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Monday, 31 October 2011

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

In 2010, U.S. fliers spent more than $9.2 billion on baggage fees and other ancillary surcharges from the airlines. This suggests that legions of passengers are continuing to shell out hundreds of dollars for optional charges that can be avoided with modest effort.

baggage airportNaturally, packing light is one of the best ways to avoid these extra fees. But traveling with the bare minimum isn't always an option -- especially for passengers taking month-long cruises or families that need multiple pieces of luggage. Even those of us who've mastered the art of packing light are getting hit with full-size fees. Spirit Airlines recently added a downright obscene carry-on fee of up to $45, and a single checked bag costs as much as $50 per roundtrip flight on most major airlines. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the industry's barrage of baggage fees -- tricks that the airlines probably don't want you to know about.

Know Your Policy
Navigating the airlines' complicated baggage policies is no small undertaking. Baggage fees change constantly, and can vary by airline, destination, date of travel, number of bags, and bag weight and size. Even if you've secured an affordable plane ticket, you could end up paying a lot more than you bargained for when flying on a carrier that charges baggage fees.

We searched for nonstop weekend flights from New York to Las Vegas in August and found two fares for travel on the same dates: $471.40 roundtrip on American and $527.50 roundtrip on Southwest (including taxes and fees). The American Airlines flight is cheaper. But check two bags at a cost of $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second each way on American, and your total fare climbs to $591.40 -- more than the cost of the Southwest flight, which includes free first and second checked bags.

Your best bet is to thoroughly read your airline's policy before you book your flight. You may also want to check out TripAdvisor's flight search tool, which has a fee estimator that lists fares in conjunction with airline baggage fees based on how many pieces of luggage you plan to travel with.

Join a Frequent Flier Program
Travelers who fly often can save on baggage fees by joining their favorite airline's frequent flier program. Virtually all major airlines offer some kind of frequent flier program that includes baggage fee discounts or waivers for "elite" or "preferred" members. (Most airlines, including the big ones -- Continental, American, United, US Airways, Delta -- bestow elite or preferred status on frequent flier members who've flown at least 25,0000 miles annually with the airline.) Contact your airline to learn more about its frequent flier program benefits. 

If racking up 25,000 miles a year doesn't seem attainable, consider applying for an airline credit card. Several major airlines waive checked bag fees for cardholders. For example, Delta SkyMiles cardholders can check one bag for free on Delta flights, and Continental Airlines Presidential Plus cardholders can check two bags for free. (Restrictions and annual credit card fees may apply, and vary based on airline and type of card. Programs change frequently, so contact your airline 

Fly on a Discount Airline
southwest planeKudos to the no-frills discount airlines that don't charge travelers the price of a steak dinner just to check a bag. Southwest Airlines allows two checked bags per passenger, while JetBlue lets passengers check one bag for free. Unfortunately, not all discount airlines have magnanimous baggage policies. Last year, Spirit Airlines began charging travelers $45 ($30 when reserved online) for carry-on bags that don't fit under the seat, in addition to its checked bag fees.

Take the Train
While airlines are charging left and right for big bags, extra bags and even carry-on bags (we're looking at you, Spirit), train travel is a different story. Amtrak's baggage allowance policy says passengers may carry on up to two pieces of luggage (not including personal items like purses, strollers or computer bags) and check up to three pieces of luggage -- for free! Additional bags cost a surprisingly low $10 per bag. Plus, for a small fee (usually $5 to $10, depending on your route), train travelers can bring big-ticket items like bicycles, surfboards or musical instruments onboard. The best part? You won't have to worry that your acoustic guitar will end up smashed to bits on the tarmac. reading to Heathrow taxis

Use a Luggage Scale
Overweight baggage fees can be exceedingly more expensive than checked bag fees. Although you may manage to heroically stuff two weeks' worth of clothes into a single checked bag, you could end up paying hundreds of dollars per swollen, overweight piece of luggage (Delta charges as much as $450 each way for each checked bag that weighs more than 71 pounds on some international flights). 

Purchase a small luggage scale and pack it with you when you travel. If your bag is just under the weight limit on your outgoing flight, extras you pick up along your trip, from souvenirs to soggy rain coats, could add some serious heft on the way home. Avoid overweight baggage fees by weighing your luggage each time you fly, including before your return flight. Is your luggage too heavy for the flight back? Stuff some things into your travel partner's suitcase or ship them home.

Ship Your Bags
At first glance, shipping one's bags may sound like a prohibitively expensive prospect. But take another look at your airline's baggage policies (most major airlines charge $50 roundtrip for first checked bags), and suddenly standard delivery services and even luggage shipping companies don't sound like such a bad idea. 
international shipping
luggage carouselHow much does shipping luggage cost? Prices charged by standard delivery services like FedEx, UPS and USPS vary based on size and weight of bags (luggage shipping companies such as Luggage Forward and Luggage Concierge tend to be slightly more expensive). UPS charges $56.60 to send a 40-pound suitcase from New York to San Francisco in five days. And there's no need to wait in lines at the check-in desk and baggage carousel when sending luggage through the mail. 

