Frugal Travel: Avoiding Airlines’ Baggage Fees and Fuel Surcharges

Rick Ingersoll, The Frugal Travel Guy,  suggests ways around pesky

Rick Ingersoll

travel fees.

August 9, 2011 (Traverse City, MI) — Nothing is more frustrating than getting to the airport counter and being told you now owe for the baggage you’re bringing on your trip — except trying to book an award ticket and finding out that your free ticket is subject to a huge “fuel surcharge.”

“Over the past several years, airlines worldwide have found that they can get people to pay for airline tickets and sell them additional services to bump up their bottom line,” said Rick Ingersoll, the popular “travel hacker” behind the blog The Frugal Travel Guy. “In 2010, U.S. based airlines received approximately $5.6 billion — that’s with a ‘B’ — of ancillary income this way.”

Not content to let airlines bump their bottom line out of his pocket, Ingersoll has found way to avoid “some of these unnecessary fees,” he says

Baggage fees

“Baggage fees generate enormous fees for airlines,” he said. “Just five years ago, it was unheard of to charge for a checked bag. Now even the first bag you check is subject to a fee unless you know the way out. Southwest is the only U.S. domestic airline I know of that does not charge for your first checked bag.”

Here’s how he suggests beating the bag charge system. “Think about it: Do you really need to check a bag? Can you make it all fit in a carry on and one personal item, like a huge purse or backpack? I am astounded by the luggage I see people bring on trips.”

The first trick, then, is to try to fly carry-on only. If that isn’t possible, he suggests eliminating the problem before you leave home in three ways:

  1. Ship your stuff to your destination before you leave. “With the current fees being charged by the airlines, in some cases UPS or FedEx ground may actually be more economical.”
  2. Apply for a co-branded credit card that provides free baggage when you’re flying on the airline that provides the card. “Currently both Continental and Delta offer low-cost credit cards that provide for your ‘first bag free’ as long as you keep the credit card,” he said. “One trip with a family of four can easily offset the application fee if you’re all checking a bag. Think of the savings for a businessman carrying sales samples each week. The savings can be astronomical. Check your airline for current ‘first bag free’ benefits with their credit cards.
  3. Obtain Elite status with a given airline to reduce or eliminate baggage fees. “I haven’t paid a bag fee in years since I usually carry on my luggage,” he said, “but I also keep Elite status as well. No baggage fees are only one of the perks Elite status offers frequent travelers.”

Fuel Surcharges

Almost every United States carrier flies domestically and internationally without fuel surcharges added to the ticket price. “This is true for both paid tickets and award tickets,” Ingersoll said. “All we pay is the Homeland Security fee and maybe a few taxes.”

That’s not the case with international carriers, however. “In particular, British Airways is well known in the frugal travel world for adding huge fuel surcharges to their award tickets,” he said.

So he suggests that the easiest way to avoid huge fuel surcharges is to avoid the airlines that charge them. “Shop for flights using those airlines’ alliance partners,” he said. “It is not uncommon to face $400-plus in fees on award tickets with British Airways. And I know many people recently applied for, and were approved for, the British Airways 100,000 miles credit card issued by Chase Bank. That was a great offer but not necessarily for flying on British Airways aircraft, particularly to Europe.”

Instead, he recommends using those British Airways miles for domestic flights on American Airlines, or Cathay Pacific Airways for flights across the Pacific. “Or even flights on other OneWorld Alliance partners to South America,” he added. “Iberia Airline is also a member of the Oneworld Alliance. You may be able to use your British Airways miles to fly on Iberia through their hubs in Spain to your final destination in Europe.”

Noting that frequent flier miles can be used on all airlines that are members of the same alliance, he added, “American Airlines is in the OneWorld Alliance. Delta is a member of the Skyteam Alliance, and United, Continental, and US Airways all belong to the Star Alliance. Don’t be shy about asking to use your miles on a partner airline to eliminate fuel surcharges.”

For more information on Rick Ingersoll and frugal traveling, visit his blog at

About The Frugal Travel Guy:

Rick Ingersoll, author of The Frugal Travel Guy blog and The Frugal Travel Guy Handbook, is constantly on the lookout for the best credit card and debit card sign-up bonuses. He posts travel tips daily on debit and credit card deals and on other interesting promotions with the goal of reducing his readers’ travel costs today and for the rest of their lives. He is also available for seminars and speaking engagements. A retired mortgage banker, Ingersoll and his wife live in Hilton Head Island, SC, and Traverse City, MI, when they’re not traveling the globe. For more information:

One thought on “Frugal Travel: Avoiding Airlines’ Baggage Fees and Fuel Surcharges

  1. Naresh October 3, 2011 / 6:21 am

    Nice tips to save us money while traveling by air.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s