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baggage claim airportLast month, the Los Angeles Times came out with a surprising report: According to academic studies, airline baggage fees have actually improved flier satisfaction.

Per the article, these oft-complained-about fees have “led to fewer lost-bag reports, fewer delayed flights and a drop in bag-related passenger complaints.”

While it’s not the news most of us want to hear — we’ll never get rid of these fees now! — it makes logical sense in some ways. The surcharges make passengers less likely to check bags, which means there are fewer bags for the airline to lose. Flight delays are also less likely since there aren’t as many suitcases for baggage handlers to load onto the plane.

But when we shared the L.A. Times report with our followers on Facebook, they didn’t seem too inclined to agree with the researchers’ conclusion that baggage fees have actually made fliers’ lives better.

“People try to drag much more in carry-on bags onto a plane, which causes issues when there is not enough room,” wrote Tom Vertrees. “Makes disembarkation much longer and more stress on travelers.”

Staxy Morrison concurred: “It adds to more people having to check baggage at the gate and more confusion when boarding!”

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Colleen R Costello pointed out that the airlines have an ulterior motive in the way they charge baggage fees: “From what I read it’s only been a way for them to divert income from one category to another! Seems baggage fees aren’t taxed or treated the same way as fare revenue is! Sneaky.” (Colleen is right: Airlines must pay a 7.5 excise tax on the base airfares that they charge, but this tax is not applicable to ancillary charges such as baggage fees.)

But our favorite response might just be the one from Mickey Morgan: “What bag fees? I fly Southwest.”

Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Airlines?

What’s your take? Do you think that baggage fees have been a net positive for fliers overall?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

jetblue plane in flightWe first got wind of the impending bad news last year, and now it’s come to pass: JetBlue will no longer include one free checked bag with the cost of all its flights.

The discount carrier has rolled out a new fare structure, effective today, that offers varying baggage and other fees depending on how much you pay for your flight. If you book the cheapest available fare category, known as Blue, you’ll have to pay $20 or $25 for your first checked bag on most itineraries (it varies based on where you pay it — Web check-in, kiosk or airport counter). The second bag costs $35 in this fare category.

If you pay a little more for the Blue Plus fare, you’ll get one checked bag free, with the second costing $35. If you want to bring two complimentary checked bags, you’ll have to pony up for either the Blue Flex or Mint fare. (The latter is only available on cross-country flights.)

You can still get a free checked bag in any fare category if you’re headed to one of the following destinations: Santo Domingo, Santiago, Port-au-Prince, Port of Spain, Kingston, Cartagena, Medellin, Bogota, Lima or Mexico City.

Other differences between the fare categories include cancellation and change fees, which are highest for Blue passengers, a little lower for Blue Plus and free for Blue Flex. The full fare chart is below (click to see a larger version):

jetblue fare chart


We did a few test searches to check out the fare differences between categories. On a flight between New York and Chicago, the Blue Plus fare was $15 more in each direction than the Blue fare, while the Blue Flex fare was $100 more each way than the cheapest option. That means it would actually be cheaper to book the Blue Plus fare than to buy the Blue fare and check a single bag.

When we changed the itinerary to San DiegoFort Lauderdale, however, that wasn’t the case; the difference was $30 – $31 each way between Blue and Blue Plus and $100 each way between Blue and Blue Flex.

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Southwest is now the only American airline that offers free checked bags to all passengers.

Will these changes make you more or less likely to fly JetBlue?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

using tax refund on travelWhether Uncle Sam reciprocated with a hefty refund this year, or you’re still scrambling to postmark the paperwork, tax season produces stress and savings funds alike. While most sites will advise what to spend your hard-earned refund on, we have a few travel-related fees you shouldn’t use your bonus bit of cash toward. A room with a balcony instead of just a window? Yes. Your airline’s $25 checked bag fee? Not so much. Budgeting for a dream vacation can be worth all of the withholdings, just don’t bother wasting your precious refund on the following travel fees.

