Whether traveling for business or pleasure, airline passengers might want to think twice about how much they bring along for the ride, starting next month.
Five of the seven major U.S. airlines (Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Air) plan to charge most customers $25 each way to check a second bag starting May 5. Of the largest carriers, only American and Southwest have decided not to go along — for now. Airtran is adding a $10 second bag fee for travel on or after May 15. Spirit Airlines already had a $10 fee if paid online, or $20 at the airport.
But the new fees do not apply to all passengers, advises Airfarewatchdog.com. Those buying first-class or business-class tickets, or flying on frequent flyer awards in those classes, will typically be exempt, as will frequent-flyer program members who have achieved upper tiers with their airlines (such as United Mileage Plus Premier customers). Military personnel flying “with orders” are off the hook.
These fees are in addition to those for excess, oversized and overweight bags, so a passenger traveling on United, for example, with three checked bags weighing 50 pounds or less will be charged $25 for the second but $100 for the third.
But if any of the three bags tips the scale at 51 pounds or more, overweight charges of an additional $100 per bag, each way, kick in. So unless otherwise exempt, a passenger flying round-trip on United with three bags weighing just a pound over the 50-pound limit would be charged $200 for the first ($100 overweight fee each way), $250 for the second (second bag fee of $25 times two plus overweight fee of $100 times two), and $400 for the third (a $100 third bag fee times two plus a $100 overweight fee times two), for a total — fasten your seat belts — of $850.
Keep in mind that these are domestic fees, and international charges may be higher, depending on destination.
A better way
There must be a better way, and there is: UPS, US Postal Service, or FedEx. Flying from your home in Manhattan to a convention in Long Beach? UPS will send your 51 pounds of trade-show samples each way for $59.34, when last checked at ups.com, with four-day service. Or ship that 60-pound suitcase from Miami to San Francisco for $63.78 each way.
Not only will you avoid having to lug your luggage through endless airport concourses, but chances are that UPS will do a better job of not losing your shipment than your airline will (and if UPS does misplace it, at least the company will feel bad about it.)
Although Pete Mitchell, director of business-to-business sales for the luggage manufacturer Samsonite, told the New York Times he often travels with one-of-a-kind items because he is reluctant to send them via a shipping service, he probably didn’t read the fine print in his airline's lost-and-damaged-luggage policy. Airline policies don’t cover business samples and trade-show materials if something goes amiss. They’re in the same category as cash, valuables, jewelry, and electronics.
What airline baggage policies don’t cover
At least when you ship FedEx or UPS, you can declare a higher value and insure your business items. In fact, before you pack for your next flight, it’s a good idea to have a look at what your airline will not take responsibility for should your checked bags be lost or damaged. Here’s American’s list, for example, which is pretty standard for the industry:
“Antiques, artifacts, artwork, books and documents, china, computers and other electronic equipment, computer software, fragile items (including child/infant restraint devices such as strollers and car seats), eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses, non-prescription sunglasses and all other eyewear and eye/vision devices whether lenses are glass, plastic, or some other material, furs, heirlooms, items carried in the passenger compartment of the aircraft, liquids, medicines, money, perishable items, photographic, video and optical equipment, precious metals, stones or jewelry, securities and negotiable papers, silverware, samples, unique or irreplaceable items or any other similar valuable items.”
Note the “samples” bit, all you road warriors.
United excludes these items as well, and also mentions “business effects” in its disclaimer — which probably includes your press kits and all those fridge magnets you were going to give away at the trade show.
So tell your airline "No, thanks," next time it tries to hit you with baggage fees. Plan ahead, tell your hotel (or branch office or family) that you’re expecting a shipment and to hold it until your arrival, and save yourself some money and a backache.