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No one likes baggage fees, except for airlines. Fitting everything into a carry-on lets you laugh at those extra costs.
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updated 9/21/2011 8:42:15 AM ET 2011-09-21T12:42:15

In a recent poll, IndependentTraveler.com readers rated airline baggage fees as the biggest rip-off in the travel industry, beating out Wi-Fi charges at hotels, car rental fees and even timeshares.

I'm with you guys — I loathe those fees. And while my personal strategy for avoiding them is to cram everything into a carry-on no matter how far or how long I'm traveling, that's not the only way to outsmart the airlines. Writes Caroline Costello:

"Virtually all major airlines offer some kind of frequent flier program that includes baggage fee discounts or waivers for 'elite' or 'preferred' members. … 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."

Of course, you'll want to read the fine print before adding yet another piece of plastic to your wallet. The annual fee on the Delta SkyMiles credit card is $95 — so getting that free checked bag won't pay off until you fly at least two round trips. (A single checked bag on Delta usually costs $25 each way.) Alternatively, if you travel with a buddy, you can cancel out that annual fee even sooner; the card grants a free checked bag not only to you but also to your travel companions — up to eight of them.

Meanwhile, Continental's Presidential Plus card will set you back a whopping $395 per year. That fee gets you plenty of extra perks, such as waived foreign transaction fees and miles that never expire, but they may not be worth it if you only travel once or twice a year.

For more ideas, see Seven smart ways to bypass baggage fees.

More from IndependentTraveler.com

Video: Airlines nickel-and-dime fliers with fees

  1. Closed captioning of: Airlines nickel-and-dime fliers with fees

    >>> you've purchased a plane ticket recently you know that those extra fees are really starting to add up. the transportation department is telling airlines they need to fully disclose all of their fees online and this morning we're getting an eye-opening look at just what we're paying for. nbc's tom costello is in seattle with details on this. hi, tom.

    >> reporter: hi, matt, good morning to you. the airlines call this ala-carte pricing, you pay for the extras, the leg room, the luggage. the airlines tell us this is what the passengers want. we haven't found any passengers or travelers who have said that to us. if you feel like you're getting nickelled and dimed every time you fly it turns out it's a lot more than pocket change .

    >> it is shocking. you show up and you go to check in and all of the sudden there's a $25 or $50 or $75 fee.

    >> reporter: it's been adding up for years, fees for buying your ticket over the phone for online, ticket change fees, baggage fees, fees for extra ledge room, aisle seats, no the to mention a boxed lunch.

    >> you don't know how much it costs until you're done paying the fees.

    >> reporter: " usa today " crunched the numbers, the first checked bag can cost as much as $43 but an overweight international bag can run you up to $400 on continental and you ni united $450 on american, $250 changing a ticket and spirit airlines charges $30 to $40 for carry-on bags.

    >> travelers are feeling a huge level of rage. they're wary. they're angry. they're strained in their personal lives and certainly in their finances.

    >> reporter: after losing $65 billion over the last ten years, the airlines insist those extra fees are the only way they can turn a profit.

    >> airlines need to be profitable. without being sustainably profitable they can't provide jobs, they can't provide service to the destinations the customers want to fly to.

    >> reporter: still to a lot of passengers it feels like gouging.

    >> makes me feel like traveling has gotten to be so expensive it's almost prohibitive.

    >> reporter: unfortunately the reality is, if you plan to fly there's no escaping the squeeze. now the airlines insist that if you look at air fares today, base fares and factor in inflation and compare it to ten years ago it's cheaper to fly today than it was ten years ago but of course ten years ago we didn't have to pay for all the extras. one way to avoid paying more is to fly more, because more frequent fliers get those extra fees waived. i flew here to seattle late yesterday and my bag flew for free. back to you, matt.

    >> tom costello, good advice as always. thank you very much.

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