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airport plane woman gate suitcase United Airlines generated a collective groan from travelers over the weekend by saying it will be strictly enforcing its carry-on baggage requirements, which limit each passenger to one personal item (like a purse, laptop or briefcase) and one carry-on bag with a maximum size of 9 x 14 x 22 inches.

The issue, however, isn’t with the size of the carry-on luggage allowed; other major carriers, including Delta and American Airlines/US Airways, have the same dimension restrictions. Instead, what’s upsetting is that United will now be charging checked-bag fees for any carry-ons that must be gate-checked due to noncompliance — even if passengers have used their carry-ons for years with no trouble fitting them in the overhead bins.

Of course it’s annoying when you see fellow flyers waddling onboard under the weight of a purse, a backpack, a computer bag and a carry-on that you can just tell exceeds regulation. But instead of making the boarding more efficient, charging for gate-checked bags is certain to slow down the process.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

United also charges for the first checked bag for each passenger, so it’s understandable that many would attempt to bring slightly larger carry-ons to avoid baggage fees. (Meanwhile, two popular U.S.-based airlines — JetBlue and Southwest Airlines — allow each passenger to check at least one checked bag at no charge. To boot, the carry-on dimensions for both lines exceed those of United and the other major carriers at 10 x 16 x 24 inches.)

Ultimately, United’s decision to charge for the gate-checking of carry-ons reminds us quite a bit of the policy of ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines: one personal item can be brought for free, but passengers are charged as much as $100 per bag — each way! — for the privilege of boarding with a carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of them.

At this point, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if United eventually starts charging for things like bathroom privileges (don’t laugh — this was proposed a few years ago by European discounter Ryanair) and oxygen.

4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

room serviceTwo recent announcements from the hotel and airline industries may signal new travel trends — neither of which is particularly a good sign for consumers.

In a move reminiscent of when airlines began cutting services, a handful of hotel companies have said they will be reducing or dropping room service. According to Fox News, the New York Hilton Midtown revealed it will be getting rid of room service, replacing it with a cafeteria-style eatery. The hotel blamed a decline in demand, but will undoubtedly be saving money with the move. Another New York City hotel following suit is the Grand Hyatt 42nd Street, which reduced room service hours. Outside of New York, the Hilton Hawaiian Village eliminated room service as well.

While I’m not a frequent room service customer, I do appreciate the option … especially if I have arrived at my destination late, feel grungy and am too tired to trudge out to the hotel’s restaurant.

Hidden Hotel Fees

And it’s not like it’s a free service the hotels are eliminating. Room service is notorious for being expensive, so if customers are willing to pay, I don’t really understand why hotels can’t always have it as an option.

Fortunately, not all hotels are jumping onto the bandwagon. A Marriott International, Inc., spokeswoman told Reuters the company has no plans to eliminate room service.

Going in the other direction (at least on the face of it), United Airlines is trying to make it easier for passengers to take advantage of all the “extra” services the line offers, like additional legroom and checked bags. The airline has launched two subscription services that enable fliers to pay one fee to get access to some of the services it normally charges extra for. For instance, from $349 a year you can get “free” checked bags on every flight you take. Or, from $499 a year, you can guarantee yourself an Economy Plus seat. For either subscription, you must select the region you’ll be flying in; the more destinations you want to include, the higher the price.

The subscription service is supposed to save passengers money in the long run. But you have to fly at least 14 times (or seven round trips) in order to start saving on checked bags, assuming you’re only checking one bag in North America.

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

The exact number of flights you need to start saving on Economy Plus seats is much more vague, as the pricing of those seats varies by travel distance and when you purchase them.

So unless you’re a very frequent flier within the United States and Canada who wants to check just one bag, you’re probably not going to save a dime by taking out a subscription. Instead, United will just make more money off of you.

It seems to me that’s exactly what both of these companies are trying to do: make more money and reduce expenses by eliminating traditional customer services or continually charging more for them.

And that’s an overall trend I’m not a fan of.

