The trip to visit the in-laws last fall was a cheapskate's success: inexpensive but direct flights, no hotel stay, and no rental car.
What I didn't count on were the baggage fees: $20 apiece for two checked bags. Round-trip, that came to an extra $80. Ouch!
And there's no evidence that airlines will cut baggage fees as their business recovers. Delta on Tuesday just boosted its fees for domestic travel to $23 for the first checked bag and $32 for the second one, up from $15 and $25, respectively.
That's if you pay in advance online. At the airport, those fees rise to $25 for the first bag, $35 for the second one.
It's not much better at other airlines. US Airways charges the same as Delta for domestic flights at the airport but offers a slightly bigger discount for online payment. American and United charge $20 for the first bag, $30 for the second (although United offers a $5 per bag discount for online payment). Of the major airlines, only Southwest charges no fee for the first or second item of checked luggage.
So what can you do to avoid baggage fees? Here are three suggestions:
1) Pack light so that everything fits in a single carry-on suitcase. There are several good websites, complete with suggested packing lists, that can help whittle down that three-bag trousseau. For a comprehensive, life-changing look at packing try OneBag.com. Also, check out suggestions here or here. True, you may have to seriously adjust your travel lifestyle. (What! Only two pairs of shoes for a six-day trip?) But packing light can be excellent practice, since Americans are already having to do more with less in most areas of their economic lives.
"I don't think I've ever paid a bag fee," says Doug Dyment, travel speaker and author at OneBag.com, who travels with a single carry-on weighing about 20 pounds. He suggests that people make a permanent packing list for a lifetime of travel. Although the list varies a little from trip to trip depending on the destination's climate, "it's amazing how quickly you can learn to make that list surprising short," he adds.
2) Ship excess clothes ahead of time. A large priority mail flat-rate package will hold two-thirds of what a carry-on does and only cost $14.50 ($13.95 online) to ship across the country. The post office offers two- to three-day delivery to most domestic destinations. [Editor's note: This paragraph was corrected to make clear that the postal service doesn't guarantee priority mail delivery within a specified time.]
3) Always fly Southwest (or JetBlue, which doesn't charge for the first checked bag). Of course, that means you won't be able to fly to certain cities like Atlanta, Cincinnati, Honolulu, or Memphis. In cases like Miami and Washington, D.C., the airlines serve airports that aren't too far away from the city limits, although the ground transportation might cost you more than the price of a checked bag.