Avoid the ‘ouch!’ in checked bag fees

(Diane Bigda / For The Times)
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If you’re traveling solo, maybe you can justify paying a bag fee to check your suitcase. But if you’re a family of four and you’re flying, say, on United from LAX to Washington’s Dulles for the upcoming holidays, you’ll pay $25 a bag for each family member’s first bag, $35 for each person’s second. If you’re a family of heavy packers (or you have an infant who requires extra gear), those costs can add up quickly.

Those fees don’t do your wallet any good, but they do help the airlines: In 2012, revenue from ancillary fees (that includes bags) will reach $36.1 billion globally, according to the Amadeus Worldwide Estimate of Ancillary Revenue, which projects ancillary revenue for 176 airlines. Through the first two quarters of 2012, airlines have collected nearly $1.8 billion in bag fees alone, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

To reduce your costs, you can carry on baggage (make sure you understand your airline’s limitations on size and number), but you will need to heed the Transportation Security Administration’s 3-1-1 rule: 3-ounce containers (or less) of liquids, gels or sprays, all of which must fit into one 1-quart bag. That can be tough to do if your take-alongs include shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, moisturizer and so on. Here are some ways to make the 1-quart-bag rule work for you and ensure you have what you need but don’t go over the TSA’s limit:


Storage: Sometimes the travel-sized toiletry aisle at your local pharmacy or department store will be your best bet (also check out for small-size stuff), but it pays to consider all of your decanting options. I’ve found that, depending on which empty travel bottle kit you buy, the containers might be smaller than 3 ounces. This greatly increases the number of essential liquid items that I’m able to carry on the plane. I’ve been able to store nail polish remover, toner and even hair spray more efficiently by searching out bottles that were smaller than the typically purchased miniature sizes of the same products.

The editors at, a travel site for teachers, take a different approach. Their top choice? Using watertight contact lens cases for small amounts of such things as moisturizer, diaper ointment and even toothpaste. Works well for a short trip.

Solids: Bar soap and lip balm aren’t the only personal products available in solid form. Choosing as many solid solutions as possible cuts down significantly on the number of items you have to cram into that quart-sized bag. Options include solid body butters, face makeup (mineral-based cosmetics work too), shampoo and even perfumes.

Sheets: Choosing products in sheet form is one of the most space-efficient packing strategies for liquids. When extra luggage room is limited, I choose wipes rather than liquids for things such as hand sanitizer and stain-removing solution. They store flat and still allow me to customize the amount of product I need for the length of the trip.

Jeanine Barone, author of “The Travel Authority: Essential Tips for Hassle-Free Travel,” favors the dissolvable sort for such items as shampoo, body wash and other consumable hygiene products more typically purchased in liquid form.’s Tiffany Karabaich Pence maximizes facial cleansing cloths from companies such as Pond’s and Oil of Olay by cutting them into quarters. “This gives me four times as much, and they don’t weigh anything,” Pence says.


Supplies: Familiarity with your chosen hotel’s regularly stocked toiletry amenities can save you significant travel stress when it comes to deciding on your carry-on liquids. I’ve noticed several hotels stepping up with more than the typical shampoo, conditioner and body lotion lately. Toothpaste, mouthwash, shave cream and even shower gel have all made an appearance on my various hotel bath counters of late. A hotel’s liquid personal care products might be just as important a factor to consider as free Wi-Fi and fitness facilities.