Update: North American Cruisers: Beware of New Airline Fees on Checked Luggage

September 11, 2009

(September 11, 2009) -- Since we published this story, United has added fees for checking a second bag on international flights. On flights from the U.S. to Europe, booked on or after September 30 for flights departing on or after December 15, the fee for a second checked bag is $50 ($45 if paid online). On flights from the U.S. to Mexico and the Caribbean (excluding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), the fee is $30 ($27 if paid online).

(September 2, 2009) -- It's hard enough fitting four pairs of shoes, three guidebooks, two formal gowns, a tuxedo and everything else you need for a two-week Europe cruise in two pieces of checked luggage. But with several airlines now implementing rules that say passengers can only check one bag on long haul flights for free, be prepared to travel without some essentials -- or hand over the extra cash.

For travel departing on or after select dates this summer and fall, five airlines will now charge a fee for checking a second bag on international flights (mostly to Europe, though some extend to all international travel). Here's what you'll pay:

American: $50 on flights to Europe and India, beginning September 14.

British Airways: $50 ($40 if you pay online) for Europe and U.K. flights and $60 ($48 online) on all other international flights in Euro Traveller or World Traveller class, beginning October 7.

Continental: $50 ($45 online) on flights to Europe, starting September 15.

Delta: $50 on flights to Europe, effective as of July 1.

US Airways: $55 ($50 online) on transatlantic flights, beginning October 7.

At last count, United Airlines wasn't charging -- but we'll see if it and other airlines follow suit in the coming weeks.

Virgin Atlantic is changing its policy, too, though it shouldn't affect too many North American travelers. On flights from the U.S., regardless of final destination, you will still be able to check in two pieces of luggage weighing up to 50 pounds each. However, on international flights originating in the U.K., including those to Australia, Dubai and Singapore, there's a new restriction of one checked bag per person, effective September 23. A second bag will cost a whopping $150 to check in.

(U.K. cruisers can see the impact of similar new rules in our U.K. story, Fly-Cruises Hit by New Baggage Charges.)

Gotta have that second bag? There are ways to avoid the fees, but they all require you to spend much more than the $50 bag fee. You can typically avoid fees by being an elite member of the airline's frequent flyer program, but that means you have to book and pay for enough flights to reach at least 25,000 miles flown each year. Alternately, you can fly in a superior class of service, such as First or Business Class, but even with international fare sales, those prices are usually more than $50 higher than the price of a coach seat. No, the only way to truly avoid these fees is to pack light.

But don't think you can be sneaky and bring overstuffed carry-ons onto the plane. U.K. airlines especially have strict policies about the size, weight and number of hand luggage; for example, British Airways only allows one standard-sized bag (22 x 18 x 10 inches) and one laptop-sized bag, briefcase or purse.

So read the fine print about baggage allowances before you start packing for your next Europe cruise. You might want to rethink your packing strategy -- and bring some quarters to do laundry onboard.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor