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6 Ways to Save On Baggage Fees

Stay one step ahead of the airlines to save money, hassles.

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Since May 2008 when American Airlines announced that it would be the first U.S. airline to charge for every checked bag, it's been downhill for frugal flight passengers. Now, nearly every airline in the U.S. and Canada charges around $25 for the first bag their customers check (and more for the second and third). But don't worry: You can avoid these fees if you're a savvy flyer. In this article, I'm going to break down six cures to the checked baggage fee epidemic.

See Also on Kiplinger: Overlooked Credit Card Perks

The Costs

Before getting into how we can save on bags, let's go over the costs.

Generally airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag for each direction of your journey, meaning you'll pay $50 for a roundtrip flight. While $50 may not sound like a crippling fee, when you're hunting for a great deal on a flight, it can end up being a large percentage of your overall fare — and that's just for one checked bag.

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That $50 is a steak dinner for two, it's eight beers at a nice restaurant, it's a nice bottle of wine and a museum entry ticket. That $50 is enough to make you think twice about your baggage fees on your next flight.

If you're traveling with a family, you can save upwards of $125 each journey (much more if your bags are overweight). So let's get started with some tips.

1. Become Elite

If you're a frequent flyer (usually 25,000-plus miles per year), you can become an elite member of your frequent flyer program and reap some pretty amazing rewards. One of them will likely be free checked bags on your flights. Other rewards include free upgrades, free food, and unlimited booze.

American Airlines' AAdvantage program offers one free checked bag for Gold members, two for Platinum members, and three for Executive Platinum members.

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If you don't think that you're going to be traveling all the way around the world and back each year and thus don't qualify for elite status, then you may want to utilize the next tip instead.

2. Use the Right Credit Card

Airline loyalty programs like Delta SkyMiles, United MileagePlus, American Airlines AAdvantage, JetBlue TrueBlue, and Southwest Rapid Rewards all have their line of co-branded credit cards. These credit cards offer a variety of travel perks, including free checked baggage.

If you're a frequent flyer, or you always fly with the same airline or airline partner, then you should definitely consider choosing a credit card that will maximize your flight benefits with that airline. Baggage fees are usually just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to credit card rewards. You can earn some pretty nice perks by putting your flight purchases on the right credit card.

3. Pack Smart

In 2010, Spirit Airlines started charging for carry-on bags, but luckily no other airlines (aside from Frontier) have followed suit so far. This means that you can sometimes pack all of your things into a carry-on sized bag to avoid baggage fees. You might be surprised at how easy this can be done! (See also on WiseBread.com: 15 Packing Secrets From a Professional Traveler)

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One tip that works quite well is to wear all of your bulky clothes on the plane to free up space in your bag. I'm not saying that you should dress in everything you own like Joey from "Friends," but you can definitely wear your jacket, jeans and sweater on the day of your flight to lessen the load in your bags.

If you're trying to avoid overweight baggage fees, then wearing your bulky items and carrying as much in your carry-on may just save you a lot of money. A 60-pound checked bag can cost you upwards of $90, so if you can put some of that weight in the cabin, you'll be keeping some money in your wallet.

4. Fly With the Right Airline

Sorry, guys! This list is slowly dwindling down and you now only have one option for free bags in the U.S. — Southwest Airlines. JetBlue was the only other airline that held out on baggage fees until June 2015 when it announced that the first checked bag would be $25 for all passengers.

Southwest is still holding out and they actually allow two free checked bags for all passengers. Go Southwest!

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5. Upgrade

You may cringe at the idea of spending double the price of your ticket just for some extra leg room, good service and a fancy meal, but flying first class doesn't always have to be expensive. Delta, for example, sometimes offers seat upgrades for $90 at check-in. First class allows you a free checked bag and often offers more weight allowance.

An overweight bag on Delta can cost around $90, so why not enjoy some comfort, free booze and a free meal along the way? Definitely ask about upgrades at check-in.

WestJet in Canada offers upgrades to Economy Plus Seating for between $15–$50 and it includes food, more leg room, a drink and a free checked bag (worth $25). Definitely worth considering.

6. Go Ultra-Light

If you're a frequent flyer, it's probably worth it for you to invest in lightweight luggage. The amount of money you can potentially save in overweight baggage fees will likely be far more than the cost of the bag over the course of a year.

Some regular suitcases can weigh upwards of 20 pounds — empty! By purchasing ultra-lightweight luggage, you can get this down to around 7 pounds. That's 13 pounds lighter, and if you're that much overweight, this luggage could save you around $60 in your return journey.

You Don't Have to Go Far

Some people go as far as to avoid flying altogether, or even shipping their bags with an independent courier service like VIPbags to avoid fees, but you really don't have to go that far. By using the tips in this article, you should be able to rid yourself of the baggage fees, while still flying comfortably on your next vacation. (See also on WiseBread.com: 10 Most Creative Ways to Avoid Airline Fees)

This article is from Nick Wharton of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website.

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This article is from Wise Bread, not the Kiplinger editorial staff.