Foreign Taxes
If you plan on shopping abroad, don’t let laziness rob you of repayment. Many countries — mainly in the European Union — offer their own refunds of the Value Added Tax (VAT) that is levied on clothing, art and other souvenirs. This tax can range from 10 to 25 percent, so if you’re making purchases beyond a few postcards, it’s likely worth the additional effort to provide your passport, obtain the appropriate receipt while at the store and file it once at the airport. A few things to know before you go: Try not to use the items before claiming them — this may nullify the refund — and also be aware of the spending minimums in each country to qualify for compensation. Ireland requires no minimum purchase, so load up on as much — or as little — memorabilia from the Emerald Isle as you like and submit it for recompense.

Baggage
This may seem like an obvious and overwrought fee to avoid, but don’t let the airlines break you down. Unless you’re headed on a safari and need pounds worth of gear, baggage fees can still be avoided because, well, they suck. Consider packing a lighter carry-on for the way over and bringing two bags home; for a domestic flight, ship your suitcase or additional items in advance (this may sound pricey, but consider your airline’s fees for overweight or additional baggage); or best of all, find an airline that still allows a free checked bag or two. Baggage fees are ever-changing and often vary by destination, so even if you fly with the same carrier routinely, it’s always smart to check current size restrictions and costs before you go.

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Prepaid Gasoline
Prepaying might seem like the mark of an organized, well-adjusted traveler — prepaid gratuities, prepaid hotel fare at a discount — but know when you’re saving time and when you’re losing money. Prepaying for gas when picking up a rental car is an expense that is only worth the cost if you’re short on time the morning of drop-off, or you’re confident that you’ll pull up to the rental agency in perfect unison with the gaslight. In this case, paying as you go and refueling on your own ensure that you’re only paying for what you’ve used — and no more.

10 Things Not to Do When Renting a Car

Single Supplement
Traveling independently is a fearless form of travel, so shouldn’t you be rewarded, not penalized, for doing so? Some tour operators and cruise lines don’t see it that way. Based on double occupancy prices, single travelers are often required to pay a premium for occupying a space set aside for two. This doesn’t have to be the case. Increasingly, cruise lines and travel companies are waiving these solo supplements and even going so far as to customize vacations and purpose-build cruise cabins for the solo traveler. Another cost-effective way to travel on your own and even get to know a travel companion is to share a room with another independent traveler — but this option depends on comfort level and availability.

Single Travel Tips for Going Solo

Internet
Internet is reaching the dawn of a new Information Age — one where access is more of a right and less of a privilege. Because of its widespread availability in most of the developed world, Internet access is easier than ever to find for free. Find a hotel, a local cafe, a college campus or even a library where you can plug in or channel some free Wi-Fi. Along with obvious benefits such as checking museum opening hours or finding a great local restaurant, you can also use VoIP apps such as FaceTime to keep in touch with loved ones at home (depending on bandwidth, of course). Internet is still hard to come by in many parts of the world and vital enough to pay for if necessary, so know before you go.

11 Things Not to Do When Booking a Hotel

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Oftentimes, April Fools’ jokes playfully publicized by travel companies on social media are so obvious that they might warrant an eye roll, but not a warning label. Southwest Airlines adding baggage fees — now that hits home.

The discount airline notorious for its free checked bags, surrendered in jest today, saying, “All the other guys are doing it.” Additional charges apply if your bag is a busy color, if you’re a teenager and if you’re over six feet tall, to name a few. All three? Forget it! Check out the carrier’s YouTube video below and rejoice that at least for now, this airline’s baggage fee announcement is a total joke.


Do you find the fake fees funny? What’s the best April Fools’ prank you came across this year?

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees
The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

passengers at airport baggage counterTraveling (and packing) for the holidays this year? We can’t tell you what to expect from the person sitting next to you on your flight — if they are sick, like to snore or have a crying baby sitting on their lap — but we can tell you which baggage fees to expect from your air carrier and how to beat them.

