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Consolidate—But Not Too Much
If you don't have an airline-branded credit card that covers the cost of a checked bag, the best strategy is to pack light and pack together. When traveling as a family, Rick Seaney from FareCompare.com suggests combining most of everyone's gear into one large bag (the rest into carry-ons)—as long as the suitcase weighs less than the 50-pound limit. Unfortunately, this strategy backfires if, say, you're going skiing and everyone's bringing wool sweaters. Baggage policies vary, but the overweight penalty fees tend to be more expensive than the cost to check another bag. For example, American Airlines charges $25 each way for the first checked bag and $35 each way for the second, adding up to $120 for a round-trip. However, a single overstuffed bag that exceeds 50 pounds will cost an additional $100 each way for a round-trip total of $250. And if the bag tips the scales at over 70 pounds, the charges will climb to $200 each way.