How To Avoid Overweight Bag Fees (Even If Your Bag Is Overweight)

Overweight bag fees are the worst. They get you nothing. Not a cool sight. Not a delicious meal. And not even from point A to point B. They’re especially bad when they’re unexpected, or when you plan ahead and weigh your backpack to be sure it’s under the limit but then the dreaded scale at the check-in desk tells a different story. Here are some [only moderately questionable] tips on how to avoid overweight bag fees and save your budget for the fun stuff!

Tips On How To Avoid Overweight Bag Fees

Put Things In Your Pockets

This can be done casually or aggressively, depending on your level of comfort and just how overweight your baggage is. On a recent Norwegian LowFare ticket, I arrived at check-in unaware my 10kg bag allowance applied to both my backpack and personal item. I was overweight and the fee, $100, was egregious considering the round trip ticket was less than $300. When the lady told me I’d have to pay, I asked for a minute and headed around the corner and out of sight. After tossing some toiletries, putting jeans on over my leggings, and donning an extra sweatshirt, I still feared my bag was over the limit. And so I did the only other thing I could think of: I filled my pockets. I identified my heaviest items, removed them from my bag, and zipped them into my coat pockets. I was bulky and a bit nervous in line, but it worked! As soon as I had my “bag approved” tag I headed back around the corner and replaced the items back into my purse, simple as that. At the gate I overheard some other passengers laughing about how they’d shoved their shampoos in their pockets to do the same. See, totally normal.

Exclude Your Computer

My computer is quite heavy and causes problems for me when it’s included in my bag weight. On a recent trip I wanted to make sure it didn’t make its way onto the scale — but how? I contemplated doing things like shoving it between the lining of my jacket to hide it (too far), asking a stranger to hold it real fast until I checked in (terrible idea), or just asking the agent if I could leave it out (reasonable but not necessarily successful). In the end I devised a genius method to be sure it was resting comfortably on the check-in counter while my bag was on the scale. I stashed my passport and confirmation printout in my computer sleeve and zipped them up with my computer, then carried it. When the agent asked for my documents, I casually put the entire case on the desktop and unzipped it to procure my documents. It seemed totally natural and not contrived — and ensured my computer wasn’t weighed with my bag!

Hold Items In Hand

I do this a lot on domestic flights on that allow only the “beneath the seat” carry-on for free (Spirit, Frontier, those United basic economy tickets I always mistakenly buy). My approach for these is to bring a secondary bag – a small, light tote – with my computer, books, phone, wallet etc. inside. Once I’m at the gate I take the items out and hold them in my arm in the boarding line. It looks natural – hey I’m reading while waiting (usually I actually am) – hey I was just using my computer and will be using it again as soon as I board the plane (also a real situation). As soon as I’m on the plane I just get the 2nd technically-forbidden bag back out and re-stash them. It maximizes the room I have in my backpack and has never failed.

This method works for heavy items at check-in, too. Carrying your computer, a thick book, a wallet with tons of coins, and placing it on the counter rather than inside your bag helps shave a few pounds off when it’s time to weigh in.

Remove The Rain Cover

This isn’t exactly related to weight, but after being randomly stopped and not stopped for carrying on my backpack over the years I started noticing a pattern. Whether I was asked to gate check or reweigh my bag was directly related to if it had the rain cover on. Turns out, the rain cover was consistently causing issues. Leave the rain cover off during check-in and boarding, lest you attract more attention to your bag. For whatever reason the rain cover seems to cause a second look. A second look leads to questioning, weighing, or a actually having to shove it into the dreaded metal luggage-measuring bin. No, thanks.

Wear More Clothes

There are many news articles about people going to extremes and wearing pounds of clothing to avoid baggage fees. Whether you think this is ridiculous, clever or something in between, it works. The easiest thing to do is put on an extra sweatshirt, and you can get incrementally more intense from there. Jeans over leggings, double socks, scarf and hat indoors. One time I even wrapped a pair of leggings around my stomach like a bandage…which is pretty shameful, I admit. But to be clear, it worked.

Try Another Line

Some ticket agents are stricter than others and scales aren’t always calibrated the same, so I always get out of line and try again at least once before paying a baggage fee. Whether or not you have to pay a fine can vary depending on who is checking you in and what mood they are in. It can also be up to which desk’s scale you use.

Empty Your Water Bottle & Eat Your Snacks

It sounds obvious, but when you’re schlepping around and your things are not under control sometimes we forget the obvious. A full water bottle in a side pocket – even if it will have to be thrown away or dumped out at customs – can severely impact your bag’s weight at check-in. Make sure you don’t have any water (or snacks, for that matter) wasting precious pounds.

Be Nice

You should always be nice, of course! Because it’s the right thing to do and also because if you are nice, others are more likely to be nice to you. If your bag is on the line and you’ve been polite or friendly towards the check-in agent, it’s much more likely they’ll let it slide than if you were rude or unkind in any way. This applies in many, many travel and life scenarios.

Have a tip for how to avoid overweight bag fees? Share it in the comments below!

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