Frustrated by airline baggage fees? Lighten your load

/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Checking bags on your next flight? Be prepared to pay. Carrying your bags onto the airplane? Be prepared to sacrifice.

Your best bet? Travel light.

Nearly every major airline has either added or raised fees for checked bags in the last year, and they are increasingly enforcing size limits for carry-on bags. Spirit Airways even charges $30 to $45 to put a bag in the overhead bin, as more travelers fight for luggage space aboard.

Last year, travelers paid more than $9.2 billion in airline fees for checked baggage and other services, according to a study by the nonprofit Consumer Travel Alliance. On average, passengers paid a total of $36.80 in fees for every round-trip ticket — nearly $150 for a family of four, according to the study.

“Consumers are frustrated, but these fees are not going away,” said Bryan Saltzburg, a general manager at TripAdvisor.com, which has a to help consumers know what charges to expect.

Lighten the load
A checked bag above the 50-pound weight limit can be costly: between $49 and $175 extra per leg. To avoid those charges, pack the heaviest or biggest items in carry-on bags. Families might want to divvy a big suitcase between two people instead of checking several small bags. For longer trips, plan on doing laundry or finding a dry cleaner.

You can also knock six to eight pounds off your weight and add 25 percent more storage space just by using a bag without wheels, according to Doug Dyment, whose blog, OneBag.com, offers tips on packing light.

The weight problem isn’t lost on luggage makers. Brands like International Traveler and Angtler now sell bags with lightweight handle systems and perforated interior panels to cut heft and preserve sturdiness. And if you choose to carry your bags onto the plane, there are new lines of lightweight carry-ons, such as eBags’ TLS Weekender 19-inch convertible backpack and under-the-seat totes by Baggallini and Ciao.

But what about all that goes into those bags? Make a packing list and plan your outfits ahead of time, suggests Dyment. Layering clothing works for varied temperatures, and women can plan to change up a single outfit with accessories like scarves.

“You don’t need to have 35 different outfits,” Dyment said. “You just need to figure out how to make 35 different out of half a dozen outfits.”

Saltzburg suggests wearing jackets and bulky sweaters on the plane, consolidating multiple books onto a Kindle or iPod, limiting your shoe choice and keeping clothing simple. “Commit to your color: black or brown,” he says. “Only bring what you really need.”

People can also cut down bulk by switching to solid toiletries from liquids, Dyment adds. A Google search can turn up a wide variety of solid bar shampoos, perfumes, makeup foundations, lotions, sunscreen and mosquito repellant. They’re light, they won’t leak, and they pass muster with the Transportation Security Administration.

Beyond those tips, plenty of companies are eager to help lighten your load. There’s UrgentRX, which makes on-the-go single-dose aspirin and pain reliever packets that fit in your wallet. The $1.39 powdered medicine requires no water, and this summer will include generic versions of Pepto-Bismol and Benadryl.

Have it all delivered
If you still want liquid toiletries but don’t want to tote them, you can order your shaving cream and shampoo online and get them delivered to your hotel room using a service called SuiteArrival.com. Tech executive Michael Lewis started the Santa Barbara, Calif., company after his mouthwash exploded on his suit during a 2008 business trip to Chicago. A single shampoo or bottle of moisturizer via SuiteArrival starts under $2 and goes up to $11. Delivery is a $6 flat fee. “It’s part luxury, part convenience,” Lewis said.

Clover Simpler of Easton, Pa., takes that idea a step further and pays about $500 per vacation to ship her and her husband’s golf clubs, scuba gear and luggage to their hotel before the two even step foot in an airport, using an online service called LuggageForward.com.

The 41-year-old corporate executive started shipping her luggage after an airline lost her golf clubs on a Florida vacation a few years ago. The cost, she contends, is well worth being able to breeze through the airport sans bags and packing whatever she wants.

“You could easily pay a fee like that when you get to the airport,” she said. “If you don’t want the hassle, it is absolutely the easiest way to do it.”

Competing sites LuggageFree.com, BaggageQuest.com, TheLuggageClub.com and LuggageConcierge.com also ship luggage, as do some high-end hotels. That kind of service may end up costing more than checking a bag with an airline, said Saltzburg of TripAdvisor.com. But he added shipping could help if you’ve got heavy bags or if you need to take public transportation. TripAdvisor offers pricing comparisons for shipping luggage on its page.

Use loaner gear
Hotels, too, are now working to help guests cut back on packing. Westin Hotels & Resorts now loans running shoes and workout gear to guests. The Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York lets you borrow a Burberry coat if it’s cold and will store, iron and dry clean your clothes if you’re coming back soon. The Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans gives you any file folders, paper, printers, laptop chargers and highlighters you might need.

Then there is Kimpton Hotel’s “Forgot It? We’ve Got It!” program, which provides guests things they may need, including sewing kits, toothbrushes, curling irons and humidifiers.

Parents with children in tow can get a break on hauling gear if they stay at a Loews Hotel. The 18-hotel chain has “Family Concierges” who not only will provide families with tips on area kid activities but also will loan cribs, cameras, strollers and toys.

Another option for paraphernalia-heavy parents: Rent cribs, high chairs and car seats from services like Babiesaway.com and TravelBaBees.com.

“We rent everything from full-sized cribs and bottle warmers to diapers and wipes as needed,” said Vanessa Reed, founder of TravelBaBees.com. That list of rental items also includes toys, board games and video game consoles.

But like shipping luggage, it could get expensive: A daily crib rental from TravelBaBees can run $12 a day to $18 a day, depending on the city. Most airlines won’t charge parents to check a car seat for a flight but when it comes to other items, the fees depend on the airline.

Parents can enlist kids to lighten the load by carrying their own small backpacks with games and snacks for the plane ride.

“There is no one single secret to traveling light,” said Dyment. “It’s a very large number of small things.”