If you’re a perpetual expat like myself who finds themselves jetting off to a foreign country for a year or more at a time, you’ll understand the stress of trying to condense your life into 20kgs. Do you really need that third pair of shoes? Should you take your big winter coat or a pair of hoodies? Can you live without your boxed set of Doctor Who?
Every time I get to the airport, I have this niggling fear in the back of my mind that I’ll be over my luggage limit and I’ll have to either pay a fee or throw away things that I agonized over including in the first place.
With my upcoming return to Australia, I went so far as to pay an extra $75 for an additional 20kg on my flight with AirAsia. I dread to think what I’d have been charged with an airline that doesn’t purport to be a budget carrier.
Having now done this ‘move around the world’ thing a few times and taken a bunch more trips in between, I thought I’d share some of the wisdom I’ve learned so that you don’t have to have that niggling fear the next time you travel.
Cutting The Luggage Fee Budget
You’ve planned your vacation budget carefully, from choosing whether you can afford nice restaurants or will have to subsist on street food to juggling the number of nights you can spend in hostels while still leaving just a little extra for a luxurious ‘treat yourself’ night in a hotel room, but one particular charge can destroy all your budget limits: the luggage fees.
As global travel becomes more and more attainable for the average Joe, airlines have found that charging for checked bags is a handy way to improve their bottom line, especially with fuel costs soaring.
I wasn’t exactly impressed that I had to pay for any checked baggage on my 16 hour flight with AirAsia, and I’m sure no one else is excited about these fees either, but there are ways around them to make your traveling less expensive.
Those stylish, rectangular bags look attractive as you roll them through the airport, but they aren’t very versatile when it comes to fitting under your seat or in the overhead compartment. Save your travel budget by using a collapsible bag. It can be packed down in a compartment instead of being instantly checked as extra luggage. Look for bags that are canvas with handles and possible wheels. If there is just a small part of the overhead compartment open for one more bag, you want your squishy bag to conform to the space.
Consider maximising the size of your carry on to the limit so that you’re minimizing the amount you need to cram into your checked luggage. Taking a small roller bag rather than a tiny backpack lets you shift some of your checked luggage into your carry on, and still gives you access to your iPad, books etc.
Only The Essentials
Ideally, you only need your clothes and shoes to be packed on any short trip. Save on luggage fees by only carrying the essentials. Do you need all of those toiletries? Or can you make do with those in the hotel?Is it perhaps easier (and cheaper) to pick up a couple of extra t-shirts when you touch down like I did when I traveled to New Zealand?
When you’re traveling for an extensive period of time and planning to settle down in another country, consider which things you’ll be able to buy easily while abroad. Electronics and electrical appliances are cheap throughout Asia, so you don’t necessarily need to pack your electric razor or your hair dryer. Clothes are cheap as chips if you’re not particularly large (like myself, sadly), and all of my girl friends here say that shoe shopping is infinitely more fun and more affordable than at home.
With a light load, you’re almost guaranteed that your items will be carry-on rather than checked luggage. The bag must be small enough to fit under your seat with ample leg room or in the overhead compartment. With a small bag, you can fit it in almost any tight space to save your travel budget.
That niggling fear I mentioned? It would have been a non-issue if I’d taken the time to weigh my bag before I left the house.
You may be a packing genius, but airlines also take the bag’s weight into consideration too, not just the dimensions. Check with your particular airline to understand their weight limits. Your bag may fit in an overhead compartment, but you’ll be charged an overweight fee that can be excessively high. Planes use more fuel when they are heavily loaded, forcing them to charge you for the extra weight. Consider the items you’re taking and weigh the bag before you arrive at the airport. You want to be completely prepared to avoid any extra charges.
There are countless companies offering special bag weights for you to use, but the much simpler (and cheaper) solution is to weigh yourself and then weigh yourself with your bag. Deduct your weight from the total, and you’ve got your bag’s weight – more or less.
Layer It On
It’s almost always cold on airplanes. The temperature at 30,000 feet is extremely cold so the plane can only be heated to a certain degree to keep everyone comfortable. To reduce your luggage size and possible fees, wear some of your clothes in layers. Although this strategy may sound comedic, you can lighten your load considerably with two or three clothing layers. Wear a thin shirt under a button shirt with a light sweater on top, for instance. No one will realize that you are lightening your luggage load. You simply look warm for the flight.
This is particularly handy if you know you’re arriving in a place that is colder than the one you’re leaving. Heck, nothing’s stopping you from peeling off that extra thick winter coat as soon as you’re on the plane and either tucking it under your seat or using it as a pillow.
Credit Card Perks
One of the simplest ways to save on luggage fees is using your airline credit card. The Delta SkyMiles credit card, for example appears to be one of the best in this regard when compared with other credit cards on the comparison tool offered by MileCards.com because the first checked bags are free for up to 8 people when you use this card.
Moreover, each time you fly, you can take a free bag as long as it’s not over the size or weight limits. Not all airline cards have this perk, so it’s important to read the fine print. There may be many bonus point opportunities, but no checked bags. If you travel a lot, those free bags add up to cheap traveling.
Another way to travel cheaply is spreading a group’s bags around in a big group. For example, an airline credit card-holder has up to two free checked bags for each flight. In a group of four, all passengers can have carry-on bags while combining everyone’s extra items into two checked bags.
By sharing the luggage items between four people into two bags, they conserve space on the plane and save money at the same time. This budget strategy works well for families or even business travelers. Planning ahead is key, however.
Come to think of it, I can’t recall a single trip I took with my ex-girlfriend that didn’t involve my checked luggage basically being 65% my stuff and 35% overflow from hers. Hmm…
One option I’ve availed myself of multiple times when moving abroad (or returning home) has been shipping the things I wouldn’t need immediately. I’ll be shipping three good-sized boxes home in the next week, knowing that I’ll be paying roughly $120 to get around 35kg of things back to Australia.
With dozens of freight companies in the world, shipping is an inexpensive way to get your items to their destination without high charges. Compare shipment costs with luggage fees. Depending on the size and weight, the shipment could be substantially cheaper. By shipping your items, you save money on your vacation and budget yourself wisely. Select a shipper that uses a tracking system to keep tabs of your items. You simply pick them up at the shipment office or hotel when you arrive at the destination.
Traveling is expensive enough without worrying about wasting your hard earned spending money on excess baggage fees and other airline related nonsense. By using a few of the above tips, you’re going to be able to have a little extra spending cash for fresh fruit smoothies in Thailand, guided tours in China, or an overpriced beer in the United Kingdom.
Do you have any tips to help minimize baggage costs when you travel? I’d love to hear them!