– written by Dori Saltzman

airplane viewToday we bring you three stories from around the airline industry, including a viral image of a flight attendant flipping the bird, the possible end of airline fees and an attempt to make airline loyalty programs “sustainable.”

Middle Seat, Middle Finger
The image, taken from a flight attendant’s rear cabin point of view, shows an outstretched arm with a certain finger aimed skyward. The sentiment is directed towards the fliers. Now Tatiana Kozlenko, an Aeroflot flight attendant said to have posted the pic on her Vkontakte page (Vkontakte is a social network in Russia), has been deplaned from the company. Russia-based news and TV outfit RT.com reports that the pic was posted back in October 2011 and had been languishing in relative obscurity until a popular Russian blogger reposted it on Twitter.

Kozlenko says it’s 1) not her in the photo, 2) not an Aeroflot plane and 3) not something she posted herself (she says she just tagged herself to it). Regardless, the airline has still laid down the long finger of the law. Aeroflot tweeted Monday morning that the firing was justified: “The fact of posting a photo shows Tatiana’s attitude towards passengers and her duties. She acknowledged her fault when she spoke to the leadership of the company.”

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

Airlines Running out of Fee Ideas?
Around the globe, airlines charged an estimate $36 billion in ancillary fees in 2012. But on Time.com, Brad Tuttle ponders whether a la carte pricing may have reached maximum altitude. Simply put, there’s almost nothing left to charge fliers for. What gave him that idea? The CEO of Spirit Airlines, the undisputed czar of deconstruction, recently told American Media Public Marketplace that the wellspring of added-fee innovations is starting to run dry. We’re not convinced. (Still left on the docket are a fee to talk to a human, fines for in-flight flatulence and an up-charge for armrest dominion.)

In the end, Tuttle doesn’t buy it either. He argues that any dearth of new ideas would be outweighed by ascending fees for baggage, onboard meals and the like.

An Airline Fee We Might Actually Want to Pay

Loyalty Pays Less
Veteran travel writer Chris Elliott reports that Delta is the first legacy airline to bind the value of its frequent-flier program not only to the number of miles passengers fly but also to the amount they spend. From January 1, 2014, loyalists will reach new echelons through a combination of miles or segments flown and annual spending on Delta flights. The key downside, among others: Snagging a great deal will help you less in the loyalty program game.

Naturally, Delta’s new program will help the airline’s bottom line. In the airline’s mind, too many undeserving fliers were benefiting. For Elliott, “As painful as these changes are, they make sense.” JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America already have programs that reward fliers based on how much they spend, he says. “Air travelers tempted to give their loyalty to an airline like Delta now won’t cling to an empty promise that they can reach elite status any other way than by spending their way there. Some will refuse to participate and will instead purchase a ticket that makes sense for them, and not for their loyalty program.”

Frequent Flier Miles: How to Use ‘Em, Not Lose ‘em

– written by Dan Askin

airline baggage feesWhen Delta first began charging for a second checked bag internationally about four years ago, my husband and I swore we’d never fly them again. My husband is European and every time we go over we bring loads of stuff with us. Eventually we simply got used to the $50 fee. But then it went up to $75 and that was it for us — no more second checked bag. And then it went up again!

Unfortunately, the airline is no longer alone in charging a truly hefty fee for that second bag. United just announced that it too is raising the fee for a second checked bag from $75 to $100 for international flights.

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

I can’t help but wonder why the airlines are doing this. Do they really hope to make more money from folks who either don’t know how to trim their luggage down or are visiting relatives and therefore expected to lug over boatloads of gifts?

Or maybe they’re aiming for the point of no return at which most fliers will simply throw up their hands and say no more. Are too many second checked bags weighing the airlines down?

