1. Carry On to Put Fees in Check
The most common-sense solution for avoiding checked baggage fees is to simply not check your bags. Invest in a strong, yet lightweight bag that’s in accordance with the bulk of airlines' carry-on allowances and reusable toiletries containers (sized under the TSA’s mandated maximum of three ounces) and leave worries of lost luggage, hefty additional fees, and long waits at ticket counters for checked bags – behind.
2. If You Must Check Bags, Check Wisely
The steepest checked baggage fees are tacked onto bags that are overweight (usually above 50 pounds) or oversized (from 62 inches). So while it may at first seem logical to try to cram everything into one bag instead of using two, know that while a first checked bag won’t set you back more than $15 on any airline, if it ends up being oversized or overweight it can cost anywhere from $29 (AirTran) to $175 (Delta, for over 70 pounds). Considering second checked bag fees hover around $25 on most airlines (bringing the average total for two checked bags to about $40), it's near-always the more economical option to check two bags than to go overboard on one.
3. Pack Sweet Dreams With You
If you’re looking to catch some onboard shut-eye, pack an inflatable pillow to carry on. Available at many travel and luggage stores, they can be quite comfortable, are more sanitary than airlines’ recycled arsenal, and takes up very little room.
4. Bring Your Own Headset
A handful of airlines are now charging anywhere from $1 to $5 for headsets that allow travelers to tune into the in-flight video entertainment. Simply bring your own iPod earbuds or headphones aboard for superior quality, and save on dishing out for their cheapie versions which you'll most likely end up trashing.
5. Fight In-Flight Food Fees
Fight back against those pricey in-flight food fees by packing a brown bag meal ahead of time to carry on. Some airlines are extending this fee frenzy to non-alcoholic beverages, as well. Since TSA regulations bar travelers from bringing their own water through security checkpoints, try bringing an empty bottle and filling it up at the airport water fountain and adding an iced tea or sport drink mix, many of which are now served in single sizes.
6. Let Your Hotel Foot the Bill
Some very smart hotel chains have figured out a way to attract guests by offering to alleviate their newfound checked baggage expenses. Show your first checked bag receipt when checking in at a Loews Hotels for up to $30 in dining credit at the property under their Baggage Buy Back campaign. Kor Hotel’s Los Angeles-area hotels will reimburse guests with up to $75 in hotel credit through their Money Bags promotion.
7. Fly Southwest for Freedom From Fees
Southwest has been reveling of late in its fee-free structure, which it owes largely to the fuel "hedges" that the company put into place back in 1998 – basically a type of insurance policy against rising fuel prices that locks in their fuel rates at well below what other airlines have had to dish out since barrel prices spiked. It was a smart business move that has paid off tremendously for the airline – and their customers.
8. Join the Club
Several airlines will waive baggage fees if you are an elite member of their frequent flyer program. Remember to sign up for your carrier’s frequent flyer program before booking your flight to start accruing points, and if you are already a member of a program, keep in mind that loyalty to them might very well pay off in the long run.
9. Don’t Get Beat on Your Seat
About half of domestic airlines are now charging for "preferred" seat selection. To avoid doling out the extra cash, check in online just prior to your flight (most airlines open up online check-in 24 hours before scheduled departures), when non-assigned seating inventory usually opens up to all passengers. If you are able to pick your seats in advance, however (the bulk of airlines are still not charging for non-preferred seating assignments), consider booking seats at the back of the plane where you’ll have first dibs on luggage space, meaning you won’t have to store your bag under the seat in front of you, taking up precious leg room.
10. Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease
If an airline attendant tells you that a can of soda costs $2, as US Airways is now charging, a little whining goes a long way. As an “unwritten rule,” US Airways flight attendants decided they would not charge customers who complain over the new cost for soft drinks.