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Airline Baggage Fees: What You Need to Know

By Maya Stanton
updated September 29, 2021
bags on carts at airport
Rafael Ben Ari/Dreamstime
Hot on the heels of the busiest summer travel season in TSA history, America’s major airlines have announced new fee structures for checked luggage, overweight baggage, and more. Here’s what you need to know.

In August, when JetBlue raised checked-baggage fees for the first time in the company’s history, it wasn’t long before the other major airlines followed suit. Delta, American, and United all upped their rates in early September, and though the increases don’t amount to much individually—a $5 bump for the first and second checked bags, from $25 to $30 and $35 to $40, respectively—they definitely add up. Last year, those four airlines raked in $3.2 billion in baggage fees alone, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and with the TSA notching a record-breaking summer this year, screening some 253 million travelers and handling nearly 165 million pieces of checked baggage in the process, those numbers only look set to skyrocket.

“Airlines are not worried about fewer passengers checking bags,” says Brian Sumers, senior aviation business editor for Skift. “Generally, people check bags not because they want to—who really wants to wait for 20 minutes at baggage claim?—but because they have to. A lot of people have no choice. They need to bring a larger bag, and so they pay for it.” But putting in time at the baggage carousel isn’t the only game in town. For those who pack light, going carry-on only is a time-tested strategy, and shipping gear to your final destination can be a good idea—albeit a pricey one.

So, is it worth it to pay a premium to stow your luggage in the cargo hold, or are you better off exercising a different option? That depends on your priorities, your finances, and your luggage itself.

1. Lighten Your Load

To be sure, checking bags means allocating more time and money to a travel day. From getting to the airport earlier to deal with check-in to shelling out extra cash for each bag to hanging around waiting for your luggage once you’ve landed, the investment can be a significant one. And though airlines’ track record with lost luggage is getting better, there’s still a chance your suitcase will end up missing in action once it hits that conveyor belt.

One alternative is keeping your baggage to a minimum. “Sticking to a carry-on and wearing bulkier items while you travel are tried-and-true ways to avoid checking a bag,” says David Solomito, Kayak’s VP of North American Marketing. “The most important thing is to ensure your bag stands at 21 inches or less so it will be accepted on most carriers as a carry-on.” But even then, if you’re not lucky enough to score space in the overhead bin, you’re still at risk for the dreaded gate-check—not bad when your rollaboard is waiting for you on the jet bridge, definitely more of a hassle when you have to go down to baggage claim to retrieve it. And then there are the emotional costs involved with paring down. “We hear stories about people cramming their carry-ons with stuff to save money,” Sumers says. “If people really can't afford the extra $30, then it's understandable that they want to carry on as much luggage as they can. But that approach can be stressful, and with bag fees only going up by $5, it's probably not worth it.”

2. Plan Ahead

For those who prefer to make their departure day as low-impact as possible, services like Luggage Forward and Luggage Free and traditional mailers like UPS, DHL, and the U.S. Postal Service can take care of the heavy lifting. You’ll arrive at the airport unburdened by your baggage, but there’s more work involved in the run-up to your flight: weighing the package, pricing out options, arranging for shipping, and calling ahead to let the hotel know to expect a delivery in your name. And sending stuff ahead doesn’t eliminate the risk of lost baggage either, so you’ll still need insurance—and that’s on top of the potential sticker shock associated with obtaining a quote. “Try an experiment sometime,” says Sumers. “Lug your 50-pound bag to FedEx and ask them what it will cost to ship it from New York to Los Angeles overnight. I guarantee you it will cost more than $30—a lot more. Checking a bag is still the cheapest way to get a heavy item from one place to another.”

Not so fast, says Luggage Free president Jeff Boyd: For travelers who plan to check multiple bags, a shipping service can be smart value for the money. “The third bag on JetBlue, for example, recently moved to $150,” Boyd says. “By contrast, our rates start at $67 for a bag up to 25 pounds and $94 for a bag up to 50 pounds. So you’re starting to see a dual-value proposition that includes hassle-free travel—skipping check-in lines and waits at the baggage carousel—at a cost very similar to those incurred when checking with the airline.” 

