High Airline Baggage Fees? Fight Back

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Airline baggage fees are just one of the burdens travelers carry when flying, but lately those fees really have been getting out of hand.

Airlines, it seems, are making a quiet killing out of taking your suitcases, golf clubs, pet kennels and other travel bags and storing them on the plane for that two-hour flight to Chicago.

The U.S Bureau of Statistics is out with a ranking of airlines and baggage fees, and the results are eye-opening.

Altogether, U.S. airlines earned about $3.5 billion on baggage fees last year, with some of the biggest names in the business cashing in on what used to be, only a decade or two ago, a free service for air travelers. (Reservation change fees are the second-highest secondary cost to air travelers, at $2.6 billion.)

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Here's how The U.S. Bureau of Statistics ranked airlines on baggage fees last year:

Delta: $869 million
United: $706 million
American: $557 million
U.S. Airways: $516 million
Spirit: $168 million

Alaska Airlines , Southwest , Allegiant , JetBlue and Frontier make up the rest of the top 10, with USA 3000, Mesa and AirTran falling to the bottom of its list of 16 U.S. airliners. Those three all charged less than $5 million in 2012 for baggage fees, the agency reports.

A baggage fee is a relatively new trend for air travelers, spawned by rising costs of fuel and narrowing profit margins by airline companies squeezed by increased competition and fewer air travelers. Total U.S. domestic flights declined by 13.9% from 2007 to last year.

That's why airlines are demanding you cough up anywhere from $25 to $45 per bag to fly — and that's just for a one-way flight.

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What can you do to fight back? Start with these tips:

Shop around. Make baggage fees a big part of your budget when searching for an airline. If you're traveling "heavy," opt for airlines such as Southwest, which charges only for three or more checked bags on a flight. JetBlue is another good choice — it still lets you check one bag for free.

Play the "weighting" game. Airlines differ on carry-on baggage weight limits, but most check in at around 20 to 40 pounds. Read the language on your travel ticket or check your airliner's website to find out how much you can carry, free of charge, on the flight. While you're at it, pack lightly and weigh your bag or bags before you leave for the airport. That way there should be no surprises.

Stick to one airline. If you keep flying the same airline, and you do so regularly, you stand a good chance of earning "premium" status. Once you're premium, airlines usually waive baggage fees.

— By Brian O'Connell

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