Some say this is what Spirit was aiming for when it recently began charging folks up to $100 for putting carry-on bags in the overhead bin. Cranky Flier, for one, said the airlines are penalizing passenger behavior they want to discourage. In Spirit’s case they’re hoping to cut down the number of people who wait until they’re at the gate to inform the airline they’ll be using overhead bin space.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

With fuel prices what they are and airlines trying to save every penny, perhaps it’s in their interest to cut down on the number of second checked bags. And for those who aren’t getting the message — or don’t care — I guess the $100 fee covers the extra fuel.

What do you think? Would you pay $100 for a second checked bag?



– written by Dori Saltzman

feecationDo you feel as though you are nickel and dimed — or more like $10′d and $25′d — to death when you travel? It seems that as you plan your trip budget, you have to allow for about one-third again of the costs in fees. Of course, many charges you can avoid. But wouldn’t it be nice to throw budgets to the wind and treat yourself to that $8 airline meal or $15 late hotel check-out?

With the new online subscription rebate service Feecation.com, you can. Here’s how it works: You pay a membership fee of $14.97 per month. Within 30 days of incurring a fee while traveling (consult the list of payable fees under the site’s terms of service), you send proof of payment via either e-mail (use your smartphone to take a picture of the receipt and e-mail it while still on vacation to streamline the process) or the U.S. Postal Service. Then, within three to six weeks, you should receive your refund.

Travel Budget Calculator

How much will that refund be? Feecation.com will cover $10 per instance of incremental airline fees up to $500 per year, and $10 for each hotel, car rental and Wi-Fi fee up to $250 per year in each category. Theoretically, you could be reimbursed $1,250 each year, which more than covers the cost of membership. To make the cost of membership worth the $179.64 a year, you should travel often enough to incur at least 18 charges and also be organized enough to actually send in your receipts.

Caveat emptor: Travelers should remember that while fees are annoying, information gathering is an even bigger money-maker than charging you to check a bag. Not only are you providing your contact and credit card information, but you’re also providing a lot of information about yourself via the receipts you send in for reimbursement. Be certain to read and understand all 3,000 words of the company’s privacy policy before you provide any personal information. It does state that you can opt out of the company’s information database, but that option isn’t comprehensive. Feecation.com offers a 30-day trial, but you still must provide all your information and cancel it before the 30 days is up.

Would you be willing to give Feecation.com a try?

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

– written by Jodi Thompson

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Want to pack anything more than a laptop and a change of underwear on your next flight? You’d better pony up. As of tomorrow, low-cost carrier Allegiant Air will join Spirit Airlines in charging a fee not only for checked bags but also for any carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of you, reports MSNBC.com.

If you want your carry-on in the overhead bin, you’ll have to shell out $35 at the airport — or $10 – $30 (depending on your itinerary) if you pay online in advance. The charges will not apply to passengers who booked their flights before the new rules were instituted. If you check a bag instead, the cost ranges from $14.99 to $35, depending on where you’re traveling and whether you pay online or at the airport.

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Spirit Airlines became the first carrier to charge for carry-on bags back in 2010 (which later inspired the design of a new suitcase to help travelers avoid the fees). For travelers like me who prefer to travel with a carry-on only, this is a frightening trend. Aviation consultant Robert Mann told MSNBC.com that he didn’t think these fees would spread to the major carriers: “No business-oriented airline would do this to customers with a laptop and valet bag — they would drive them right off the airplane.”

But I’m not convinced. If the airlines have a chance to make a few extra millions from yet another fee, why wouldn’t they? Let us know what you think.



– written by Sarah Schlichter

We’ve found a carry-on bag that does more than, er, carry. It’s a $66 bag that could pay for itself in just one flight (depending on which airline you choose) — a bag that was designed in direct response to ever-evolving airline fees and bag-size restrictions.

On most airlines, there’s an easy way to avoid baggage fees: restrict yourself to a carry-on bag only. But on ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines (one of those airlines we love to hate), you’ll have to break out your wallet no matter how efficiently you pack. The airline charges up to $45 each way for checked bags and up to $40 for carry-ons. (Even joining Spirit’s $9 Fare Club will merely reduce the fees, not waive them.) The only thing you can bring for free is a single personal item small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.

