Holiday travel: 5 tips to packing light to avoid paying to check baggage

It’s getting tougher to avoid checking a bag on an airline — and possibly paying more to do so — for flights within the United States.

United Airline’s new “Basic Economy” fare doesn’t allow a full-size carry-on bag. The carry-on size limit is 9 x 10 x 17 inches (about the size of a gym bag), and it must fit under the seat in front of you.

United passengers who bring a full-size carry-on bag to the airport gate must check it there, paying a checked bag fee (typically $25 for the first bag or $35 for a second bag) plus a $25 gate-handling charge. There are exceptions to the rule, including if you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or a Star Alliance Gold member.

Only Southwest Airlines lets you fly with two checked bags for free. If you’re not flying on Southwest for the holidays, pack light.

Last year, I wrote a blog post on how to pack smarter. Those tips still stand, but I’m downsizing them to five for a shorter holiday trip:

    • Take one carry-on bag. Carry-on size limits differ by carrier, so check first.
    • Take one pair of versatile shoes, such as boots.
    • Wear your heaviest, bulkiest items, such as boots and a sweater, on the plane. Consider wearing extra layers, which will free up room in your luggage and keep you warm on chilly airplanes.
    • Don’t pack soap, shampoo or other items that a hotel or your hosts will have.
    • Think European: Wear the same clothes more than once. Borrow clothes from family or friends if you’re the same size or when size doesn’t matter (scarf).

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