3. Book Smarter

Say you found an irresistible bottle of rosé on a winery crawl, and you absolutely must check a bag. First, consider where your loyalties lie—a change of carrier might be in order, especially if you earn miles with one of the airlines that recently raised its fees. Thanks in part to its checked-luggage policy (two free bags per person!), Southwest was named Budget Travel’s best airline of 2018, and its passengers enjoy low fares and entertaining safety announcements to boot.

If you’re not married to one particular airline, you’ll want to shop around to see which offers the best deal for your circumstances on a flight-by-flight basis: While checked bags cost the same on the major carriers, oversize and overweight baggage fees vary from company to company based on destination, size, weight, and fare class. Toggling between each airline’s website to compare and contrast can be a chore, but fare aggregator and booking site Kayak has a few tools to help travelers find the best fit for their luggage needs, including a fee assistant, which lets users modify their flight search based on the number of bags—carry-on and checked—they’ll be packing, and on the app,  a bag-measurement feature, which uses augmented reality determine whether a suitcase will fit in the overhead bin or need to be checked and compares baggage-fee policies for all Kayak tracked airlines in the process.

For those who stay true to one carrier, an airline-specific credit card might be worth the annual fee. They often offer free checked bags to cardholders and a companion, but read the terms and conditions with a healthy dose of skepticism, especially if the offer seems too good to be true—that kind of perk can also serve as a hook to get new clients on the line. “Those credit cards are highly profitable for airlines,” Sumers says. “An airline would be very happy if customers who did not want to pay $30 [to check a bag] instead signed up for, say, the Chase United Airlines credit card.”

4. The Takeaway

For most fliers, the extra $5 to check that first or second bag isn't going to be what breaks the bank, but families, long-haul travelers, and those packing especially heavy or oversized luggage need to do their due diligence. Read the fine print before booking, weigh and measure your suitcases, and price out shipping services before committing to check bags with the airlines. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.

