While the average cost of a domestic or international flight is in a constant state of fluctuation, there’s one thing that’s for certain. Many times, it’s the “extras” of flying that can cause your vacation budget to fly out the window before you even take off.
The price tag of your airline ticket is only one part of the equation, since you’ll also pay government-mandated taxes and fees. On top of those costs, you may also need to pay for daily parking at the airport, food and drink while you wait, seat selection, and checked bags. These costs, and others, can add up fast.
The good news is, you can cut down on some of these costs by planning ahead. Consider bringing your own snacks and an empty water bottle to save on overpriced airport food, for example. And if you want to avoid paying $10 - $25 per day for airport parking, have a friend take you to the airport or compare the costs of taking an Uber.
In terms of saving on checked baggage, there are several strategies to avoid this cost – which can easily add up to $200 round-trip for a family of four - altogether. Before you head out on your next getaway, consider these strategies:
#1: Get a rewards card that offers free checked bags for your preferred airline.
One of the easiest ways to avoid paying for checked bags is signing up for a co-branded credit card that offers free checked baggage on your preferred airline. If you fly American Airlines most of the time, for example, you could sign up for the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite MasterCard® and get a free checked bag for you and up to four people on your itinerary on domestic routes. Of course, this card also offers a sizeable signup bonus, miles for every dollar you spend, no foreign transaction fees, and other perks.
Other airlines offer their own co-branded cards, so make sure to see what your options are for the airlines you frequently fly.
#2: Pick up a card that offers an airline travel credit.
While some cards are co-branded with a specific airline, other flexible travel credit cards offer perks that can work no matter what airline you fly with. The popular Chase Sapphire Reserve® card offers a flexible $300 travel credit you can use for any type of travel, including checked bags. Meanwhile, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers a $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline. With these cards and others like them, you can score epic travel perks and get coverage for your checked bags.
#3: Get a rewards card that offers flexible travel credit.
Another way to get your rewards credit card to cover the costs of checked baggage is to sign up for a card that doles out flexible travel credit. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® is a great option among cards in this area. After you spend $5,000 in Net Purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account, you'll receive a one-time 70,0000 bonus miles and unlimited 2X miles on every purchase. With the exception of your account annual fee, redemptions for travel statement credits start at 10,000 miles for $100.00 towards any qualifying purchase of $100.00 or more made within the last 120 days.
The same is true for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. Not only do you earn a large signup bonus, but you’ll get 2x miles on every purchase. Since you can redeem your points for any travel expense you want (including checked baggage with an airline), this card offers utmost flexibility.
#4: Fly airlines that don’t charge for checked bags.
While some airlines charge up to $50 per checked bags, others take a different approach and don’t charge at all. The best example of this phenomenon is Southwest Airlines and their pledge for “transfarency.” Beyond paying for your plane ticket, Southwest airlines tries to be open and honest and provide a transparent pricing solution anyone can understand.
Part of their pledge is the fact they don’t charge people for up to two checked bags for flight. For the average family of four, that’s an easy savings of at least $200 per round-trip flight. While Southwest Airlines flies mostly domestic routes within the United States, they also fly to certain destinations in the Caribbean such as Aruba, Nassau, Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, and Turks and Caicos.
#5: Work toward preferred airline status with your favorite airline.
Here’s a strategy that can work if you can theoretically stick with one airline for most of your flights. If you fly often enough, it may be possible to get preferred airline status with your airline of choice.
Let’s say you fly United Airlines domestically most of the time, but hop around between airlines when it suits you. If you were able (and willing) to fly all of your flights on United for a year, you could potentially score United Premier Silver status. Earning this status would require you to fly 25,000 PQM (Premier Qualifying Miles) or 30 PQS (Premier Qualifying Segments) and spend $3,000 with the airline. If you made this happen, you could get free checked baggage plus other perks like day of departure complimentary upgrades, premier baggage handling, priority check-in, and better saver award availability.
The Bottom Line
Flying isn’t cheap, but there are plenty of ways to save some cash. By avoiding the added costs of checked baggage, you can easily save $50 or more round-trip per person each time you fly.
Also keep in mind that, with the right travel credit card, you could be racking up points for flights, hotels, and more. With the right strategy and the right card in your wallet, you could pay less for travel than you ever dreamed.
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