8 Tips to Fly without Paying for Luggage


Whoever first said, “Necessity is the mother of invention” got it right. And their optimism has helped me invent ways to travel by air without paying for checked luggage.

I’m a cheapskate, and I’m always appalled at the price of a plane ticket alone. Tack on the luggage fees, and I’m ready to boycott all airlines…or to outsmart them.

Just for fun (and from a little experience), here’s how you do it:

1. Begin with a strong commitment to the cause. Make the saying “Where there’s a will there’s a way” your motto. If you start your packing convinced that you will not pay to check luggage, you’ll find a way.

2. Consider applying for the airline’s credit card. This is the most boring of the tips. It’s not very innovative, and it’s probably not good for your credit to apply for multiple cards, but it may save you luggage fees.

3. Plan to wear as few varied garments as possible. Streamline your outfits, combining whatever pieces of clothing you can, so you pack less. This is not the time for six pairs of shoes or considering what you most like to wear. This is necessity, remember?

4. Dress in layers. Like Heidi. And yes, I’ve done it—four layers is my highest record.

5. Fill your pockets. What flight attendant is going to tell you your pockets are too bulky? That would be rude. Buy an apron with extra pockets if need be.

6. Appear at ease with your heavy carry on. If you’re not checking a suitcase, chances are that your carry on will be tightly packed and very heavy. Airlines do have weight limits for carry ons, but they don’t generally check your handheld items. The trick then, is to not betray the extraordinary weight of your carry on luggage with your body language or facial expressions.

7. Strategize your entrance on the aircraft. I don’t regularly lift fifty pounds over my head, so getting a suitcase-weight loaded carry on in the overhead compartment on a plane can be a challenge. It’s a cinch, though, if you think through the strategy ahead of time:

  • Board as early as possible. You want to be sure there is still room for your bag.
  • Position yourself to board in front of someone who appears both friendly and strong. You’ll need both qualities.
  • Make it easy for the person behind you to offer to help. The best way to do this is to first take up the entire aisle in preparing to lift your bag. Lift it slightly, and then make motions as if you are going to exert your entire energy to lift it. At this point, the strong, kindly person will fear that it will be a long time until he gets past you, and he will most likely ask if you need help. Accept.
  • Profusely thank your helper. In addition to expressing your genuine, heart-felt gratitude, this drowns out his exclamations of “What do you have in here, bricks?”

8. Sit back, and enjoy your flight. And don’t bring more with you on your return trip than you have with you now.