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A Complete Baggage Guide for RTW Travelers

Chances are if you’re going somewhere you will have luggage, be it a backpack, a suitcase, a 1920s-style steamer trunk or a stick with a bandana sack. And somehow you’ll have to get it on a plane.

Lamentably, airline baggage restrictions and baggage fees are here to stay. But on the bright side, there are a number of resources to take the surprise out of baggage restrictions. We’ve assembled this page to help you avoid any excess baggage fees.

Click the links to drop down to the following categories:
Restrictions | Excess Baggage Rules | Size Limits | Fees | Lost or Stolen Baggage
Also, here is a gigantic list of links to the baggage sections of all the airlines we work with at AirTreks.

Baggage restrictions

When it comes to baggage, the three things to keep in mind are number (of pieces), size, and weight.

The “Piece” rule

On international flights to, from and within North America, baggage is limited by the “piece rule”.
The rule is one piece of luggage, not exceeding 62 inches as the sum of its dimensions. Itineraries that allow two require that one piece does not exceed 62 inches and that the total for both pieces not be more than 106 inches (these vary slightly from airline to airline. Please call each airline on which you intend to fly for their specific rules).

The flights governed by the piece rule allow each of these pieces to be up to 50 lbs. However, on flights within North America, just about all airlines charge for checked baggage. Most flights will have a $15-$25 fee for the first checked bag, and an additional fee for the second checked bag. We are also starting to see international carriers charging for checked luggage as well. So be careful.

You can find the most up to date checked bag fee list here.

The “Weight” Rule

For most flights in the rest of the world (i.e. those not touching down in North America), baggage is limited by the “weight rule”: a TOTAL of 20 kgs (44 lbs), total for all pieces and items including carry-on items. On these flights, carry-on baggage is limited to 5 kg (11 lbs) and is included in the overall limit of 20 kg. Carry-on items are included in the overall weight limit, even if they weigh less than 5 kg.

Even if you have only one bag, small enough to fit under the seat and weighing less than 20 kg, the airline is NOT obligated to let you carry it on. The airline can require you to check any bag weighing more than 5 kg.  It’s rare that this happens but it helps to be aware.

Not all airlines are strict in enforcing luggage limitations. But it’s possible to get a strict check-in clerk on any given airline and flight, and you cannot count on checking or carrying on more than the rules allow. Before you leave for your trip, it helps to check to see if you’re within your free baggage allowance for all your flights (not just the first one). To do so, do as the airline does: put everything you’re taking on a scale, including your purse, shoulder bag, camera, or anything else you plan to bring and see how much it weighs.

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Excess baggage

The main point to take away from this section is that excess baggage is very expensive.

The standard charge for excess baggage is one percent of the full first class fare per excess kilogram (even if you are traveling on a discounted coach-class ticket), payable separately for each flight.

If you must take excess baggage on some portion of your trip, check with the airlines in advance: particularly on flights to and from North America, some airlines charge a flat rate per overweight piece (typically $100-$125) which is substantially lower than the per-kilogram charge.

Airlines are not required to accept excess baggage at all. On some flights operated by small planes, like those to African safari camps or shorter island or mountain airstrips, they simply don’t have room for it and won’t carry it at any price. Nor will excess baggage, even if paid for as “accompanied” baggage, necessarily be put on the same flight with you, although airlines have no reason not to and usually will, space and other circumstances permitting.

Unaccompanied baggage is considered “air freight” and charged at cargo rates. Air cargo rates are higher per kilogram per kilometer (or per pound per mile) than most coach rates for passenger transportation.

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Size limits

Be careful traveling with oddly shaped baggage such as surfboards, bikes, skis, taxidermy giraffes, musical instruments or Alexander Calder sculptures.

Always call your airline to see what their policies are on these items. Unlike regular checked bags, rules on what can travel, how, and at what cost vary widely from airline to airline. If you have, or expect to have, anything larger than an ordinary suitcase or backpack, call each and every airline on which you plan to travel, in advance, to find out whether they will accept your item, and  how much they’ll charge.

Most airlines have set fees for specific oversized items . Some carry surfboards for free, some charge $150 per board per flight.  Does your airline require bicycles to be dismantled and/or boxed? Do they provide the boxes, or must you bring your own? Do they require oversize baggage to be checked in early? How many hours before your flight?

If you will be changing planes, find out if you will be charged additional special item fees for each flight or only once for the entire itinerary.

Note: Since it’s unrealistic to list these fees for every airline that AirTreks books, we leave this duty to the client transporting these items.

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Baggage fees

Since the airlines have finally recognized the revenue-generating power of checked baggage fees, paying for checked bags is now a way of life for many flyers.

And unfortunately, if you’re not constantly reading airline news you may end up stunned—or incensed—when you get to the airport; the fees are changing on a regular basis.

Fortunately, there’s a handy website that’ll find the info for you when you’re packing for your trip:

It helps to know what all your flights charge or don’t charge for checked luggage if only to avoid surprises. Be happy and check beforehand. Due to the changeable nature of baggage fees, a simple chart won’t give you as complete information as you can get on a specialized site.