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Travel Tips

Read This Before You Use Hotel Wi-Fi

When it comes to booking a hotel, Wi-Fi is an absolute must for most travelers. Indeed, when asked what services are of particular importance to them, 80 percent of hotel guests said that Internet access is the most crucial, a recent Statista survey of personal and business travelers found. That data echoes a survey from English hotelier Roomzzz, which found that 65 percent of hotel guests go online within seven minutes of checking in at their hotel, and one third of hotel guests request the Wi-Fi password as soon as they arrive. Granted, that’s not really a surprise, considering you need a good Internet connection to stream the latest episode of, say, “House of Cards” without experiencing slowdowns. Nonetheless, there are some important things to consider before logging in to your next hotel’s Wi-Fi. 1. Some hotels still charge for Wi-Fi Though most major hotel chains offer guests free Wi-Fi, 36% of hotels worldwide still charge for it, a recent HotelChatter survey found. Generally, cheap hotels are more likely to charge for Wi-Fi, says Hailey Benton of Global Travel Academy (www.travelacademy.org). “High-quality and safe Wi-Fi connections are expensive, and if you have opted for a budget-friendly accommodation style this may mean that you miss out on certain perks, like free Wi-Fi,” she says. But, depending on the hotel, there may still be ways to get free Wi-Fi. Some hotel loyalty programs offer complimentary Wi-Fi to frequent guests, says Benton. For instance, Hyatt offers free Wi-Fi to its Platinum and Diamond elite level members, Trump Elite gives its members complimentary Wi-Fi, and members of Marriott Rewards, which includes The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), receive free Wi-Fi, Benton points out. Other potential solutions? If a hotel provides guests free Wi-Fi in the lobby or another access point, like its business center, ask the front desk for a room that’s close by. Or, politely ask concierge for a promotional code to get free in-room Wi-Fi. (Some hotels will offer them if you ask.) Can’t strike a deal? “I always suggest comparing the prices of in-hotel Wi-Fi to purchasing mobile data for your devices,” Benton says. “In many countries around the world, buying a SIM card with plenty of data is very affordable, and much more safe and reliable than hotel Wi-Fi.” 2. Know the difference between an unsecured and secured Wi-Fi connection Speaking of safety, you’ve likely heard the terms “secured” and “unsecured” Wi-Fi before. Well, there’s a big difference between them. “Unsecured generally means un-encrypted and does not require a password,” explains Robert Siciliano, a security awareness expert at Safr.Me. Meanwhile, “secure Wi-Fi connection generally requires a password and is encrypted, or is accessed by a virtual private network software.” Therefore, if you want to protect your data, look for a hotel with a secured Wi-Fi connection. “Unsecured is just that: insecure and vulnerable to criminal hackers sniffing out data as it travels through the air,” Siciliano warns. 3. Take the right safety measures to protect your computer If you still want to stay at a hotel with an unsecured Wi-Fi network, there are ways you can access the Internet without making your personal information, bank accounts, and other sensitive data vulnerable to hackers. One way to connect to Wi-Fi from your laptop or tablet is by creating a mobile hotspot from your smartphone. This entails sharing your phone’s mobile data connection wirelessly with the other device, and it may be a good option if your cell phone plan has unlimited data. (This PCMag guideshows you how to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot using an iPhone, Android, or other mobile device.) However, if you don’t have an unlimited data plan, you may be better off buying a secure portable hotspot from either your cell phone carrier (e.g., Verizon’s highly rated $200 Jetpack MiFi 7730L), or from a third party like Karma, which offers pay-as-you-go plans and flat-rate monthly plans starting at $40. 4. Follow these precautions will help you further protect your personal data when using hotel Wi-Fi Turn off your device’s wireless signal when you’re not using it. Tucking in for the night? Disconnecting your smartphone or other electric device from the hotel’s Wi-Fi network can minimize your risk of being hacked.Use a VPN. Using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is the most effective way to safely access Wi-Fi. Why? Because, essentially, a VPN is “a private network that only you can access, hiding your important data from potential hackers,” Benton says.Confirm you’re accessing the hotel’s Wi-Fi network—not a fake one. Some data thieves prey on hotel guests by setting up nearby Wi-Fi networks that look like legitimate networks but aren’t. And, unfortunately, “a malicious individual can very easily create a Wi-Fi network that sounds plausible,” says Max Eddy, cybersecurity expert at PCMag (www.PCMag.com). So, check with the front desk to verify you’re accessing the right network before you connect.Don’t use sensitive websites and mobile apps. One way to prevent thieves from stealing your passwords to social networking sites, online banking services, and other websites and apps when using hotel Wi-Fi is by avoiding them completely. It’s not convenient, but it’s a safe approach.Install antivirus software. Antivirus software programs can help prevent viruses, worms, trojans, and other malware from infiltrating your computer.The bottom line? “Hotel Wi-Fi is convenient but it’s not always secure, even if it was set up with the best intentions,” Eddy says.

