A rumor circulated recently, as rumors will do, that United Airlines would be restricting the use of the overhead luggage bin: people would be charged to use this standard feature—nothing was sacred! The truth is considerably less alarming: United has created a fare that they're calling Basic Economy. In exchange for a lower cost ticket, passengers will be allowed only their personal item (no carry-on). It's only for the people who purposely buy this rate. We can relax—the overhead bin is ours. For now.
Anyone who's flown in the past couple of years, though, will tell you that the fees are really starting to pile up. Most airlines now charge a checked-bag fee of $20 or more per bag (although Southwest still checks bags for free). If you happen to have piled up miles or lucked into a great deal on a first-class or business-class ticket, however, some carriers (including American, Delta, and US Airways) allow 3 complimentary checked bags for those traveling at these higher rates. Since this might otherwise cost $125 and up, it's worth investigating (especially if you can't avoid checking bags).
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But what if you aren't flying first class? Try these tips to save a few bucks next time you fly.
1. Consider shipping your luggage
This used to be the domain of those with rich and famous lifestyles—no longer. FedExing a 40lb. suitcase from San Francisco to New York costs $48.48 with 5 business day service. Yes, it'll take a little longer to get your stuff—but you won't have to haul it anywhere, no one will be searching through it, and it's likely to cost less than checking the bag on the plane.
2. Make sure you’re not pushing the measurements
Double check the specific airline's policy because not all requirements are the same. International flights and small carriers (a.k.a. puddle-jumpers) are notoriously exacting about weight specifications and United, American, and Delta trimmed back their carry-on size to 22x14x9—only a couple of inches, but potentially the difference between fitting in the Bin of Destiny or not.
3. Play nice
If you have a rolling bag that could, theoretically, be a carry-on (but you'd really rather have it checked), bring it to the gate and wait for the gate attendant's request for anyone who would be so kind as to check their bag, free of charge. Bag checked and the crew now loves you for being so sacrificing—who knows? You might even get some free headphones out of it as well.