Before all you Spirit fliers start trying to jam a week’s worth of clothes into your purse, check out the luggage at CarryOn Free. Smaller than a standard carry-on bag, the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase is specifically designed to meet Spirit’s size restrictions for personal items (16″ x 14″ x 12″). Two zipper pockets help travelers stay organized and make the most of limited packing space.

carryon free



At $65.99, the bag pays for itself the first time you avoid Spirit’s carry-on fee (up to $80 roundtrip). But even better, you can win one for free. We’re giving away a tan and copper carry-on to one lucky reader who leaves a comment below. Just share your smartest packing tip in the comments by Tuesday, September 27 at 11:59 p.m. ET for a chance to win.

Editor’s Note: This giveaway has ended. Check out the winning packing tip — and get an exclusive discount to buy the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase — in Travel Tip of the Week: Why You Should Always Pack a Hat.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

baggage claim airport woman suitcaseEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

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.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

train suitcase woman travel railroad railsEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

With airfares rising to dizzying (or nauseating!) heights, having to shell out an additional $50 for baggage fees on a roundtrip flight is like piling insult on top of injury. That’s why many travelers are choosing to drive this summer — at least you can bring as much luggage as you want. But do you really want to weigh your car down with extra stuff when gas costs $4 a gallon?

There is another way. Caroline Costello writes, “While airlines are charging left and right for big bags, extra bags and even carry-on bags (we’re looking at you, Spirit), train travel is a different story. Amtrak’s baggage allowance policy says passengers may carry on up to two pieces of luggage (not including personal items like purses, strollers or computer bags) and check up to three pieces of luggage — for free! Additional bags cost a surprisingly low $10 per bag. Plus, for a small fee (usually $5 to $10, depending on your route), train travelers can bring big-ticket items like bicycles, surfboards or musical instruments onboard.”

Five bucks for a bike or a surfboard? Compare that to a budget-busting $150 on American Airlines. And with such a generous checked bag allowance, you can pack as many bathing suits and tank tops as you want.

There’s more good news, too. It may not help you this summer, but over the next few years train service across the U.S. will be improving. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded more than $2 billion to various high-speed rail projects across the country, investing in better and faster service in the Northeast, California and the Midwest.

See six more ways to avoid baggage fees.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

suitcases baggage luggage bagsThe U.S. government is coming to bat for travelers, pushing for the implementation of new rules that would further defend endlessly abused fliers against the big bad airlines.

The Department of Transportation wants to address some of the biggest complaints about airlines, reports the Associated Press. Some of changes proposed by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood include refunds for checked bag fees when luggage is lost, an increase in the amount of money paid to bumped passengers, the option for fliers to cancel reservations within 24 hours of booking at no charge, and a more lucid disclosure of extra fees.

At present, airlines aren’t required to refund checked baggage fees if luggage is lost or damaged. Contributing blogger Dan Askin learned this the hard way when he had to pay $50 for the privilege of having his bag destroyed by US Airways. Such behavior has been de rigueur for the airline industry. But will LaHood’s proposal change things for the better?

The AP spoke to Nick Gates of SITA, an aviation technology provider, who warned that the airlines might use the proposed changes as an excuse to raise fees. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise to us; we’ve seen new rules implemented by the DOT backfire before.

When the Department of Transportation put into effect its passenger rights bill last year, one of its goals was to prevent lengthy delays by imposing hefty fines any time a plane sat on a tarmac for longer than three hours. But the bill may have had unintended consequences for travelers. Crankly Flier argues that the tarmac delay rule incited a significant increase in flight cancellations in 2010, reporting that there were an additional 5,000 cancellations in 2010 versus 2009 (even though weather conditions were 30 percent better in 2010 than in 2009).

Will the proposed DOT rules be a boon for fliers, or might passengers face a surge of reactionary fees or an increase in ticket prices? Share your thoughts!

– written by Caroline Costello