Surprise! Delta may carry off your carry-on bag

Don't Waste Your Money

You do your homework and find the most inexpensive flight to your destination. But if you didn’t check the cost for baggage, even if you carry-on, you could end up paying more than you expect.

Sometimes a fee catches even the savviest flyers.

Many travelers say it’s those unexpected fees that leave them frustrated.

“Mostly it’s the fees they charge when you get to the gate that you’re really not aware of,” frequent flyer Christina Raby said.

Passengers’ most recent surprise: Changes to carry-on luggage.

Delta, American tighten the rules

Some airlines like Frontier and Spirit are charging to carry-on. Others, like American and Delta, are strictly enforcing their carry-on bag allowance.

“That was sort of the secret way to not pay the fees in advance was to carry the bag to the gate and try to walk on with it,” travel agent Kathy Sudeikis said. “Now there are charges.”

With the airlines raking in $3 billion in fees in 2013, travel experts aren’t surprised to see more fee structures and more enforcement of baggage size limits.

“The real problem is that it is a rolling situation. Some of the airlines will let you have carry-on baggage without too much intrigue but the bags are getting bigger and bigger,” Sudeikis said.

The size of carry-on baggage is a hot button issue with many frequent flyers. Some have resorted to using the hashtag #carryonshame on Twitter to spotlight passengers who claim more than their fair share of the overhead compartment.

Many are frustrated because by the time the later assigned passenger groups board, the compartments are full and they are forced to check their bags.

Airlines cite that as the reason they recently began strictly enforcing the size of carry-on baggage.

Delta and American now limit carry on bags to 14 inches wide, 9 inches deep. The problem is that many "carryt on" bags sold in luggage shops are 15 inches wide, and 10 inches deep.

So your "carry on" may be carried off, and you have to pay another $25.

No consistency in enforcement

Still, during recent flights checked, we noticed the airlines cracking down but no consistency in how it’s done.

In some airports, we saw airline employees checking size at the gate. In others, passengers walked through without any scrutiny.

In San Francisco, we spotted an American Airlines staff member at the entrance to the security checkpoint, sizing bags and sending those that didn’t fit back to the ticketing counter to check their items.

We reached out to American and Delta for comment. They did not return our calls for clarification about how they enforce their baggage restrictions.

Some of those passengers were relying on bags they bought as carry-on bags. However, those may not always fit airline standards. When we went to luggage stores, we found many of the bags were a good inch larger than what some airlines (like American and Delta) allow passengers to carry-on.

Some luggage manufacturers have resorted to putting disclaimers on their baggage telling customers to check with their airline to make sure the size is acceptable.

UP NEXT: Travelers turning to old systems to find best prices

Beyond baggage fees, we found another surprise greeting passengers is when they try to check-in online for their flight.

We checked in on an American Airlines flight last week only to find the only seats left for assignment required an extra payment.

Sudeikis says she has seen that happen to passengers. She says you’re still guaranteed a seat and recommends just heading to the airport to see what the airline assigns you.

The extra costs add up, and travel agents believe that is one of many reasons they are seeing passengers return to the old custom of consulting a travel agent. The more confusing booking travel gets, Sudeikis says, more people want travel agents to give them a direct answer about what it will cost and reliable information about the trip in general.

“It's because it is confusing and the more confusing it gets for people, the more en vogue we are,” she noted.

If you plan on booking the flight yourself, Sudeikis recommends doing some math before your trip. Figure out how much luggage you plan to take because those fees could make an inexpensive ticket very costly.

Likewise, it can mean you overpaid for a ticket on an airline such as Southwest which offers two free bags if you don’t need to take luggage on board.

Here are the fees and baggage allowances for several airlines:

  • Air Canada:
  • Carry-on size 22.5 x 15.5 x 9
  • Fees for checking depend on the route. Check here to figure out what is allowed on your route.
  • Air Tran
  • Carry-on size 24 x 16 x 10
  • $25 for first checked bag
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Carry-on size 24 x 17 x 10
  • $25 for first 2 bags, $75 for additional baggage
  • American Airlines/ U.S. Airways
  • Carry-on size 22 x 14 x 9
  • $25 for first bag, $35 for second (Some international routes wave fees)
  • Delta
  • Carry-on size 22 x 14 x 9
  • $25 for first bag, $35 for second (Some international routes wave fees)
  • Frontier
  • Only allowed a personal item
  • Charge for Carry-on (size 26 x 10 x 12) $25 online, $35 at airport, $50 at gate
  • Sea Port
  • Two checked bags for free
  • Spirit
  • Allows one personal item 16 x 14 x 12
  • Carry-on $35 at booking, $45 at check-in, $50 at airport and $100 at gate
  • Checked $30 at booking, $40 at check in, $45 at airport and $100 at gate
  • Southwest
  • Two checked bags for free
  • Carry-on 26 x 10 x 12
  • United
  • Carry-on size 22 x 14 x 9
  • Fee depends on route. Check here to figure out what is allowed on your route.

One final tip: travel experts recommend passengers buy a carry-on that is labeled “international carry-on” because it fits the stricter standards. Also, experts recommend buying a hard sided suitcase so you don’t overfill your luggage and unintentionally rack up a fee.

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