If you regularly check a bag, then I’m sure the airlines would like to personally thank you for the extra income. In just two years, we’ve gone from one airline experimenting with a pay-to-check baggage system, to an industry where paying to check any bag is the new standard. Thankfully, there are ways around having to check a bag.
Obviously, this won’t work if you are carrying everything plus your kitchen sink, but smart packers can easily pack and carry everything they need for an extended trip as carry-on luggage. In this Gadling guide, we’ll explain how you can sneak a third carry-on with you, how you can check a bag for free at the gate, or when to look into simply shipping your bags.
Don’t know whether your airline charges for checked bags? Check out this comprehensive chart from Airfarewatchdog.com.
Rethink your bag strategy to maximize what you can carry
Are you traveling with a laptop bag and a small duffel? Or a handbag and a small rolling case? Rethink how you carry your stuff if you want to maximize your space. Get the largest rolling case (or duffel) the airlines allow, and find the largest expanding laptop bag that can fit under a seat.
Ladies, be aware that airlines WILL count your handbag as a “personal item”, so leave room in your two other bags for your handbag. A gate agent having a bad day will stop you and demand that you combine your items.
Find lighter luggage
Every extra pound wasted on your luggage, is a pound you could use to pack more stuff. Rolling luggage has really evolved in recent years, to the point where a very sturdy piece of rolling luggage can weigh just 5 pounds. For more lightweight products, check out our lightweight travel gift guide.
Use a jacket as a third carry-on
Yes, that’s right – a jacket can be a very sneaky third carry-on without anyone noticing. Annie took the $120 Scottevest “Women’s essential jacket” for a spin last year, and explained how its 18 pockets let you carry the contents of one bag in your jacket. Nobody will notice you are actually wearing a bag, which gives you two more bags for your crap.
Scottevest garments are available in many styles, colors and sizes at scottevest.com.
Never make it LOOK heavy
No matter how much stuff you pack in your bags, don’t make it look heavy. The moment a gate agent sees you struggle with a bag, is the moment they’ll ask you to have the bag weighed, or point out that it is just too heavy for the overhead.
Make use of the handles on your bag, never drag a non-rolling bag through the airport, and never ask the flight attendant to help stuff your bag in the overhead – chances are they’ll point to the door and tell you to check it.
Boarding early means boarding when the overhead compartments are still relatively empty. Of course, getting the magical “group 1″ on your boarding pass isn’t always easy (or possible). In some cases, the airline may offer a relatively cheap upgrade to premium economy, or you may be able to find yourself a comp to an entry level elite status.
If you are traveling with a buddy who holds group 1 eligible status, you can usually piggyback off their status.
Have a last minute backup plan
Always designate one of your bags your “flight bag”. If your massive overweight bags get noticed at the gate, and someone demands you check one of them, you don’t want to be the last person holding up the flight because you need to combine items from both bags into one.
Make sure you pack everything you need in one bag, and use the other one for less important stuff. Chargers, medication and your iPod stay together. Of course, refrain from packing expensive items in your “can check” bag, as there is no such thing as a “lucky day” when flying.
Did you make it past the check-in kiosk and the security checkpoint with your obviously overweight bag? If the gate area is packed, ask the agent for a gate check of your bag. They’ll actually appreciate your honesty and willingness to part with your bag. But best of all, they’ll slap a tag on your bag for free. Of course, this won’t work with your massive 30″ suitcase, as someone from the TSA will prevent that from making its way through the x-ray machine, but an expanded 22″ bag won’t be a problem (unless you try and stuff it in the overhead). Some airlines are even experimenting with gate check volunteers, and will reward them with a “group 1″ boarding assignment.
Also, do us all a favor and don’t even bother trying to stuff an expanded bag in the overhead – it won’t fit, and you’ll just end up delaying the entire boarding process.
Dump the crap and lighten the load
Really, if you are going on a 4 day trip with two 40lb bags, then you’d better have a damn good reason. When you start packing, start going through some of the junk you have in your bags. Chances are, you don’t need half of it.
Heavy and bulky items like shoes may seem like a must have on your trip, but in some cases you may be better off with lighter flip-flops. Start by repacking your most essential items, then slowly add things you think you might need.
Ship, don’t schlep
Our very own George Hobica already did your homework on this one – in some cases, it can be cheaper, faster and safer to ship your luggage instead of trying to carry it on the plane (or check it).
FedEx or UPS can get a bag to your destination in a couple of days, which means you can leave for the airport without worrying about toiletries, clothes or other luggage. Just bring your small carry-on, and keep an eye on the tracking number. Once at your destination, if the service did its job right, your bags will be safe and sound waiting for you to have a good time.
Rethink your technology
Technology is a good friend of the lightweight traveler. Dump the laptop and get a netbook. Sell your old books and get a Kindle. Throw your old chargers in a box and get a universal lightweight laptop charger.
Yes – the investment in technology will be pretty fierce if you really want to go ultra lightweight, but your back will thank you for it.
Borrow a friend (but not a stranger)
Traveling with a buddy? If you are on the road with someone who knows the tricks, or who simply doesn’t care about paying to check a bag, you can always ask them to carry one of your bags for you. Obviously, only do this with someone who trusts you, and don’t betray their trust by using that bag for your bootleg DVD’s and “herbal products” from Amsterdam. No, really – don’t do it.