How to avoid paying baggage fees

Any time you book a flight you get baggage allowances. Sometimes it’s just carry-on – most often with budget carriers, but on premium carriers, such as Virgin and Qantas, you’ll also get anywhere between 17kg and 32kg of checked baggage. With Jetstar, any fare above the Saver Fare also includes 20kg checked baggage.

Baggage limits on international flights vary. Some airlines will allow 2 x 23kg bags per passenger, while others will only allow 23kg in total.

Go over those limits, though, and you’ll pay dearly.

If you’re budget conscious and travelling domestically, your best bet for maximum savings is a low-cost carrier and to travel with carry-on bags only. That’s fine if you’re only going for a few days, or even a week, but any longer and you’ll be wearing the same underpants a few days in a row, which you’ll regret when you’re on your way home with your knees under your chin (which you often will be on a low-cost carrier).

There are a few tricks to make sure you never have to pay excess baggage fees and stay underweight. Some are time-honoured and some a little bit cheeky, but will still save you having to fork out for penalties.

Double check
Check your airline’s baggage allowances then check them again.

Use your credit
Some airline credit cards will allow you an extra bag, so check to see if you have that privilege.

Make a list
List the clothes you’ll need with an emphasis on pairing items for maximum use. That is, pick one pair of jeans that go with all your tops, and limit your shoes to one pair of walking/city shoes, one pair of comfort (i.e. back at the hotel, or on the plane) and one pair of ‘going out’ shoes.

A limited colour palette (i.e. black or monotone) always works for me and will work for you, too.

Will you have washing facilities? Pack less. Check the weather and limit your clothes to the climate. Don’t guess whether you need heavy jackets – know – and leave them at home if you really don’t need them. I suggest a heavy, multi-purpose jumper and a lighter weight, waterproof jacket, then layer, if necessary. If in doubt, go the lighter weight option. You can always layer up.

Once you’ve made your list, check it for any superfluous items and get rid of them.

Roll up
Clothes that need to be flat, such as jeans, pants, or bulkier jackets should stay flat. T-shirts, underwear, lightweight shirts and pants should be rolled a stuffed into areas the flat-folded clothes don’t fill. Put any socks inside your shoes. Fill every nook and cranny in your bag.

Weigh it up
Get out your household scales and weigh what you’ve packed. If you’re even a little bit over, you’ll pay the price (having said that, I recently caught a Virgin/Qantas domestic flight and one of my bags was 200g over and they let it pass – but – it’s not a risk I’d recommend taking). Even going over a little bit will cost you at least $25 extra, sometimes more.

Pay up
If you are over and you just can’t shave the extra weight, then it may be time to pay up. It’s much cheaper to pay for excess baggage in advance than it is at the airport.

Share the load
If you are travelling with family or friends, get them to weigh their bags, and if they have room (or you do) spread the weight between those bags.

Wear it
If you have to take bulky items, such as a heavy jacket or boots, wear them on the plane. You won’t be weighed, so if you have cameras, books or other heavy items that can fit in your pockets, use that space to save on baggage weight and space.

Don’t feel bad about it, either. Some people go to ridiculous lengths to maximise their ‘allowance’. There are tales of passengers wearing two suits onboard, using jeans as scarves, earing two coats and tying three jumpers around their waist, stuffing shoes in pockets and even trying to bribe gate agents to allow them onboard and overstuffed.

Carry it on
While carry-on bags are sometimes weighed, in all my flights, I’ve only ever had it happen to me once. Again, not recommending that you abuse carry-on, but you may be able to sneak a few hundred grams into your carry-on bag if you can’t check it in.

No one wants to pay excess fees, but if you follow these tips, you’ll maximise your chances of staying under the limit.

Do you have any tips for staying under the baggage limit? Have you ever been stitched up with excess fees at the airport?

Related articles:
New baggage rules
A definitive guide to travel packing
More baggage for your buck

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.


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