Travel Tips

5 On-Demand Services That Make Travel Easier Than Ever

Once upon a time, delivery drivers pretty much only ferried pizza and Chinese food to your door, and AAA appeared if you needed a tire changed. Today, however, it’s hard to think of something you can’t get at the touch of a button. Supermarkets will deliver your groceries, various apps will ensure that your Thai food, green juice, or even alcohol arrives at your door swiftly, and, of course, ride hailing—the one that started it all—doesn’t appear to be stepping on the brakes any time soon. These days, the on-demand business is growing exponentially, reaching into all kinds of industries. And with the evolution of the smart hotel room, access is more streamlined than ever. From stylists to yoga instructors, these companies will send an expert to your door, which is exceptionally helpful if you’re a traveler in an unfamiliar city. 1. Glam on Demand Reasons to call on a stylist are plentiful: Maybe you’ve traveled across the continent to go to your best friend’s wedding, or maybe you’re getting married. Or you have a big presentation to give in front of hundreds of colleagues. Or perhaps being in a new city inspires you to find a new look. There are a number of apps to download when the need for a hair stylist or makeup artist arises, most of which work like classic ride-hailing apps in terms of connecting you to an independent contractor, and all of which assure that their practitioners are thoroughly vetted in terms of personal background, accreditation, and skill. Established in 2014, beGlammed (beglammed.com) is available in 26 U.S. cities and has a wide-ranging menu of services, from blowouts (from $50) to updos (from $85) to full makeup applications (from $75). Most visits take about an hour. Priv (gopriv.com) is another app that lets you summon a makeup artist or hair stylist on demand—within just a few hours, actually. Serving New York, Los Angeles, Philly, D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Austin, and Chicago, Priv pros, as they’re called, can be scheduled for blowouts, hair stylings and cuts (from $50), makeup (from $40), and mani/pedis (from $10). And it’s worth noting that their prices include tip. As with all the companies, the stylists bring their own tools, products, accoutrements, and even furniture.  Some apps are more specialized. In 2016, Jennifer Lambert, who trained as a lawyer, started Swivel (swivelbeauty.com) with her childhood friend to solve a problem black women often face: finding someone experienced in caring for textured hair. Women can choose the style—cornrows, Bantu knots, twist-outs, silk press, and note hair type (kinky, curly, relaxed). The app, which is available in New York and D.C., is designed as a guide to local salons, but other apps provide focused services to black hair. Yeluchi (yeluchi.un-ruly.com), for one, lets women book appointments at home for blowouts (from $60) or braids, weaves, and twists (from $80). Services are available in New York.  2. Relax With a Massage Growing up in a large family with a mother who was a practicing healer, it was inevitable that Merlin Kauffman would end up working in wellness. Turns out, he became a bit of a pioneer. As a traveler, he found it hard to book a massage on the road, so he came up with an idea for a platform that connects people seeking massages with certified practitioners. Today, Soothe (soothe.com) is available in 65 markets in four countries, and, as a sign of its high standards, only accepts 30 percent of applicants to the network, which is 10,000 practitioners big and growing. Book a relaxation session in as little as 60 minutes between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight, and the massage therapist will show up with a table, linens, oil, music, and everything else they need to recreate the spa experience in your room. All you need to choose is your treatment—deep-tissue massage, reflexology (a stretching and flexing regimen), Swedish, prenatal, or a couple's session—and length of time (60, 90, or 120 minutes).  