Learn to travel light: Airlines have tightened baggage allowances again!

During the last two years all airlines have substantially tightened their checked luggage policies. A lot of airlines now charge even for one bag – and charge extra for suitcases weighing more than 23 kg, whereas not too long ago they’d carry suitcases weighing up to 32 kg with no surcharge. Most carriers allow one free piece of luggage, whereas before you’d almost always be allowed two.

Not only have the airlines tightened up on what they’ll carry for free, but they’ve now much more likely to charge you for the extras. In the past you were unlikely to be asked to pay, especially if the checkin staff were busy, but now it is believed that some airlines pay their counter staff bonuses based on the amount of extra charges they levy on their passengers.

There are differences in domestic and international checked luggage policies. For example, for tickets purchased after November 11th 2010, Air Canada allows 1 free bag or 23 kg on domestic, transborder (to USA), Caribbean, transatlantic etc. flights – with the exception of flights to and from Brazil, where you are allowed 2 free pieces up to 32 kg each. Who figured that out and why – we will never know! The 2nd bag fee differs by the destination: Within Canada and to the Caribbean, Costa Rica and Mexico it is $20. To the US it is $30 and to Europe and India it is $50 CAD. With this so-called “piece concept” you have to remember that if your free bag is over the allowed weight, you won’t be charged per extra kg, but for a whole extra bag. The free allowances also differ by the class of service (you are generally allowed more baggage in business class) and also by frequent flyer status.

Some airlines have a lot stricter rules. For example on Finnair flights from Toronto to Helsinki – if your first bag is heavier than the allowed 23 kg, you will be charged the excess baggage charge for a bag weighing 24–32 kg – the same as 1 extra bag up to 23 kg – which is a hefty 80 EUR. Most US carriers have charges already for the 1st checked bag.

In addition to the weight restrictions, each airline has the maximum size measurements for baggage as well. They are shown as a total number of inches (e.g. 62″). This is the total of the length, width and height of the piece, and you can usually have any reasonable size/shape of bag as long as the total measurements don’t exceed this number.

All baggage charges are usually per flight, not per roundtrip. If you’re on a ticket that has you flying first one airline to a connecting point and then a second airline from that point to your destination, you might find you have to pay excess charges to both airlines. But if your bag is being checked through from one airline to the other, you generally won’t be charged for the second flight. Excess luggage is usually carried on a ‘space available’ basis which means the airline doesn’t promise that your luggage will arrive at your destination on the same flight you do. Nine times out of ten (or more) it does indeed arrive on the same plane, but the airlines have the fine print of accepting it on a space available only basis to give them an excuse if your bags don’t arrive with you.

As you can see, there is a lot of different rules within one airline. When you get itineraries where another airline is added to the mix, then things can get even more complicated. We as travel agents try to help you in figuring it out, but things do change and for the absolutely most accurate information, you should phone the airline and get exact confirmation of your luggage entitlements and what the penalty costs might be shortly before your flight.

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