6 Ways to Avoid Annoying Baggage Fees

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About 90 million Americans have travel plans this holiday season, according to a recent American Express survey. Although some people will drive or take a train, many will journey by plane. And that often means fees of $25 or more for checked bags. Even JetBlue, a carrier known for commendable customer service and minimal extra charges for this and that, has announced it will soon begin charging some travelers to check their luggage. Never mind. Cheapism.com has examined airline fees and has six techniques for lowering, avoiding, or getting reimbursed for baggage fees.

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Most airlines have a carrier-branded credit card that's well worth the annual fee often attached. Among other perks, cardholders can check the first bag free when traveling with the associated airline. The benefit often extends to travel companions, as well. American Airlines' AAdvantage Citi card, for example, allows the cardholder and up to four others one free checked bag each. The Chase United Explorer card grants a similar pass to the cardholder and one companion.

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There are several so-called travel credit cards that give cardholders credit to help cover travel-related costs, such as Wi-Fi, on-board food and drinks, and checked bag fees. American Express Platinum awards cardholders up to $200 each year, in addition to many other travel benefits, but imposes a hefty $450 annual fee. The recently released Citi Expedia+ card includes up to $100 worth of statement credit and assesses only a $95 annual fee.

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Some airlines charge more for bags when travelers pay the fee at the airport. Although paying in advance usually doesn't negate baggage fees entirely, any opportunity to save is worth grabbing. For example, paying for the first checked bag while booking with Spirit Airlines costs $30; paying during early check-in (from home or wherever) costs $40; paying at the airport costs $45; and paying at the gate ups the fee to $100.

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Some budget airlines, including Frontier, Allegiant, and Spirit, charge for carry-on bags, as well. Passengers also pay a la carte for all sorts of small things, such as soft drinks and coffee. After all is said and done, you may wind up paying more than you would have for a slightly pricier ticket. Unless the airfare is substantially lower at these airlines, don't bother.

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This is no doubt easier said than done, and anyone who has earned elite status in an airline frequent flyer program has probably paid a lot in baggage fees or knows how to avoid them. But hear this: Baggage fees are usually waived for frequent flyers who have reached elite status. This is true even at the lowest status level on legacy carriers American Airlines/US Airways, Delta, and United.

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Another easier-said-than-done tactic (especially during the holidays), but one that deserves high priority, is simply packing light. Many airlines let passengers carry on one bag and one personal item, such as a backpack or purse, free of charge. Try consolidating down to those two items and say good-bye to the checked-bag fee. Alternatively, ask a traveling companion with space to spare to share a carry-on. And don't forget the bulky-clothing trick: Wear a coat or boots onto the plane and stash them in the overhead bin after boarding.