Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pack Light or Pay More

Travelers accustomed to the bare-bones service of the likes of EasyJet and RyanAir already know that packing more will make a flight more costly. That penalty is now coming to the U.S., where struggling airlines keep adding more fees to squeeze more money from passengers. These are not bare-bones airlines either: they are the legacy airlines that used to be called "full service" airlines. (Remember those days? Hate to tell you, but they're not coming back.) United and bottom-of-the-heap US Airways will now charge you $25 one-way or $50 round trip to check a second bag.

As Middle Seat columnist Scott McCartney notes in Baggage Becomes a Big Ticket Item, overpacking is now going to cost you a lot of money. The baggage fee could represent an additional 10 or 20 percent tax on your ticket cost. If one of the bags weighs more than 50 pounds, look out! As the article notes:

The stiff penalties can add hundreds of dollars to a family vacation, especially if travelers show up at the airport with bags heavier than 50 pounds or larger than the size limit airlines use -- 62 linear inches, the combined measurements of height, length and width.

Fees for overweight and oversized bags have been raised by some airlines in the past year, even as baggage-service reliability has declined. And the fees are charged cumulatively -- an extra bag that is overweight and oversized gets hit with three fees. So a second checked bag that is overweight and oversized will cost $450 round-trip at United after May 5. At Delta Air Lines Inc., a third checked suitcase that weighs 71 pounds and is oversized costs $660 round-trip.

The thing so many vacationers don't seem to remember is, clothes are washable. You don't have to pack two weeks' worth of clothing for a two week trip. Even using the overpriced hotel laundry service is going to cost you less than the extra $50 if you don't go crazy. Wash socks and underwear in the sink or send them out to a corner laundry service that will do a whole suitcase worth for 10 or 20 bucks tops. For gear that helps with all this, see the Packing Aids and Travel Light options.

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