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Readers share packing tips in light of new baggage fees

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Packing difficulties (Photo: iStockPhoto.com/Justin Horrocks)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 5, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, American, baggage, frequent flyer, Molly Feltner, packing.

Ever since American started charging a fee for all checked bags, SmarterTravel.com has been surveying readers on your feelings about this charge and collecting packing tips for reducing baggage. Your response has been overwhelming so far: Most of you are very disappointed by American's new fees, but many of you have a few tricks in mind to keep the airline (and any other airline that adds more baggage fees) from getting your money. Survey highlights and top reader packing tips are below.

Survey results

"I AM ENRAGED! The Airlines have cut back service as it is. I will NOT fly American so long as there is a carrier that does not charge. If that changes, my flights within the U.S. will stop and I will only fly international. I think all consumers should boycott American flights."

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That one reader comment pretty well sums up the prevailing attitude of survey respondents. Almost 100 percent of our respondents said they will now avoid flying American altogether (46 percent) or will only fly it when there aren't cheaper fares available on any other carrier (47 percent). If those numbers reflect the attitudes of the flying public at large, American's baggage fee PR disaster may turn into a financial one as well. Just a couple weeks ago, the Travel Industry Association released a study showing travelers have avoided 41 million airline trips over the past 12 months, relieving the airlines of $9 billion in potential revenue.

Only 3 percent of respondents said they will continue to fly American because they are elite-level AAdvantage members or were close to an award ticket. Even then, many frequent flyers who commented on the survey said they too were done with the airline. "I have been an AAdvantage member for over 20 years but now I will not fly American. I can live with airfare increases, especially for high gas prices but adding this additional charge on top of higher airfare charges is ridiculous," wrote one commenter.

Most surveyed said that if faced with the reality of having to pay for all checked bags they would either do whatever possible to cram their belongings into carry-ons (39 percent) or cut back on what they packed so they would only have to pay for one checked bag (30 percent). Twenty-four percent said this is just one more reason they won't be flying at all anytime soon (24 percent). A mere 3 percent said they'd suck it up and pay for two bags and 2 percent said they always travel light.

As for guesses about what services the airlines might charge for next, soft drinks and water seemed most likely to respondents, followed by overhead luggage space (2 percent), early boarding (6 percent), and in-flight cell phone use (4 percent). Fifteen percent selected "Other" and offered up some amusing and cynical ideas about what the airlines might charge for next. Here are some of the most popular "Other" responses:

  • Bathroom usage
  • Oxygen
  • Seat belts
  • Anything they can think of
  • Oversized passengers

Packing tips

We asked readers for ideas on how to pack to reduce their baggage and got nearly 400 tips. Here are the 30 or so best strategies.

Fashion tips

  • Pack separates that can be mixed and matched so you can wear different outfits without packing as much.
  • Choose one or two basic wardrobe colors and add some bright accents such as colorful shirts, scarves, or necklaces; make sure everything you bring goes with everything else so you can mix and match tops, skirts, and pants.
  • Wear several layers of clothes onto the plane.
  • Wear your heavy clothing (coats/jackets/boots) on the plane—on most aircraft there's a little cupboard near the front door where you can hang stuff on a coat hanger for the duration of the trip.
  • Go naked. :)

Shoe sense

  • If you go hiking or need to bring large boots on a trip, wear the boots onto the plane and pack the smaller comfortable shoes instead.
  • Choose one pair of shoes that can go with all outfits. Shoes take up more space than anything else I pack, so I pack one for business and running shoes for exercise.

Laundry on the road

  • Pack several rolls of quarters so you can easily use a local or hotel laundromat. Pack a cord to make your own in-room laundry drying line and wash your clothes there too.
  • Buy and take along quick-drying and wrinkle-resistant clothing. Hint: A spray bottle used with water on wrinkled clothes works well. Spray your clothes, shake vigorously and hang overnight to dry. It works very well!
  • Combine a day by the pool with a laundry day so you can pack fewer clothes.
  • Ex-Officio sells undies that dry in no time flat. At $16, they aren't cheap. Buy two pairs, wash one each night; it's all you need for even a long trip.

Squeezing in every bit of space

  • I am a firm believer in rolling shirts and pants. It always seems to reduce my baggage.
  • Pack bulky items such as sweaters in those special vacuum bags so they flatten to almost nothing.
  • We always use large Ziploc bags. The air can be squeezed out to make a flat package. The clothes wrinkle less and if anything spills in your suitcase, your clothes aren't affected.
  • Use the pancake method for packing a lot of clothes (fold once, then layer thin and flat).
  • We use packing cubes from Eagle Creek. They seem to help us get things into our carry-ons.

Ship it

  • Send your luggage via UPS or FedEx ground to your destination hotel 10 days before you arrive.
  • I always send extra stuff home by priority mail.

The little stuff

  • Pack multi-purpose toiletry items such as an all-in-one body wash/shampoo/facial wash/shave gel/laundry soap as well as an SPF-rated moisturizer that can be used for body, hands, and face.
  • Don't bring any reading material. Buy a book at the airport.
  • Buy toiletries as you need them.
  • If it is a frequent destination for you (e.g., a family home) leave extra liquids/hairspray at their house so you don't have to check them each time.
  • Don't bring presents. Take them all out to eat one night instead.
  • Invest in small versions of your necessities: three-ounce shampoo containers, small medication containers, mini-brushes, etc.

Be ruthless

  • Take only necessary items that cannot be found or bought at your final destination.
  • Remove from future trips any articles that you took on past trips but don't wear or use.
  • I always put all the clothes out that I think I need weeks before and then start making the clothes pile smaller and smaller. I try to take only one big bag, one carry-on and one big purse for incidentals.
  • Set out what you think you need and then go through what is there and start eliminating the duplicates or things that are conveniences which you can do without for a day or two. Remember, most of us overpack and don't use all of what we do pack.

Luggage

  • Invest in expandable carry-on rolling luggage.
  • A normal-sized backpack counts as a personal item, yet it holds a lot of stuff compared to a purse or tote. If you want to have a purse at your destination, slip it inside the backpack, or stuff it with socks in your carry-on so you have it with you at the destination.
  • Suitcases and travel bags can weigh a lot themselves. The lighter the bag, the more you can take without getting the overweight fee on the bag.

Got other good packing tips? Share your ideas by posting a comment to our Today In Travel blog

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