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How to avoid new carry-on fees

You have to pack light and pack smart to stuff everything you need in a bag that will fit under the seat.

By MSN Money Partner May 16, 2012 9:52AM

This post comes from Kentin Waits at partner blog Wise Bread.


Wise Bread on MSN MoneyWell, it's begun. A second airline has dipped its proverbial toe in the water of new charges recently. Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air is charging passengers up to $35 to use the overhead bin space for stowing carry-on bags.


Image: Airline (© Christie & Cole/Corbis)Though frequent travelers and industry watchers heard rumblings of the new charge months ago, it's always a bit shocking to see the first couple of slips on any slippery slope. Get ready for this novel charge to become the standard.


The bright side (i.e., the last vestige of sanity) is reserved for travelers who pack light. Fliers who can wedge a carry-on bag under the seat in front of them will not be charged (at least for now. . .but we know how these things go). So the great puzzle begins: How do we pack necessities while avoiding the new carry-on fees and still manage to keep our feet somewhere approximately below our waist?


Here are a few tips that might help. (See also: "Top credit cards for earning travel rewards.")


Pack light

Obvious, right? But packing light means more than just packing less -- it also means packing smart. A small weekend travel bag is about the right size for fitting under a typical airline seat. That bag sets your boundaries, and within those limits you need to get creative. Literally, every precious square inch of space has to be maximized. Everything you pack needs to be more compact, pull double duty, fit inside something else, or be easily washed and worn again.


Avoid dead zones

Dead zones are those areas in your luggage that aren't maximized because of improper packing. The inside of shoes is the most common dead zone. Rolled socks, rolled neckties, belts, underwear or cellphone chargers can fill these voids and make more space.


Hold it! Don't fold it

Larger dead zones in luggage are created by stacking folded clothes instead of rolling them. Stacked clothes always leave peaks and valleys in a bag, and those areas waste valuable space. Rolled clothes wrinkle less, compress better, distribute volume more evenly and ultimately use space more efficiently.


Choose versatile basics

Trips are fun, and we like to have some of our favorite clothes with us when we travel for pleasure. But for budget-conscious travelers, the days of multiple outfit choices may be long gone. Pack for versatility and wearability -- jeans, layered cottons or synthetics that can easily be washed, separate pieces that are interchangeable, classic cuts and neutral colors are all great ways to start.


Go small

I'm a big fan of trial-sized toiletries -- at least in theory. The trouble is that they're expensive, not all products I use come in these smaller quantities and some trial sizes are still too big for the squeeze-a-thon we call modern air travel. I improvise my own trial-sized containers by reusing smaller bottles, snatching sample makeup containers from friends and recycling old pill bottles. My travel containers are about half the size of what you can pick up at the department store. And yes, my zip-close toiletry bag is an engineering marvel -- roughly the size of a teacup Chihuahua.

As the airline industry gets more creative in its charges, maybe it's time for savvy travelers to match that creativity in kind. I'm not sure what the next wave of charges will be or how consumers will respond and adjust. Maybe we'll all be traveling with only a single small fanny pack in 10 years and reminisce about the glory days when we didn't have to use our tray tables as foot rests. Whatever the future holds, travel safe and pack light. Oh, and stay limber.


More on Wise Bread and MSN Money:

May 17, 2012 11:35AM
AWESOME.  Airlines should have been charging for carry-on bags instead of checked baggage from day one.
Jul 13, 2012 4:10PM
Best bet is to "mail" a small package with items you need prior to your trip and have them waiting for  you when you get's also cheaper than paying for checked or carry-on baggage these days.  Pick up personal items (travel size) at destination, to keep costs down for shipping a package, or checking in or a carry-0n...I still say people should remind airlines that if it weren't for us, they'd go belly up very quickly.  Boycott the airlines for one month and I bet they'd get the message very soon....hell, they're making tons of money now....just saying.
Jul 13, 2012 11:31PM
Jul 13, 2012 6:39PM
I fly AirTran and always check my bag for no fee at all.  The trick is to bring it to the gate and 9 times out of 10 the gate agent makes an announcement saying that the plane is filled to capacity and if anyone would like to check their bag for no charge to bring it to the gate where they check it for free... I hop on that offer every time!
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