Sunday, August 24, 2008

Packing Light and Avoiding Excess Baggage Charges

Every day it seems, the airlines are figuring out new ways to charge us for things that used to be included in the price of the ticket. In-flight movies, earphones and food are old news. Easy enough -- bring your own. But how do you get around the new extra charges for checking bags? Not so easy.

Not every airline charges you to check a bag -- JetBlue and Southwest still don't, and even airlines that charge you for checking a bag from New York to Los Angeles don't charge you if you and your bag are on an international flight to Liverpool or Lima.
Here's how to avoid excess baggage fees --

Join the airline's frequent flyer program. Having miles in the 'bank' makes you a valued customer, and even if trying to redeem the miles is a miserable, frustrating experience, having them in your personal record can help you avoid the suitcase surcharge.

Pack light and take only what you can carry-on. You've heard that before. You are allowed one

carry-on bag plus a personal bag, such as a purse or something larger that can hold your laptop, camera and wallet, too. Or, a diaper bag if your travelling companion calls you mommy or daddy.

Also, you are permitted to carry on a coat or jacket and something to read on board. Considering current baggage restrictions, carrying your jacket can be less expensive than stuffing it into your suitcase, even if it means looking ridiculous carrying cold weather clothing through a hot weather airport. Also, if your suitcase doesn't arrive with you, at least you won't freeze. And, wear your heaviest, largest shoes on the plane, instead of packing them.

Save space in your carry-on with proper packing techniques. Fold items neatly and stack in the middle of the bag. Fill up the edges by rolling things that don't care if they get wrinkled, like t-shirts, pajamas and underwear. Stuff socks and belts inside shoes. Leave the shampoo behind -- hotels provide that. Soap, too.

A top packing tip for either checked or carry on luggage is to pack last what you'll need first, so it is at the top of the bag. Don't put your jammies at the bottom if you are arriving late and too tired to play archeologist, digging around for the secret to the universe. And even if you are checking a bag, carry on a fresh shirt, just in case. And always carry on important medications and documents -- including that all important presentation you are giving to a client tomorow -- and the housegifts for whoever you are visiting.

Check your airline's weight and size restrictions for carry-on. Generally, it has to be 40 pounds or less, and not exceeding 45 inches when length plus width plus height are totaled. And, of course, it must fit in baggage bins or underneath the seat.

Happy travels. Use these packing tips to save green -- the green in your wallet.