn't be surprised if the airlines start charging for NOT bringing luggage.

June 20 2011 at 1:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ron Ramsey

I love all you people who "think" they know the story and immediately jump on the "truth" bandwagon.
Baggage fees are making the airlines soooo filty rich....lmao!

June 17 2011 at 5:16 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
RICHARD

its a joke and the airlines should be restricted from charging such
ridiculous fees. they already charge to much for tickets, plus they
add on a fuel surcharge.

June 17 2011 at 5:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rayyz

Did the Airlines , pay back the bail out money after 9/11??? If not it is time for the airlines to pay back.!!

June 17 2011 at 1:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Mike

I loathe traveling for business these days. Do everything I can to drive when possible. Not that much Southwest traffic where I live now, so stuck with the other ones unfortunately.

June 17 2011 at 12:59 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
tcorchid

Airlines do not care about anything but making a profit,,, they care nothing about customer service, Complain and the arrogrant ticket clerk will tell you go away or she will call security. American Airlines ticket clerk at O'Hare would not let us board the last flight for the day, leaving us stranded . She said we did not have the tickets, when infact the tickets were right there, at her desk,,,, the head up her butt b'ch would not look past her nose or her computer to find them. Oh yes we complained loudly, airlines reply was tough luck we don;t care.... digusting and no wonder our country is in the mess it is on. Wonder when the airlines will start asking for more goverment money....

June 17 2011 at 12:59 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
quintondall

It's really a simple numbers game. Flying is no longer a privelage, it is simply a means of getting from A to B. Prices have been squeezed down so far that they now con people with "chep tickets" and then charge per extra. No real differences to the old days. Take all the old services and the scosts for these services to the ticket and compare the total price to a ticket in the good ole days (time adjusted) of course and you will see that nothing much has really changed.

June 17 2011 at 12:32 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
tycoon0699

Or just fly Southwest.

June 17 2011 at 12:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
troopabn

In November I flew back from Europe. I left Brussels to Milan and Milan to JFK and BWI. When I arrived at JFK I was shocked to learn my bags weren't there. (I was charged E150 for a second piece of luggage. That was $201.00 U.S.. I immediately went to American Airlines and reported the bags missing. Well, I returned on a Wednesday and my first bag arrived on Saturday. I called American. The second bag didn't arrive until Sunday. And on top of that, my nice leather jacket was missing with other clothing. All American did was sent me a voucher for my next flight to carry a second piece of luggage. THAT WAS THE BEST THEY COULD DO???? The best I can do is "NOT FLY WITH AMERICAN AIRLINES, EVER AGAIN".

June 17 2011 at 12:13 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply