Luggage Loopholes: 5 Creative Ways to Avoid Airline Fees

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Mike Segar / Reuters

If you’ve ever found yourself on a packed Friday afternoon flight heading from one major city to another, you’ve probably fallen victim to travelers who’ll resort to anything, maybe even a little physical violence, to snag space in the overhead bins. Perhaps you’re guilty of a bit of pushing and elbowing yourself. And who could blame you? Baggage fees are one of the greatest rip-offs in modern air travel, and to avoid them, passengers are stuffing their carry-on bags to the seams, fighting off anyone who threatens their precious overhead space.

But as a recent New York Times article points out, there are much craftier ways to skirt those exorbitant fees. Here are some of the clever loopholes travelers have embraced to defray their transit costs.

  • Use vacuum-seal bags to save space. Removing air can help shrink your items to about a third of their original size, making it much likelier that you’ll be able to carry on, or at least check fewer items.
  • Choose airlines with no fees. It often requires a decent amount of dedication to the cause, but can help save a considerable amount of cash. One traveler said she drives 50 or 100 miles to airports where she can fly Southwest, which allows two free checked bags, or JetBlue, which allows one.
  • Get an airline-branded credit card. Several airlines waive baggage fees for cardholders. The cards are also likely to offer additional benefits, like special airport lounge access, double-mileage points and priority boarding.
  • Store your stuff in a trench coat. Clothing company Scottevest offers a variety of travel-specific items, including a “Carry-On Coat,” complete with 33 hidden pockets. It allows you to subtly store everything from your toiletries to your iPad. Plus, it’s machine-washable, and even includes hand-warmer pockets.
  • Take the train. Not really a loophole, but it can be a good alternative to domestic flights. Amtrak’s baggage policy, for example, allows each passenger two carry-on items at up to 50 pounds each. And for a $5 fee, travelers can bring aboard special items like bikes, ski equipment and musical instruments, without letting the more fragile items out of their sight.

MORE: California Woman, Unable to Pay Bag Fees, Stuck in Airport for Eight Days