Avoid Airline Checked Bag Fees: How to Carry-On On Every Flight

Surprised by new fees to check luggage at the airport? Don’t be. A Boeing 737 burns between 650 and 900 gallons of fuel an hour, so airlines are feeling the pinch of sky-high fuel prices just like the rest of us. That said, we still don’t feel like paying between $15 and $25 per bag—and we don’t have to. Here are some quick tips for learning to love carrying-on, so you can duck that checked bag surcharge.

Where the fees are

United Airlines, US Airways, and American Airlines now charge a $15 fee for a passenger’s first checked bag. Those three airlines, along with Delta, Continental, and Northwest, also charge $25 for a second bag. (While Delta, Continental, and Northwest don’t yet charge for the first, bag, industry experts expect them to start soon). Update on 7/10/08: Northwest now charges $15 for the first bag. See this airline baggage fees chart for an up-to-date list.

If you must check luggage on your next flight, keep these fees in mind when you shop for fares. Checked bag fees aren’t included in fare quotes, and the extra fees (as much as $80 for two bags, round trip), could make certain fares more attractive. Southwest, for example, allows passengers two free checked bags; JetBlue allows one free bag and charges $20 for the second.

Choose the right carry-on

While airlines do not yet charge for carry-on bags, you are limited to one bag that can fit in an overhead bin or under a seat and a smaller bag like a purse, backpack, or laptop case. Plus, you can expect airlines to crack down on carry-on restrictions as more and more people want to avoid the $15 checked bag fee.

The largest allowed size for carry-on bags is 22x14x19 inches, but you can maximize your packing by in a quality soft-sided carry-on bag, which will be roomier than more rigid rollaboards or multi-pocketed backpacks. Need a recommendation? Check out the Rick Steves convertible carry-on, a rugged back-pack/suitcase combo that stores plenty and feature handy compression straps.

Learn to pack right

Next, head to—a website so devoted to “the art and science of traveling light”, it’s almost creepy. What’s OneBag’s best packing tip? To minimize both bulk and wrinkles, do not fold or roll clothes, try “bundling” garments instead. The trick is to start with smaller, less likely to wrinkle clothes and tightly fold larger and larger pieces around them, then secure the bunch using straps in your luggage.

Mind your liquids

Next, don’t forget the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rule on carry-on liquids: Passengers may only carry liquids in three ounce containers in no more than one, clear, quart-sized bag. While toting your toiletries in a carry-on requires a bit more prep work, it can be done with the help of products like this quart-sized clear travel tote and plastic bottle set. You may be able to skip some liquids all together: many hotels will now provide complimentary toothpaste, shaving cream, and other essentials upon request.

Prepare your personal item

Finally, don’t forget to ready your smaller “personal item” with any items you’ll want to access en route like magazines, music, and munchies. (Airlines are beginning to charge for even the smallest snacks, too). At the airport, try to board early by getting to the gate on-time and listening for your boarding opportunity. That way, you can sang prime overhead real-estate for your larger carry-on and tuck your smaller bag conveniently under your seat.

Are you a carry-on mastermind? What’s your best packing tip?

Earn and save more with our free course:

What would you do with more money in your bank account? Join over 15,537 other young professionals receiving our best money hacks to get out of debt by 30, increase your income (starting this year) and invest for financial freedom.

100% free! I will NOT spam you and I will NOT share your email.

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


  1. lol, this is very conveniant, I’ll have to keep this in my next time I travel 😀

Speak Your Mind