Almost everyone one travelling today faces the dreaded Airline Checked Bag Fee, thereby causing the ‘to carry on or not to carry on’ dilemma. It’s bad and getting worse and not likely to end anytime soon. With the increases to existing bag fees within the past couple of weeks it is safe to say that passenger outrage has reached a new high as well. In fact, Colleen Gray, a travel agent with Genie Travel in Denver, Colorado says that one of her clients threatened to “wear six pairs of pants” to avoid having to check a bag and give the airline any more money. Frustration is running high within the travel public.
“Checked-bag fees are the most lucrative source of extra money. Revenue from them was $669 million in April, May and June alone, up 276% over what they brought in the same time last year. In the first six months of the year, airlines collected $1.24 billion in baggage fees,” writes Roger Yu in USA Today, September 2009.
Bag fees have garnered a lot of support from a surprising quarter: baggage shipping companies. Credit the airlines’ addition of bag fees to their fee catalogue for the growing number of baggage shipping services like Luggage Forward, Luggage Free, Luggage Concierge and many others. Is the answer to the bag fee charge to ship one’s luggage to the destination? Bag fee to shipping charge comparison charts abound and can be downloaded from various sites. George Hobica wrote an article for Airfarewatchdog.com’s blog, Airfarewatchblog, in which he uses a chart to compare shipping rates with UPS, FedEx and the US Postal Service versus bag fees to varying destinations. It’s interesting to note that in some cases the shipping rates compare favorably to the bag fees but one has to consider the downside of shipping as well.
As much as we all would love to snub our noses at the giant airline machine that continues to nickel and dime the traveling public by imposing fee after fee in seemingly never-ending succession, and unless you have the time to ship your bag or bags up to a week before travel and have a duplicate set of toiletries and cosmetics—not to mention underwear—to use in the interim, is it really worth it? And you need to do your research thoroughly:
• Will the hotel accept baggage arriving before guest check in and hold it until arrival?
• Is there a charge for bag storage?
• Will a cruise line accept bags shipped ahead of the departure date?
• Will the hotel you’ve shipped your bags to take responsibility if they misplace or lose your luggage?
The answers are:
• It depends on the hotel and it’s individual policy
• Could be, also depends on hotel policy
• No as a general rule for the major cruise lines but check regarding shipping on your return. Celebrity Cruises has a service which will FEDEX bags to your home after your cruise.
• Good question, again it depends on the policy of the hotel or other facility.
There are other options to checking bags and paying the bag fees and the most obvious is to carry on which, naturally, is the option everyone chooses whenever possible. The airline bag fees have the unintended consequence of reducing the number of checked bags and thereby reducing this ancillary revenue (i.e. revenue generated by charging for services that used to be free, such as checked baggage or in-flight meals) to the airline; and fees also result in more carry on luggage as travelers try to stuff as much as possible into a bag meeting the size requirements for carry on. Passengers now need to allow even more time to go through the TSA security checks because of the increased volume of carry on bags. The boarding process is a nightmare because the overhead bins are filled to overflowing and bags are crammed under seats. And then there is the inevitable last passenger to board who wanders up and down the aisle bag in hand opening each overhead bin hoping against hope that space has magically appeared.
The carry on system can also work to your advantage, though. Gate agents size up bags as passengers are preparing to board and will make a judgment on those that will take up too much room in the bins or won’t fit under a seat. That bag is tagged and ‘gate checked’, meaning that now you’ve checked your bag and paid no fee. This is a loophole in the system that has always existed so take advantage of it while you can as you can bet that the gate agents will soon be charging fees at the gate.
The best way to avoid bag fees to is to travel with an airline which doesn’t charge them. Southwest Airlines, which posted a profit for the 37th year in a row, still does not charge bag fees for 2 checked bags; excess baggage being the exception. The obvious problem is that a bag fee-free airline may not go where you want to go.
Bag fees will continue to be the thorn under the travelers’ saddles for as long as airline operating costs and fuel prices go up, so will ancillary charges such as bag fees. Fewer people flew US airlines last year, a drop of 3.4% between July of 2009 and July 2008 and airlines reported an 18% loss of passenger revenue from 2008 to 2009. Fees are here to stay, people aren’t going to stop flying and start driving instead; how would you get to Hawaii? Carry on bags whenever you can; the more passengers carrying on bags will continue to cause delays in boarding, stowing bags and will inevitably impact on-time departures. Maybe then the airlines will finally see the light.