Taking the load of excess baggage

FEES for excess luggage can be a costly nightmare for unprepared passengers or companies flying with extra equipment.

Stage and Screen Travel Services general manager Sue Garrett said companies that had employees travelling with extra luggage on a regular basis should have policies in place to avoid unexpected baggage fees.

"Any passengers that have travelled with sports equipment such as a surfboard or golf club set, or musicians travelling with instruments will know that excess luggage fees need to be considered well in advance of booking airfares or going to the airport.

"Excess baggage allowances vary dramatically from airline to airline.

"For international travel, most airlines will allow you to check in 20 to 23kg of luggage at no cost. Yet selected airlines will allow up to 30kg, or even two pieces of luggage up to 32kg each. Business and first class travellers also enjoy higher allowances, as do premium frequent flyers with certain airlines.

"And then at the other end of the scale, some low cost carriers have no allowance and you have to pay for every ounce of your checked luggage."

Recently Qantas announced that from 1 March 2012 musicians that are registered members of a recognised music body travelling on its domestic services can request in advance additional baggage allowance for their instruments. Musicians travelling in groups of nine or less can pre-book additional baggage allowance of one piece per person. The weight allowance is applicable to their class of travel and frequent flyer status.

Ms Garrett welcomed the news from Qantas and said it paid to look into the extra charges that applied with any airline you were considering flying with.

"What you think are the lowest practical fares for your needs may in fact not be so low when you take excess baggage costs into consideration.

"Stage and Screen works with many organisations and production companies across the sports, entertainment, music, film and arts industries and part of our work is to ensure that our clients understand what the cost impact is for excess luggage and help them to travel as cost efficiently as possible.

"There are strategies that can help travellers or companies to avoid or at least reduce excess baggage charges."

These strategies include:

Be savvy with your suppliers

When working with your travel management company to choose a preferred carrier, take the airline's excess baggage charges into account as these can vary from airline to airline. Check the full range of benefits you receive in any airline membership, as some airlines allow additional weight (and therefore cost savings!) as part of their membership. If you don't already have airline membership, explore the options because loyalty to a particular airline can pay dividends in higher levels of membership and higher baggage allowances.

Get in early with groups

If you are booking travel for large groups or tours, tell your travel company as soon as possible if you think you will have excess baggage, so they can negotiate the costs directly with the airline. This usually costs more per kilogram or piece if paid at the airport, and negotiation often can't be done at the last minute. So you need to advise your travel manager as early as you can.

Weigh before you go

Speak to your travel manager to find out about the free allowances of your chosen airline so you don't over pack. Weigh your packed luggage before you leave home.

Take fewer pieces of luggage

Determine whether your chosen airline uses the piece system (which is used mostly for travel to/from the US) rather than the weight system. For example, you may be allowed two pieces of luggage up to 23kg each, but if you check-in three pieces of only 5kg each, even though you're under the weight allowance you may be charged for the additional piece.

Pre-pay if possible

If you can't avoid having excess baggage, find out whether the airline will let you pre-pay the fee online. For example, excess baggage on Qantas domestic flights is $30 per additional piece at the airport, but reduces to $20 per piece if you pre-pay online.

Share the load

If you are travelling with one or two other people, checking-in together will allow you to share the total free allowance. So if the allowance for three people is 60kg and your combined checked luggage doesn't exceed this, you should avoid a fee even if your own luggage exceeds the limit.

Pay when you book low-cost travel

If you're flying with a low-cost carrier that doesn't allow any checked luggage in the fare (only carry-on luggage), see if the airline will give you the option to pay a minimum fee for excess baggage at the time of booking. This will be far cheaper than what you will have to pay at the airport.

Leverage your travel manager's airline relationships

If you're flying with a Stage and Screen preferred airline and you're part of a large group or event, we may be able to assist in negotiating discounted charges or higher free luggage allowances with that airline's group department. This is never guaranteed as it is impacted by a whole range of factors, but we will try negotiating when possible.

Pump up the volume

If your organisation has high volumes of travel with a particular airline, your travel manager may also be able to negotiate excess baggage waivers for your staff or team members. As with the above point, this is more relevant for large groups rather than individual travellers, and waivers can't always be guaranteed but they may be negotiable with your travel manager's preferred airline partners.

Weigh up the freight options

If you have large amounts of luggage, equipment or other goods, investigating freight options may be cheaper than paying excess luggage rates with airlines.

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