Zeel (zeel.com), which is available in 70 cities, started as a directory for alternative medical practitioners, but in 2013, it narrowed its focus and widened its reach and became an on-demand company. With just an hour lead time, Zeel therapists can show up at your hotel with a chair or pop-up table and all the necessary products and accoutrements to help you recalibrate. Five different treatment options—Swedish, deep tissue, sports, prenatal, and one to help you sleep—are offered for 60 or 90 minutes, then increments of 15 minutes beyond that.  3. Pet Care Anywhere When you bring your pooch on your trip—as an estimated 39 percent of dog owners do when they’re traveling for two nights or more—he may need a bit more attention than when you're hanging out at home. The good news is that there are plenty of on-demand services to ease the anxiety of caring for a pet on the road, and even a few ways to get your furry friend an indulgence or two, which everyone should have while on vacation. First, the basics: dog-walking. Wag! (wag.com), perhaps the biggest such company, uses Uber-like location-based technology to connect walkers to a pet and its owner’s current location. Booking is available on an immediate or scheduled basis, and live GPS tracking keeps owners up to date on the pup’s every step. Rover (rover.com), which is available in more than 14,000 American cities, also provides dog-walking, plus lots, lots more, like drop-in visits (read: play dates) and all-day drop-off care. They vet (no pun intended) their contractors so thoroughly that less than 20 percent of those who apply make the cut. Many hotel chains these days are pet-friendly, like Loews Hotels and Resorts, known for its vet/chef collaborative pet menus, and Ace Hotels, which charge $25 per night for a dog up to 25 pounds. Of the nearly 900 La Quinta locations, only a handful do not adhere to the free up-to-two-pets-per-room policy. But for true royal treatment, find a property that puts your pup in the spotlight with everything from cute add-ons like water bowls and organic treats to over-the-top extravagance. The Jane in New York's Soho neighborhood will adorn your room with handcrafted items, like a doggie bed and toys, and provide in-house walkers and pet-sitters. Many Kimpton properties have adorable extras, like a nightly “yappy hour,” which includes wine for adult humans, and pet concierge services. 4. Yoga and Fitness, Customized for You If you don’t know the lay of the land, trying to find a yoga or meditation studio can be a little stressful, especially if your free time is limited. There have long been internet programs like Core Power Yoga (corepoweryogaondemand.com) and Yoga Vida (yogavida.com/pages/vida-on-demand), where you can follow online instructors and do your sun salutations in the privacy of your own space, but nowadays, several hotels are taking the lead and lunging into the yoga, meditation, and conditioning game with instructors and services beyond the property’s fitness center. The Benjamin (thebenjamin.com) in Manhattan claims its On Demand Meditation, a 10-minute meditation session for guests provided via phone, is the first of its kind. Part of its much-touted Rest and Renew program, it’s one of several offerings designed by a sleep medicine expert for the hotel. Other hotels, especially in warmer vacation spots, have dedicated fitness staff for group workshops and private sessions of all sorts. At The Standard in Miami (standardhotels.com/miami/spa/yoga-and-fitness), you can sign up for various kinds of yoga classes as well as Pilates (and that’s to say nothing of their water-sports instruction), or you can schedule a one-on-one customized yoga or meditation session. There are also apps that will pair you with a local, certified, vetted pro for customized training. Download Troupe Fit (troupefit.com) and request a yoga or Pilates instructor or a personal trainer for a 45-minute session (from $45). Any size space will do. They’ll bring equipment. (Only available in New York City.) 5. Call a Tailor for a Fix It’s happened to the best of us: a rip, a snag, a missing button, or a loose hem needs fixing and the hotel sewing kit isn’t gonna cut it. The on-demand mending business is still in the early phase of development, but there's plenty of hype around the concept on men’s style and tech blogs, so expect to see them popping up in major cities soon. For the time being, New York City is leading the way. If you’re in town for a few days and don’t need the clothing item urgently, call on Ricky Belopolsjy (bztailor.com), who’s run his tailor shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, since 1991. Through his website, he’ll send someone to pick up and take measurements, then drop off the finished product three or four days later. Another options is Air Tailor (airtailor.com), a text-based app that provides mail-in and return services. Login and someone will walk you through the steps to make sure your item is altered precisely to your fit. If you’re in New York, you can opt for a messenger service at a higher price. Turnaround time is five business days. 