First, make sure your carry-on is complimentary. If not, bring only the most essential items on your person or in a small bag that could be considered your personal effect, and then check the rest. If you are checking a bag, make sure to determine whether prepayment is available online prior to arrival at the airport. Many airlines allow you to pay for checked baggage on their site or app, and sometimes it’s at a reduced price.

The next thing to consider is how much you’re bringing. Always weigh your bags before you arrive at the check-in counter. Guessing a number may be fun on “The Price is Right,” but not so when that number might result in extra fees. If you must pack everything you own, take advantage of all the space you have; that means packing your carry-on and, if you can manage them, two checked bags. We noticed that many of the fees for overweight bags exceed how much it would be to bring two checked bags, so divide your belongings into two suitcases, pay less and potentially have room to pack anything you purchase while you are away.

Our award for the best airline to fly with excess baggage this season goes to Southwest: zero baggage fees unless you fill over capacity, and even then, the overweight fee is less than most. As an added bonus, Southwest also doesn’t charge for things like making changes to a nonrefundable flight. Our vote for the most nickel and diming goes to Spirit. Notorious for added fees, Spirit not only charges more per bag, but might be Scrooge of the airlines with their $2 holiday surcharge. Bah humbug!

Fees for international flights may vary by region, so double-check your carrier’s website to be sure. Also, discounted fees are available for members of most airline loyalty programs.

Happy flying!

Alaska Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $25. Overweight bags are $75.

American Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Delta Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Frontier Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is $25 to $50; first bag is $25 and second $30. Overweight bags are $75.

JetBlue Airways

Fees: None for carry-on or first bag. Second checked bag is $50. Overweight bags are $100.
(Note: Starting in 2015, JetBlue will offer a new fare that doesn’t include a free checked bag.)

Southwest Airlines

Fees: None for carry-on, first or second checked bag. Overweight bags are $75.

Spirit Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is $35 to $100; first bag is $30 to $100 and second bag is $40 to $100. Overweight bags are $25 to $100. A $2 surcharge will be tacked on to existing baggage fees from December 18 through January 5.

United Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second is $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

US Airways

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second is $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Virgin America

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag is $25 and second bag is $25. Overweight bags are $50 to $100.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

airport baggage claimBy next year, there may only be one airline in the U.S. that lets fliers check a bag for free.

While both JetBlue and Southwest currently allow travelers to bring aboard a complimentary checked bag (Southwest even lets you have two!), Bloomberg reports that JetBlue is looking into overhauling its ticket pricing structure, which will likely lead to a few extra fees for those who pay the cheapest possible fare.

According to Bloomberg, the airline plans to create multiple fare classes, some of which would include a free bag and/or other services. Fliers could pay a higher rate for a more inclusive fare, or pony up for their checked bag if they elect the cheapest available fare. The changes are expected to take effect within the first six months of 2015.

This sort of bundling isn’t new. Frontier Airlines and Air Canada are among the carriers that currently offer multiple fare options when booking. Frontier’s Classic Plus fares are fully refundable and include a free checked bag, extra legroom and a beverage, while its bare-bones Economy fares are cheaper and include none of the above. Air Canada offers Tango, Flex and Latitude fares, each of which comes with different benefits (or lack thereof) such as waived change fees, priority check-in and standby privileges. (Worth noting: In all three of Air Canada’s fare classes you’ll have to pay for checked bags.)

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Naturally, JetBlue’s proposed changes are all about money; Bloomberg reports that the airline’s profits trail those of its competitors. I know airlines aren’t charities and they need to make a buck, but it’s still a bummer for those of us who appreciate companies that don’t try to nickel and dime us.

Will you still fly JetBlue if these changes go into effect?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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

I’m leaving on a trip this Sunday and for the first time in my life I packed early and I packed light. Save the toothbrush, I crossed the toiletry Ts and dotted all the iPad Is into my carry-on suitcase so I could spend the rest of the week anticipating my travels and not dreading packing. But wouldn’t you know it, three major airlines — American, Delta and United — have reduced the size of an acceptable carry-on yet again (it flew under the radar until recently). I am flying one of these lines, and of course when I measured my bag, roughly 24 X 15 X 9, it was too large. The new size regulation — apparently enacted by United in March but effective immediately — is 22 inches long by 14 inches wide and 9 inches high, skimming a collective 5 inches off of what was a perfectly fine carry-on bag just weeks ago, and rendering my treasured, nearly new (expensive) indigo suitcase totally useless against checked-bag fees.