Upgrade Your Luggage
Thanks to high-tech materials like ballistic nylon and polycarbonate, it's not difficult to find a 29-inch upright suitcase that weighs less than 10 pounds. We discovered an ultra-light 7.1-lb. Salsa Air 29" Multiwheel Trolley Suitcase on for $525. A more affordable 21-inch upright roller that weighs just under 8 pounds is available on for $120. We'll admit these bags are pretty expensive. But so are overweight baggage fees, which range from $49 (for checked bags weighing 51 to 70 pounds on AirTran Airways) to Delta's aforementioned $450 fee for extra-heavy bags on international flights. These fees, which apply each way and per bag, can amount to thousands of dollars for passengers who don't travel light. Because most high-quality luggage brands are designed to be both lightweight and exceptionally long-lasting, they can help frequent travelers avoid overweight baggage fees over time. 

Qantas resumes flights after bitter labour row

Around 70,000 stranded travellers hope to carry on their trip as Qantas flights resume after a huge strike
Passengers boarding a Qantas Boeing 717 at Perth International Airport on October 31 (AFP)
Australia's Qantas returned to the skies Monday, after a tribunal ended a destructive industrial dispute that grounded its entire fleet, sparking passenger and political fury.
Qantas commercial flights began taking off at 0441 GMT as the company began clearing the backlog of passengers, ending an extraordinary 46-hour shutdown that threatened to damage Australia's economy and the airline's brand.

The shock grounding, announced Saturday by Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, stranded 70,000 passengers in 22 cities worldwide, dramatically escalating a long-running feud with airline unions.
Investors hailed the government industrial tribunal's order early Monday to resume services and put an end to months of strikes and industrial action by baggage handlers, engineers and pilots.
Qantas's share price surged to close 4.4 percent higher as Joyce hailed the tribunal for giving Qantas the certainty that the airline, its passengers and shareholders needed. Gatwick airport passenger transport
"The clouds are gone, people can now move with confidence with Qantas," he told reporters.
He vowed "a safe and phased approach" to a full resumption of services Tuesday and apologised to customers for the disruption.
"We will be doing all that we can to put things right," he said, playing down any long-term damage to the "Flying Kangaroo" brand and vowing to press ahead with an Asia-focused restructuring that has infuriated the unions.

But ratings agency Moody's Investors Services was less positive, saying it was considering downgrading Qantas's credit rating after the fleet grounding.
The shutdown and the airline's troubled industrial relations were "likely to place pressure on the airline's forward bookings, profitability and longer-term brand equity," it said.
And anger among passengers marooned in departure halls and hotels around the world remained strong.
"I'm furious, this whole experience has been so frustrating that I'll never fly Qantas again," said South African executive Jackie Sasso, 40, who was stranded while on a business trip to Sydney.
"It's been terrible and I haven't been able to find out what's going on -- I was on hold on the phone to Qantas for two hours and got nothing," she said as she struggled to get home. "Frustrating isn't the word."
The iconic 90-year-old flag carrier, the world's 10th largest airline by traffic, stunned the nation Saturday when it announced its decision to ground all aircraft in a bid to bring the acrimonious labour row to a head.
Joyce however did not believe the grounding would have a lasting impact on Qantas's brand or spark a long-term flight of its passengers to other airlines.
"I have every confidence that we will recover back to a 65 percent domestic market share and recover internationally," he said.
Fearing the grounding would wreak serious economic damage, Prime Minister Julia Gillard took the rare step of asking the industrial regulator Fair Work Australia to step in to end the action.
After a marathon hearing, the tribunal granted Qantas's wish and Monday ordered a complete end to industrial action by both sides, as tourism officials expressed anxiety about the long-term impact on Australia's image.
Management and three unions are locked in dispute over pay and Qantas's plans to refocus its international business on Asia. They now have 21 days to settle their differences or face a compulsory arbitration decision.
Joyce welcomed the ruling, but defended his action, saying he had no choice as union leaders had threatened strikes could last a year. Qantas says industrial action was costing it Aus$15 million (US$16 million) per week.
Unions were disappointed at the Fair Work decision, saying they may challenge it and questioning whether Qantas would negotiate in good faith in the next three weeks.
"I think they (Qantas) will end up stonewalling us for 21 days, and we'll end up in forced arbitration," pilots' union vice-president Captain Richard Woodward said.
Gillard and her ministers were angry that Qantas had been grounded with virtually no notice on a busy weekend ahead of the Melbourne Cup horse race and while Australia was hosting the 54-nation Commonwealth summit. travel to heathrow airport taxis
Joyce insisted he had warned a grounding was possible, but Gillard branded the action "extreme" and unnecessary.
"I believe that that action by Qantas was an extreme action to take. It has caused chaos for the travelling public and Qantas had other options available at its disposal," the prime minister said.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

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