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Lost, Delayed or Stolen Baggage

Hey, it happens.
But still, it’s downright horrifying to realize you don’t have your bags when you arrive in a new city. The logistics of traveling is complicated enough but to do it without your stuff can be totally debilitating.

That said, don’t panic. You aren’t likely to make good decisions if you’re freaking out. Fortunately, there are tried and true systems in place to locate lost luggage – the airlines have been losing bags since commercial flight began and know just what to do.

Always remember that 98% of all delayed or lost luggage is returned eventually and those are great odds.

Baggage Delayed

The first thing you need to do when you realize your bag isn’t coming down the chute is to visit the airport’s baggage claims office located in the baggage claim area.

There are three possible scenarios for what happened to your bags:

  • They didn’t make the flight: They’ll get to you on the next flight and you’ll likely have to wait a few hours to a day to get your bag back (unless the airport doesn’t have daily service). If there are no more flights to where you are, trust me, you have other problems to worry about.
  • They were put on a wrong flight: They likely have gone to another airport, causing you a potentially longer wait since the bags will have to return to the original airport then connect to your location.
  • They were on your flight but didn’t make it to the carousel: This is the best-case scenario since you should only have to wait a few minutes (at worst an hour or two) for staff to track it down.

Airlines usually will, but aren’t obliged to, deliver your lost bags to you when they come around. Some will even reimburse you for expenses tallied due to the loss. Ask them about this when filing your claim.

Be sure you know how to check the status of your delayed bags – some airlines will have you call, some will have you check online. Find out which one works best before you leave the airport.

Baggage Lost

First things, first. If the airlines loses your bag, don’t panic. Have we said that enough? Panic never helps. Secondly, start a written “lost luggage” claim, sometimes different than a “missing luggage” claim. Airlines have a certain sum that they are liable to pay you if they cannot locate your stuff. It caps at about $3000 for US domestic flights but the limits vary for international flights as they are set by international tariff law.

To get reimbursed, it’s helpful to have an inventory of everything you had in your bag, so they can return the maximum extent of what you lost. Proof of purchase, such as receipts for your stuff is extremely helpful, especially if the item was expensive, like a laptop.

Airlines won’t reimburse for certain expensive items like heirlooms, jewelry, and other valuables, so if you must travel with these things, keep them in your carry-on.

If you’re perpetually worried about losing your luggage, or even if you’re not, get travel insurance. Most good policies cover for lost, delayed, or stolen luggage.

Baggage Stolen

The best way to keep it from happening is to head directly to the carousel as soon as you deplane. Most airlines now scan luggage as it’s off-loaded so they have a record of which bags are loaded on the carousel. That said, if you aren’t there to pick it up, someone else might.

If your bag is stolen after you leave the baggage claim area go immediately to the police, not the airport personnel, and file a report. You’ll need it to collect from the insurance company.

Pro Tip: Make It Easy On Yourself

Avoid a lost, delayed or stolen bag situation by nipping it in the bud. Here are a few things you can do to either prevent these situations from happening or else keep them from becoming more tragic than they need to be.

  • Keep your name on—and in—all of your bags, in permanent or indelible ink.
  • Make an inventory of what’s in your bag. If it gets lost, the airlines, or insurance company, will want to know what’s inside (so they can reimburse you!). A list will make the process of remembering easy. Keep the list with your other important docs, on your person, and consider leaving a copy with someone you trust at home.
  • Write down the size, color and brand of your bag. It’s amazing how unhelpful your memory is when called upon to describe your baggage.
  • If your bag isn’t eye-catching, embellish it. Make it stand out from the other nondescript black luggage coming down the ramp with colorful tags, ribbons, a paint job, or better yet, reflector tape that catches the light.
  • Keep your claim ticket. I know they’re small, but stick them to your passport. It’ll make the lost bag claim go a lot smoother if you can provide them with the barcode of your bag.
  • Don’t check in late for your flight. The airport crew may be crafty but when you check in late for your flight, they may not have time to get your bag on the plane before takeoff. You can run through the airport, your bag cannot.
  • Avoid short connection times. Again, the process for getting a bag from a flight to another flight may be quick for a body, but a bag has to be unloaded, scanned, transported, handled, scanned again and loaded.
  • Keep your important documents, medications, heirlooms, valuables, keepsakes, expensive electronics, money, and passports on your person or in your carry-on bag. If you’re carrying a larger carry-on and worry that it might be gate checked, have your most important items in a smaller go-bag inside it that you can remove and carry-on if the bigger bag is checked.
  • Get travel insurance. It will simply make your life easier in the event of the unfortunate.

If you ultimately find yourself without your luggage be sure to file a claim immediately. Airport staff know what to do in these situations and will help you out. Remember that stat from before? 98% of all lost bags are returned to their owner eventually.

When you’re packing, please keep in mind that the international standard is 20 kg. (44 lbs) of free baggage per person, total including all carry-on baggage. On flights within North America, paying for every bag you check is the norm.
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