Fee or free? Spreadsheet makes checking airline info a snap

When looking for airline tickets, do you think about all the hidden fees or whether you’re allowed to sneak your super-sized “carry-on” onto the plane?

Travel clothing seller Travelsmith has published a very handy spreadsheet online called “Carry-On/Check-In Luggage Guidelines.” You can get it in PDF form, which means you can easily view it on the Web and print it to your printer directly with all the margins and text set correcty.

The checklist from Travelsmith makes checking airline luggage fees a snap. Click on the image to go to the Travelsmith site.

When seeing all the information presented in one sheet of paper, you can really see where some airlines are just digging their fists into travelers’ wallets. American leads the pack with fees of $20 for your first checked bag, and $30 for your second. If you’re the type to travel with a lot of extra luggage, you’re looking at $50 per person one way. That adds a jaw-dropping $100 per person to your trip, and certainly something to be aware of when trying to decide which airline to use to book your trip. Most others aren’t much better—with the notable exception of Southwest (which doesn’t charge for checking in bags at all), and Jet Blue, which lets you check in one bag for free—all other domestic U.S. airlines charge fees for both the first and second checked bags.

In addition to fees for checked luggage, this spreadsheet has other helpful information. What is your maximum allowable size for a carry-on, for instance?

When trying to figure out the maximum-allowable size of bags (whether for carry-ons or check-ins), you want to add up the height, length, and width of your bag. Image courtesy of Travelsmith.

In domestic travel, Airtran wins the carry-on category. At a maximum allowable size of 55 inches and no weight restrictions, that’s almost as big as the allowances for check-ins. On the other end of the spectrum is Malaysia Airlines and Italy’s Alitalia, which restrict carry-ons to no more than 45 inches total, and no heavier than 11 pounds. I thought I had to be creative to travel for my two-week European vacation with just 13 allowable pounds (see “The Ultra-minimalist packing list: How I packed for Europe” for details); shaving 2 pounds off of that would’ve meant I would’ve had to sew in pockets throughout my in-flight clothes so I could remove even more stuff out of my bag. Eek!

One really noticeable thing in the checklist is that the checked bag fees are almost strictly a domestic thing. Although some U.S. airlines like Continental charge for both the first and second checked bags at home as well as abroad, most of the other domestic airlines don’t charge a fee if you’re flying outside of the U.S.

The bottom line here is that Southwest continues to be the only domestic airline that charges nothing for checking in your bags. At all. Nada. Zippo. Zilch.

If you need to travel with a lot of checked luggage in the U.S., these days I really recommend Southwest. Sure, your flight will feel like a commuter bus ride. But they don’t try to pretend to be something more. The no-frills airline is simply prompt and friendly, with up-front pricing and an open seating system that rewards online check-ins (you get a better spot in line to board). You don’t have people trying to sneak on huge bags so the aisles don’t get unduly clogged, and they can depart right on time. So what if you don’t have the choice to purchase a $6 boxed lunch? Soft drinks are still free, and even their frequent flyer reward system is easier to track. How can you go wrong?

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