Travel Tips

Traveling With Weed: What You Need to Know

The news headlines came fast and furiously at the end of September, most of which communicated the simple message: now, if you’re over 21, you can pack pot in your carry-on when flying from Los Angeles International Airport, with the allowance being 28.5 grams of marijuana and eight grams of concentrated pot for personal use.  California laws are not the same as federal laws But there’s actually much more to it than that, so don’t be so quick to stash joints in with your shampoo. Here’s the bottom line: since the passage of the Adult Use Marijuana Act on January 1, 2018, recreational pot is legal in California. LAX is in California, so go on and bring it into the airport. But the fact remains that TSA agents are federal employees and pot is still illegal at the federal level, so if they spot any as your bag is going through the scanner, they can call on local police and let them decide what to do. In January, when the Act went into effect, a statement posted on flylax.com, the airport’s official website, read: "Passengers should be aware that marijuana laws vary state by state and they are encouraged to check the laws of the states in which they plan to travel." Transporting marijuana across state lines, whether by plane, train, or car, is illegal, plain and simple. Planes in American airspace are also subject to federal law, so fines may still be a consequence, regardless of whether California authorities prosecute.  What happens--or doesn't--if TSA spots pot in your carry-on “It doesn’t matter what airport you’re leaving from. Once you step through TSA, you’re under their jurisdiction and at the mercy of federal law,” said Daniel Vinkovetsky (pseudonym: Danny Danko), senior cultivation editor at High Times, the leading authority on cannabis since it launched as a counter culture publication more than 40 years ago. “It’s misleading to say you can bring weed through the airport. Yes, you can bring it to LAX, but no, you can’t travel with it. If TSA agents see a jar of weed, they might pretend they didn’t because if they do, they’ll have to stop everything and hold up the security line.” And nobody wants to be responsible for an angry mob of anxious passengers. Vinkovetsky noted that law enforcement will, more likely than not, decline to prosecute, so most of the time if they do spot the pot, the end result is simply embarrassment and, of course, getting your pot confiscated. Or worst case scenario: you get held up and miss your flight.  “Agents aren’t happy because it’s just a waste of their time,” he said. “They’re concerned about so much more, like finding bombs and knives and other security risks. Pot isn’t a security risk, so it’s not a major priority.” He added that he'll be keeping a careful eye on what happens with international and domestic travel in Canada when weed goes legal nationwide on October 17.

Travel Tips

6 Money-Saving Thanksgiving Travel Tips

Sure, the week of Thanksgiving is one of the most hectic travel periods of the year, with tens of millions of people expected to fly between November 16 and 27. But that doesn’t mean Turkey Day has to break the bank. Here, our best-ever money-saving tips. 1. THE BEST DAYS TO TRAVEL FOR THANKSGIVING To save money and hassle this year, travel November 16 through 20 or on Thanksgiving Day itself. For the return trip, hold off till Monday November 26 or try Black Friday, when so many people are busy shopping. 2. IS IT TOO LATE TO GET A DEAL ON AIRFARE? Sure, it’s late to buy Thanksgiving airline tickets, but look for last-minute deals with our friends at Skyscanner.com and be flexible with your dates and airports. Coast-to-coast flights for under $500 are still out there. 3. ARE SUPER-LOW-COST AIRLINES REALLY A GOOD DEAL? If that $30 last-minute flight to Grandma’s house seems too good to be true, I promise it probably isn’t true: It is a rock-bottom basic fare and you will be charged extra for everything from choice of seat (really) to checked bags (of course) and maybe even for your carry-on bag. It doesn’t mean you shouldn't book a super-low-cost flight, it just means you must read the terms and conditions and know what you’re getting into before you hit “purchase.” 4. TREAT YOURSELF TO A HOTEL FOR THANKSGIVING Surprise! In survey after survey, up to 7 out of 10 travelers admit they really don’t like staying with relatives for Thanksgiving (but surveys also suggest most people suck it up, stay with relatives, and pretend to enjoy it). The good news is, hotels are often underbooked around Thanksgiving and you can find deals even at the last minute. Hotels that cater to business travelers - such as suites and airport hotels - are especially affordable on holiday (and non-holiday) weekends. 5. BEAT HOLIDAY TRAFFIC BY DRIVING AT NIGHT Glamorous? Nope. Tried and true? Yup. You’ll hit less traffic if you hit the road after dark, let the kids sleep, and catch a nap before your turkey dinner. 6. PSST! HERE'S A NATIVE NEW YORKER'S SECRET FOR VISITING THE MACY'S PARADE This tip is based on my personal experience as a native New Yorker: If you’re traveling to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, take public transportation or park your car on the far West Side of Manhattan and head for Central Park West below 77th Street, where the parade starts out with its high energy, giant balloons, marching bands, and iconic views of the park.