Pinned to a new FAA regulation (according to this article on Airfarewatchdog.com), it’s curious that fellow airlines JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America and Frontier have maintained their 24 X 16 X 10-inch carry-on allocations.

Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

Upon further review, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, reflects that although the changes are subtle, they are being strictly enforced by the TSA and not as clearly explained by the airlines. The standard of a 45-inch maximum outside linear dimension is made null if the dimensions exceed any of the newly specified maximums. So in other words, 21 X 14 X 10 may meet the 45-inches-total guideline, but not the new 9-inches-high guideline. Therefore, the risk of having to re-pack, being sent to the back of the check-in line and potentially missing your flight is a real one — all traced back to a difference of one inch.

Whether it’s a regulation based in research, a ploy to cash in on more checked bags or simply a way to keep travelers on their toes, it’s exhausting keeping up with all the policy updates. I was finally ahead in the travel race, only to be handed a penalty card.

Have you encountered any trouble at the check-in counter lately? Vent about misguided measurements in the comments below.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

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

Regional carrier Frontier Airlines plans to lower its fares by adding a slew of new charges for things that used to come standard for economy-class passengers — like carry-on bags.

In a statement, the airline refers to the change as “unbundling” and says it’s “enabling customers to choose and pay for only the products they want to truly customize their flight.”

Gee, thanks for the favor.

Not only has the line compressed its former fare structure into just two types — Economy and Classic Plus — it has also introduced a discount club called Discount Den, which will allow passengers to access special savings (for a fee, of course — which has yet to be revealed).

“You can choose an all-in fare by purchasing Classic Plus, or only pay for what items matter to you with our Economy tickets,” the airline’s Facebook page optimistically chirps. “When you purchase our Economy fare, you start with our lowest fares and then add on the items that you want such as carry-on bags, advanced seat assignments, and onboard beverages.”

Many customers aren’t buying that argument, though: “Haha! I just read your email – $25 for a carry-on?” says Andrea Lee on Facebook. “$3 starting price for the ability to choose a seat to sit in? I had to check out your Facebook page to see if this was a joke….”

“Are the ‘new low fares’ not loaded yet?” asks Christine Malinconico Rhodes. “I am not seeing any competitive fares for the places I go!”

“#neveragain,” adds Jayson Vonfreizer.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

In its FAQs about the changes, which went into effect on April 28, Frontier boasts that the unbundling has decreased Economy base fares by more than 10 percent. Although Frontier answered some of our other questions, its reps still won’t say what the percentage increase in Economy fares will be if passengers choose to add all of the amenities that are now a la carte.

If you want to bring a carry-on bag, you’ll be shelling out anywhere from $20 to $50 for the privilege, depending on when you make the payment. (It’s cheapest if you pay when you book, most expensive if you pay at the gate.) Oh, and in case you were wondering, you’ll still have to pony up for checked bags too, but you’ll pay less for a checked bag than a carry-on. Frontier spokesperson Kate O’Malley says fewer carry-ons equal a more streamlined boarding process.

Don’t worry, though. You won’t have to pay anything extra for toting a purse, backpack or laptop bag. What a deal!

Those of us who prefer to be treated like people, rather than cattle, can always purchase the more expensive Classic Plus fares, which are fully refundable and include one checked bag, one carry-on bag, pre-assigned seating and extra legroom. In the few sample fares we scoped out between a handful of randomly chosen destinations, we saw differences of nearly $200 roundtrip between some Economy and Classic Plus fares. Oof.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Allegiant and Spirit Airlines pulled something similar not too long ago, and we’ve still got a bitter taste in our mouths. The only question remains: Which airline will be next?

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

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