Luggage Fees – Rookie Traveler Tax

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Much to my surprise I have decided that my opinion has changed about those luggage fees that airlines have been charging for checked luggage. I find that I am now in favor of them. What?! You heard me. I like the idea of the airlines charging more for people who travel with more than carry-on luggage (vs SpiritAir who wants to charge for carry-on luggage). Airlines need more money than they have made over the last few decades and they can either raise ticket prices for everyone or charge these luggage fees. The reason that I prefer the luggage fees is that traveling with too much luggage is a rookie move so these are basically a rookie traveler taxes.


We taught my kids early on that they could not travel with more than they could personally carry. So while they were still in elementary school they got used to hitting the road with no more than a backpack and a carry-on bag. We stay in out of the way places where we may have to pick up our suitcases and walk up a flight of stairs or two. If you are willing to give up an elevator in a hotel in Europe, for instance, you can often save significant money. And even if your hotel has an elevator, have you seen how small some of those elevators are in old buildings overseas?

Next time you are at the airport try this. Look at how much luggage people are bringing with them. Odds are that, if they are on vacation or business, the more luggage they are bringing they less they travel. If you need a luggage cart then you are bringing too much. Most rookie travelers carry more than they will need and end up paying more, taking more time, and limiting their transportation options by just bringing too much stuff.

Seasoned Travelers:

  1. know that they sell things wherever they are going. You don’t need to bring a week’s worth of disposable diapers, or more than a week’s worth of shampoo. Shopping in another country can be part of the experience. I have a friend that takes this to the extreme. Beth Whitman of Wanderlust and Lipstick will travel to India with the clothes on her back and one change of clothes. The first thing she does when she arrives is buy new clothes.
  2. know that if they did not use it last time then they don’t need to bring it next time. They pack using lists that are honed over time. They know what clothes go together so that they can minimize what they bring. They can get by with at most two pairs of shoes.
  3. know that people wash their clothes everywhere. I traveled for 5 weeks last year with only a week’s worth of clothes. When I am at home I do laundry. It is not that hard to do a load every week on the road either. And if you travel someplace inexpensive like Oaxaca, Mexico you can pay very little to get your clothes washed, ironed and packaged.
  4. travel light, carry-on and can change flights if need be. They are ready to hop in a taxi, but aren’t afraid to take a bus or public transportation because they don’t need sherpas to get around.

My wife and I traveled on December 23rd in 2009 flying out of JFK. When we got to the airport I was stunned by the lines of people waiting to check their bags at the front counter. I would guess that the line was an hour long. We had printed out boarding passes the night before. We had each a carry-on and a backpack so we simply skipped that line and headed for the surprisingly shorter line at security. If we had been traveling with more luggage, we might not have made it home that day.

They say you can’t take it with you. Do you try?

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

8 Responses to “Luggage Fees – Rookie Traveler Tax”



I disagree with you for a number of reasons.
1) I think everyone bringing wheelies onto planes is dangerous. People stop short in the aisles and if you have forward momentum and there is a stopped suitcase, you can trip.
2) When they run out of overhead stowage-space, the gate-check thing happens and that slows everyone down.
3) If those bins ever open in severe turbulence, instead of somewhat small, lighter bags falling on your head- it will be over-loaded wheelies. I love the airlines that severely limit carry-on size.
4) You can manage a small wheelie (or even a big one) and a carry-on when you put the strap over the handle- so that skews your “what you can carry” argument.
5)Everyone can’t afford to buy what they can’t carry.
6)Some people have things that have to go with them on the plane such as medications and medical devices that can take up a bunch of space. They need that check-through
7) It is fair to allow one free bag and charge above that. It’s travel, you’re usually staying for a few days and you need clothing. And if you are going to more than one climate or a place w/ changeable climate,you need more packing space.
It is a little condescending to imply that anyone who travels with more than a carry-on is an amateur. They just may choose to travel in a different way than you do,



I understand what you are saying. I can’t say I have found suitcases to be a huge danger for tripping if I am watching where I am going but gate-checking can certainly slow things down. But it is still much faster than waiting for luggage or than checking in luggage.

If you can carry it, I am completely willing to count a small bag on your carry-on. I do that myself. But at some point, if you can’t lift it yourself, don’t bring it on the plane for sure and I would say leave it at home.

I think we would both agree that the overhead bins are not full of prescription medication. Most people can fit what they need in a small carry-on under the seat in front of them.

I would have no problem with the airlines deciding that a carry-on bag is free, even if you check it. It would solve the gate check issue.

But my point is that many of the people I see in the airport are carrying way more than that. I know people who pack more for a weekend than I pack for a month. These people are going to pay more money and, with my thanks, will subsidize my ticket.



The one thing I constantly find though is the number of selfish people who feel there little hand bag needs to go to overhead. I specifically bought my carry on so it would fit under the seat.

If people would just follow the basics and stash one of their personal items under their seat there usually is plenty of room for overhead. I don’t always think it’s over packing but just being self centered.



Santafetraveler, One carry-on bag with wheels is not the problem. It’s the person (usually an woman) who breaks the rules and has four carry-on bags. Experienced travelers do not stand in the aisle while other passengers are trying to board the plane (no matter how many bags they have or whether their bags have wheels).

I don’t normally plug my own site, but have a look at my Top Ten Worst Air Passengers of 2010 at

I agree with Chris that traveling with just a carry-on is the way to beat the system at the airport. It save so much time and hassle. Get the largest one the airlines will allow and leave those lines behind.



I think it is interesting how all of a sudden our thoughts on a topic can change, almost without thinking! This happened to me recently while serving as a juror. Innocent. No, GUILTY! But not to change the topic. I think user fees are fair if they are not too high. When we travel it is usually adventure travel and the items we bring are not easily rented. My feet are finicky and my plastic insulated boots for climbing are wonderfully comfortable so I don’t dare rent. We backpack and need to trust the gear we carry with us so don’t dare to rent. And, really, the cost of renting would far exceed the extra baggage cost. We’re not paying a high cost for accommodations because we’re bringing our “home” with us. I once made the mistake, though, of bringing too much backpacking food, as I had heard it was difficult to get what I needed where we are going. What I needed was to adjust my thinking about what we needed.



I’m not an experienced long-distance traveller, but the airlines I’ve travelled never permitted anything more than 5kg sometimes less, as hand luggage. Some will accept a plastic bag from tax-free, some don’t. One piece and that’s it.



Would agree that while checked luggage fees are annoying they are relatively easy to avoid. I advocate using packing lists to minimise what you take and then trying to further reduce it on your next trip.

Number 1 on your list is also very important and means you don`t have to worry about toiletries too much when you are there.



Pack light, travel with hand luggage only! Don’t be selfish, hand luggage in the overheads lockers, smaller items such as laptop bags or handbags under the seat in front.
Fast, simple and free πŸ™‚

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