How to Avoid Baggage Fees and Pack Tight (The Ranger Roll)

At one time, you could pack your suitcase with half your house and it would be waiting for you on the other end of your flight for free. You could bring a huge bottle of water from home and expect a free meal on the flight. Of course things have changed. Now your clothes are treated like a +1 guest and they need their own ticket. Six ounces of water won’t make it passed security and the meals are now for purchase. Sometimes I wonder when they are going to charge to use the bathroom on the flight. Don’t give up; play their game but don’t give up your coin. You have three tools to avoid these fees (click on the link to skip).

  1.  Click here to learn more about baggage fees (and avoiding them).
  2. Click here to learn how to pack tight (Ranger Roll).
  3. Click here to learn more about becoming a frequent flyer member.

 The easiest way to avoid baggage fees is to read the fine print. Depending on where you are going, how long your traveling and even what airline you’re using is going to impact your options.

  1. If you’re traveling internationally, odds are your first bag is free, up to 50 lbs. And to be honest, if you’re traveling internationally, you should steer clear of trying to pack 2nd and 3rd bags (it’s just more to carry). Plus, 50 lbs. can be heavier than you think, so for your own sake, work to keep it under 35 lbs.
  2. If your traveling domestically, most likely your going to get charged for your 1st checked bag so consider a carry-on for free. The airlines usually allow one carry on and one “personal item.” The rule of thumb is basically one bag that can fit in the overhead (carry on) and one that can fit under your seat (personal item). The advantage here  is weight limits aren’t usually a factor, instead it’s more about what can fit in the space. Be careful though, they can be very strict about what fits under the seat. Little more than a shoulder purse, or laptop bag is going to fit underneath. Remember it’s bad etiquette to ask the flight attendant to help you get a bag in the overhead. If it’s too heavy for you to get it up there, it’s probably a pain for them too. And they’re flying all day, every day so their back is pretty worn as well. What are you bringing with you anyway? Leave your weights at home.
  3. THE EXCEPTION: Some budget airlines will still charge, even for the carry on. The ticket was so cheap how could you not buy it? Now your finding that the small charges here and there are adding up and it’s not so cheap. They aren’t bad airlines, but you have to play their game. At the time of printing the personal item is still free on just about every airline and is defined as being about 50 linear inches (22 x 18 x 10 in) or 127 centimeters (56 x 46 x 25 cm) including handles and wheels. This is about the size of a deep briefcase, small backpack, or large purse. Click here to see airline specific parameters, thanks to

For more information on the exact baggage rules and charges, here is a link to the major airlines via an awesome website FareCompare:

  The next step is to bring what you need. One of the key aspects to traveling cheaply is to accept that you probably can’t stay too long. The upside to this of course is you don’t need to take as much. You also want to maximize your bag so you carry as much as possible. Regardless of whether your going to warm or cold weather locale, there’s a few things to consider.

  1. Jeans are durable; you can wear them several days. Avoid bringing the ones with holes and tears as a good pair are appropriate for a wider range of situations.
  2. Socks and underwear aren’t like jeans (a new pair for every day is a must).
  3. Keep your clothes dark. They hide dirt a little better.
  4. Bring undershirts. Clothes usually get dirtier from the inside out, not the outside in. Undershirts are thinner and easier to pack, so they allow you to wear the same outer shirt multiple days and still keep it cleaner.
  5. If your going to a colder location, wear your heaviest jacket on the plane. No, it’s not fun, but neither is spending $25 just to take it with you. The same is true if you are bringing multiple shoes. Yes, it may bite you in the hassle butt when you’re going through security, but again it’s not like security is a joy anyway and money saved on baggage fees can be a real pleasure somewhere else.
  6. Deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste… No seriously… Deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste. I shouldn’t have to explain this.
  7. Large plastic bags are a great way to keep dirty and clean clothes separate. They also make it more convenient when you need to tear through your bag to find something and quickly stuff everything back in (still neatly folded in their little compartments).

Now the fun part: Packing

Folding correctly really is the key to bringing as much stuff as possible. Make the most of every square inch of space. Socks, t-shirts, underwear, and pants can be ideally folded and rolled so they are easy to pull out of a bag without disrupting the rest of the bag and maximize space. Just as importantly, you want to look as nice as possible, so wrinkles should be avoided. Click here to see a video demo of how to fold and roll (sometimes called the Ranger Roll). It’s also a good idea keep each days worth of fresh clothes in large sandwich bags (you don’t want to sully the clean clothes with the dirty).

 Become a frequent flyer member

     So you decided your life is all about travel by now, right? You’re going to go to every country, see every monument, and buy a shot glass from every airport? Well, maybe I’m the only one who wants that last thing, but still… And let’s face it, as you get older the journey should get a little softer. So every now and again, you’d like to check the bag or maybe even upgrade to an exit row (it’s not 1st class, but it helps). Why join an airline club? Well it’s free for one thing. And after a while, without doing anything different you’ll find you have a free one-way now and again.Join the frequent flyer clubs.

     If the airline is part of a larger member group you only need to sign up for one and it can apply to the whole group. For example, United airlines is part of the Star Alliance, so if you fly with any of their other members you can use your United account and collect points. Sometimes in life a friend gets married or there’s a job interview 500 miles away. Sometimes, you just weren’t able to save enough for your next trip, but you really wanted to go. Frequent flyer points aren’t just round-trip or even one way. Frequent flyer points can pay for part of a trip and cash takes you the rest of the way. And if none of this convinces you that it’s worth it, consider this: there’s really no reason not to, unless spending 5 minutes filling out the online information is really that significant to you. If traveling is really in your blood, if seeing everything there is to see is really important to you, then you won’t leave anything on the table. Walk away with every advantage and you’ll get what you want. Click on the below images and by joining each, you’ve basically enrolled in over 60 airlines!


      Someday, you’ll be in 1st class. Someday, work will be paying for your travel and you’ll be a member in the Admiral’s club (please let me in when you do). But that doesn’t mean you have to wait to see the world until then. Get out there and make every dollar count. Make Ralph Waldo Emerson proud and appreciate every step, every day.

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