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Here’s the Backpack I Use To Avoid Low-Cost Carrier Baggage Fees

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Brett Holzhauer
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Brett Holzhauer

Content Contributor

19 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 22U.S. States Visited: 29

Brett is a personal finance and travel junkie. Based out of Fort Lauderdale, he's had over 100 credit cards and earned millions of credit card rewards.
Edited by: Nick Ellis
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Nick Ellis

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Nick’s passion for points began as a hobby and became a career. He worked for over 5 years at The Points Guy and has contributed to Business Insider and CNN. He has 14 credit cards and continues to le...
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Keri Stooksbury

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Flying on an ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) like Frontier Airlines or Spirit Airlines is a catch-22. Yes, booking a flight for much less than what you’d pay for a full-service carrier feels like a major win — but we all know there are downsides to this method.

The nickel-and-dime pricing model of these carriers can be annoying, and the experience on board can be underwhelming (to say the least), especially if you’ve flown business or first class. But sometimes, saving money and simply getting from A to B is the highest priority.

I’ve flown both Frontier and Spirit in recent months for that exact reason: I needed to get to and from my destination as cheaply as possible. While I’m completely impartial to picking seats and other extras, the only hurdle has been baggage. I’ve been on “team backpack” for many years now after fully giving up traditional luggage in 2018.

However, my large Osprey backpack would never fit in the rigid measurement boxes outside the jet bridge. So, I had to pick up an additional backpack to make these travels work.

Here’s the bag I chose and how you can avoid excessive baggage fees when you fly on the nation’s ULCCs.

The Backpack Life Isn’t That Bad

Baggage fees are on the rise across the entire airline industry as carriers continue to grapple with rising costs. Airfare has remained on par with inflation, leading airlines to look for other ways to boost their collective revenue streams. These rate hikes have led to more passengers bringing their bags with them rather than checking them.

There’s a long list of backpacks that fit the strict measurement guidelines of low-cost carriers. The prices vary, but I chose a 21-liter daypack from Rangeland, which was roughly $40 after tax.

Yes, it’s an extra expense, but the money you’re saving by flying on a ULCC may easily be eroded when you pay for your baggage. And, if you pay for the baggage at the airport, it can cost you even more.

I recently booked a flight with Spirit Airlines and did not add any baggage allocation to my ticket. If I’d done so after booking, or at the airport, here’s what it would have cost me:

Spirit Airlines Baggage Fees
Image Credit: Spirit Airlines

If I were to carry my Osprey 55-liter backpack with me on the plane but waited until the gate to pay for it, I would be out nearly $100. But my much-smaller backpack meets the airline’s requirements for a personal item (18 x 14 x 8 inches) and I pay no additional fee to bring it with me.

Aside from saving money, I’ve discovered using a backpack can be a much more efficient way to travel overall. Having a backpack (especially a smaller one) is beneficial for a couple of core reasons:

  • It encourages you to pack less than you otherwise would.
  • It gives you “hand freedom.” We’ve all had too many things in our hands during traveling: passports, coffee, cell phones, boarding passes, and luggage handles, to name a few. Having less in my hands is a major stress reliever for me.
Hot Tip:

Make sure to check our carry-on luggage size chart for over 60 major airlines to see if your bag will fit!

How To Avoid Airline Baggage Fees Entirely

Airlines earned over $33 billion in checked bag fees from consumers last year. I’m proud to say I didn’t contribute a dime toward this sum. Rest assured, there are ways to avoid these fees for yourself. Here are a few strategies to consider:

Opt for Carry-On Luggage and Pack Accordingly

Packing less could save you potentially over $100 in fees on a round-trip ticket. For example, it may be worth purchasing toiletries or other smaller items at your final destination rather than paying for a checked bag on both ways of your journey.

Use a Co-Branded Credit Card if You Fly With a Particular Airline

If you live near an airport that is largely dominated by 1 airline, it could be worth grabbing a credit card that gives you free checked bags with that airline.

For example, when I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, I had the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, which allowed me to check my first bag for free. Now living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I have The JetBlue Plus Card, which gives me and up to 3 eligible travel companions a free checked bag on JetBlue-operated flights.

JetBlue Mint A321LR Mint Mosaic check in
Having The JetBlue Plus card can help you avoid paying baggage fees when you fly with the airline. Image Credit: Daniel Ross

Again, I rarely check a bag. But on the off-chance I need to, I have a corresponding credit card to ensure I can get it for free.

If You Fly Different Airlines, Get a Travel Credit Card With Travel Credits

If you absolutely must check your bag and you fly with a variety of airlines, a credit card that offers an annual credit on travel or airline purchases could do the trick. Certain cards offer an annual amount for which the card will reimburse you for specific purchases, including travel purchases.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a $300 annual travel credit that can be used for checked-bag fees and other travel expenses.

Hot Tip:

Final Thoughts

As travel changes, I find it’s important to change along with it. The cost of travel is going up across the board, and it’s forcing many travelers to become much more intentional about where they spend their money. Imagine you have a family of 4, and each person checks a bag. On a round-trip itinerary, this could be an extra $500 expense just to move your belongings.

So, if your current bag doesn’t fit your needs or you want to save on checked-bag fees, there are options available to keep more money in your pocket for future adventures.

The information regarding The JetBlue Plus Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, click here.

Brett Holzhauer's image

About Brett Holzhauer

Brett is a personal finance and travel junkie. Based out of Fort Lauderdale, he’s had over 100 credit cards and earned millions of credit card rewards. He learned the tricks of the trade from his mom, and has taken many steps forward. He wasn’t exposed to much travel as a kid, but now has a goal of reaching 100 countries in his life. In 2019, he sold all of his possessions to become a digital nomad, and he says it was one of the best decisions he ever made. He plans to do it again at some point in his life.

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