Having recently paid AU$650 for exceeding my luggage allowance, I’m now a reluctant expert in the hidden costs of travel (as well as fixated on the fine print on my e-tickets). If you’ve ever hastily re-packed your bags at check-in to dodge the excess baggage fees, or worn eight layers of clothing home to lighten your load, these tips are for you. If your bags are bulging, avoid the added fares with Lonely Planet’s guide to luggage allowances.
1. Know your weight limits
Always check the fine print on your plane ticket. This usually comes through in the confirmation email of your booking, but if anything is unclear, click straight to your airline’s website, or call them if necessary. You need to know two things: the number of pieces you’re allowed to take with you and the maximum weight for each piece. Make sure you know what your weight allowance is for carry-on and checked baggage. If you’re travelling with a number of different airlines on your trip, make sure you know the restrictions for each leg of your journey: what’s fine for Qatar Airways may not pass muster with Ryanair. And double-check any specific restrictions on skiing or music equipment, there may be an added handling fee.
If you know in advance you're likely to exceed the limit, some airlines (like KLM, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic) will allow you to purchase an allowance for an additional bag in advance, instead of charging you for excess baggage at check-in.
2. Weigh your bags before getting to the airport
Avoid airing your undies in Terminal 1: if you need to re-pack to adjust your baggage weight, it’s best done at home. If you travel a lot, it might be worth investing in a digital luggage scale. If not, weigh your luggage on a set of bathroom scales. (One tip if your digital bathroom scales don’t register lighter weights is to weigh yourself – if you can bear it – and then weigh yourself clutching the suitcase.) If the weight of your luggage falls within your allowance, the first battle is won. Just be aware of the risks of adding last-minute items to your case if you’re close to the weight limit.
3. Size up your luggage
While you’re weight-watching your suitcases, don’t forget about their dimensions too. A good number of airlines (particularly budget carriers like easyJet) have specific measurements for carry-on luggage and take pleasure in measuring your bags as you prepare to board. Don’t be the passenger holding up the queue, attempting to pummel a weighty rucksack into the baggage gauge (a measuring contraption designed to catch out big bags). You could incur a fine or cause delays while your large luggage is sent to the hold. And if you're slight in the bicep department, be aware that many airlines require you to be able to lift your own bags easily to the overhead lockers.
4. Know the cost of going over the limit
Miscalculations happen, and last-minute shampoo bottles get stuffed into suitcases. If your suitcase tips over the weight limit, it’s good to know in advance how much you’ll have to cough up. Websites that compare baggage allowance can get out of date pretty quickly (although these UK and USA guides are good places to start), so save yourself time and tears and head straight to your carrier’s website to get the most up-to-date information about how much excess baggage is going to cost you.
5. The return journey
So you made it to your destination without incurring extra luggage charges. But a bottle of Chianti, jars of local pesto and a heavy Leaning Tower of Pisa statue later, and things won’t be quite so lightweight. Be aware of the potential weight difference after your holiday shopping sprees, and don’t be afraid to be ruthless with the contents of your suitcase. I’ve thrown out boots that have seen me through a couple of winters in favour of new shoes I picked up on a trip. I’ve given away much-loved books to friends. I’ve dropped clothes off at charity shops when my holiday purchasing got out of hand. Know what’s worth taking home and what you can live without.
6. Ship your luggage
Can’t bear to bin anything? If you’re still not under your allowance, consider shipping items back home. In most developed countries a post office is your first port of call. Spend some time working out whether it’s better value to send a number of smaller packets, rather than one massive box. If standing in line at the post office isn’t your idea of a good time, consider using a freight forwarding service to send your excess baggage home. You may arrive back well before your extra luggage does, but that's a small price to pay to sail through check-in.