10 Ways to Win the Airline Fee War No Matter How You Pack

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Sick of airline bag fees? Be glad your next flight doesn't involve antlers.

Frontier and United charge $100 each way to transport animal horns, which doesn't begin to address the little problem of getting your awkward bundle to the airport in the first place.

We'll stick to less exotic items like carryons and checked bags. And how to save time and money no matter which way you prefer to pack.

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

The airlines have made a seemingly simple system way too complicated, not to mention, expensive. After all, when we travel, we don't go empty handed.

We used to be able to bring whatever we needed on our trip for free, but no more. That stopped in 2008, when American Airlines became the first legacy carrier to charge for a first checked-bag, and boy oh boy, did the floodgates open then. Now, if you want to lug a suitcase, you better add 50 bucks to the price of your airfare to figure the total cost of your flight.

The U.S. Travel Association has your back. This industry advocacy group wants airlines to give everyone a single checked-bag -- for free. Yeah, that'll happen the same day you hear a pilot say, "We're 22nd in line for take-off, but air traffic control has let us cut to the head of the line."

Bag fees generated more than $3 billion for U.S. airlines last year, so you're dreaming if you think carriers will cork up that particular genie bottle.

But at least if you pay for your bag to ride in the hold, the airline will guarantee it gets there. Oh, wait, not they don't...

The closest you'll come to a luggage insurance policy is Alaska Airlines' so called "guarantee," which states that if your bag isn't at the carousel within 20 minutes of your plane's arrival, you get a whopping $20 voucher good for your next flight. Still, it's better than nothing.

For most of us, though, I'm afraid it's every man and woman for him/herself when it comes to saving on bag fees.

But click to the next page to see some ideas to get you started.

Carry-on Bag Packers

You like carry-ons partly because you save a few bucks, but mostly because they save time: you can zip in and out of the airport relatively quickly. But bin space disappears fast. A friend of mine recently flew four Delta flights in two days, and she kept hearing a procession of gate agents literally begging passengers to voluntarily check their carryons. The flights were full, and bin space was that scarce.

A couple of tips for you:

1. Watch the weight: More and more airlines are cracking down on the size and weight of carryon bags. Hawaiian Airlines, for example, charges an overweight fee for hefty hand luggage. Check your airline's website for restrictions before you fly.

2. Check in exactly 24 hours before your flight: Yes, early boarding groups get the bin space and folks just don't adhere to a "share and share alike" philosophy on packed planes -- the phrase "going to the mattresses" is far more apropos.

3. Pay extra for early boarding: Check prices with your airline; some charge a lot for the chance at best bin spots, but Southwest's EarlyBird boarding is a steal at $10.

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