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Readers: Did You Ever “Game the System” over Airline Bag Fees?

January 28, 2010 | Posted in: Airline News,Tips and Tricks

readers airline bag fees

Earlier this week I was perusing an interesting article in the New York Times about how some folks are “gaming the system” when it comes to bag fees (I actually posted on this topic late last summer).

But “gaming” is a subject made new again, thanks to the fact that so many airlines have just raised bag fees once again.

Two possible solutions (and I do not recommend the first one):

1.) Go to your gate and ask if you can check your carryon there – often the boarding process is so hectic that agents just say “yes” and won’t charge you (but note: sometimes they do)

2.) If you fly the same route often, you probably know which rows board first; book accordingly, so you get first dibs on the overhead bins before they fill up.

Question to my readers: Have you ever tried these methods? If so, how did it work out for you? And do you have any other tips or tricks you use to avoid bag fees or simply to have a stress-free flying experience? Drop a comment and let everyone know. And thanks.

19 Responses to “Readers: Did You Ever “Game the System” over Airline Bag Fees?”

  1. Kate Ashford says:

    I used to book seats in the back of the plane for just this reason–there was a better chance that I’d get to board first and there was always room for my bag. Now that airlines have started assigning boarding groups, however, that strategy doesn’t work. It’s been years since I’ve had to gate check a bag, however, so I’m convinced that it’s just important to be at the gate when they start the boarding process. It’s the stragglers who were off buying a sandwich who get stuck with no room for their rolling bag.

  2. Rick Seaney says:


    Don’t dawdle at the gate, excellent.

    Thanks for writing,

  3. Denise says:

    I usually board towards the end of the “group” before mine. The agents are usually just focusing on scanning the tickets they don’t notice. I know it’s wrong, but it gives me a slight advantage over the rest of my “group”

  4. Steven Brown says:

    Once you figure out what rows consist of each boarding zone, it’s simply a matter of choosing the right seat. For example, on Delta, Zone 4 is the back part of the a/c on a mainline flight. My last two flights, I booked myself in the back of the a/c for the reason of securing a spot for my bag in the overhead bin. My next trip is booked on Delta and once again, I’ve picked a seat in the rear of the aircraft. So you don’t have to be an elite level flier in order to get first dibs on the bins.

  5. Andy says:

    It’s not precisely gaming the system, but I try to pack so light that I not only don’t check a bag, but the bag I bring on the place fits directly into the overhead compartment rather than lengthwise. It’s far easier for me to find a spot for it than most people and in a pinch it will fit under the seat in front of me.

    Traveling this light, of course, requires sacrifice. I often have to wash clothes every three days on a trip.

  6. Rick Seaney says:

    Denise, Steven and Andy,

    Thanks for writing — good stuff!


  7. john says:

    I travel with a CPAP device. I used to only carry it so as not to have to worry about the bag being lost – but now I pack it. That way I can tell the agent at the desk the bag contains medical equipment. There are no bag fees for checked medical equipment. I’m risking the bag being lost – but I’ve had good luck so far. Also, it has to be packed securely in a hard shell suitcase.

  8. Rick Seaney says:

    I don’t know, John, seems like a bit of a risk to me – but if you’re comfortable doing this, it is a savings.


  9. C. Howitt Fealz says:

    Buy an Airboss, Scottevest, and a huge laptop backpack and you can fit everything you need. Airboss fits snuggly into the overhead, the backpack under your feet – and 25 pockets with the Scottevest lets you have everything you need on your person.

  10. Rick Seaney says:


    I love pockets!


  11. Karen Kinnane says:

    I bring back lots of small antiques from Germany four or five times a year. Going over, I pack one duffel bag inside the free bag Continental allows for a passenger paying with a Continental credit card. There’s no bag charge going over and coming back, by checking and paying for the bag online it’s $5. cheaper for my bag full of treasure. Of course after the first 25,000 miles you get two free bags with Continental. It does pay to be loyal to this one airline.

  12. Rick Seaney says:

    You’re right, Karen.

    Becoming a miles member, and then staying loyal (the better to reach elite status) will give you all sorts of benefits that save you money, but I think most elites find the real payoff is what I’ll call the perks-of-convenience, such as being able to be first in line for boarding. And then there are those upgrades…

    Happy treasure hunting,

  13. gloria says:

    If you fly on a evening flight on Fri, all the business men who fly 1st class take up all of the overhead storage in Zone 4 of a Delta flight. Since there is no longer room for your carryon bag, they will take it at the door of the plane & will be checked for free.This has happened to me 4 times in the past 4 flights. Will plan on sitting in Zone 4 again & do not have to wrestle with a bag & it is checked into the bulk head storage of the plane where it is safe from damage. Also, it will be given back to you in the walkway as you deplane.

  14. Rick Seaney says:


    I see that happen too but I also know from experience that sometimes, you have quite a wait in that walkway.


  15. wfxh says:

    Do research on checked luggage, especially oversize/special items. For instance, most airlines charge extra for bicycles. I found a bike pack that falls within the size/weight limitations for checked baggage and doesn’t scream “bike” when you see it. If the agent doesn’t know that it is a bike, they won’t charge extra.

  16. Rick Seaney says:


    I’d like to see that bike…


  17. Tomasz says:

    Do not even think about doing it in Europe. The biggest player in the old continent – Ryanair is extremely strict and:
    1. Has a crate a tad smaller than the regular one – and it’s checked at the gate – if your carry-on doesn’t fit – goes to the ‘belly’ with on-site check-in fee of … 30 Euro (appr. $40)
    2. limits carry-on to 1 piece (purse included!) and weight of 10 kg – 22 pounds – any additional piece or just one but a little bit heavier – same fee
    3. limits check-in to the weight of 15kg (34 pounds), with fee per bag of 15-35 Euro, and overweight 30E per kilo

    So to cheer you up – have a pick at http://www.ryanair.com/en/questions/table-of-fees

    Stop moaning could be much worse!!!

  18. Tomasz says:

    And, ooh, by the way, the seats are not assigned at all- first come first seat – so you have ‘ elbows, elbows attitude – tons of fun having a winter Olympics of 180 pax running to the plane! On the other hand boarding of B737 rarely takes longer than 5-10 minutes, which is completely unachievable if you have to look for your assigned seat. They usually have scheduled turn-over of 25-30 minutes and must say it’s enough.

  19. Rick Seaney says:


    Sounds like you fly Ryanair pretty often. Thanks for the update.


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