The best and worst airline baggage allowances

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airline bag charges

Airlines have very different rules about acceptable weight limits for checked baggage.

The way airlines decide how much luggage allowance is wrapped up in your ticket price also depends on:

A) where you’re flying to

B) which class you’re in and

C) whether you’re an elite member.

But, just as budget airlines charge you to check in a bag, major airlines have tightened up their baggage policies and you could be in for a sharp shock at the check-in desk if you don’t plan ahead.

TERMINAL U has researched your luggage entitlements with 17 global airlines: American Airlines, Air France-KLM, Etihad, United, Singapore Airlines, Thai International, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, ANA, JAL, Swiss International, Air China and Kingfisher.

Our findings apply to economy travellers on international, long-haul flights without frequent flier/tier privileges and exclude routes to/from the US and Canada, where airlines weigh in your bags on a per ‘piece’ rather than a ‘weight’ [per kilo] basis. The typical checked allowance on these routes is two pieces of luggage, weighing a maximum of 23kgs each.

The Weigh-in: who’s the best and worst?

Most generous all-round: Emirates

If you’re not a light packer, emirates is a great option, with a nice square allowance of 30kgs. We’re impressed.

Most generous, but only on specific flights: Kingfisher

According to Kingfisher’s website, you can pack up to 32kgs of checked luggage, but only on flights from London to Kathmandu (Nepal), Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok. If you’re flying between London and India, Kingfisher might be a good option for you, with a free baggage limit of up to 28kgs. But otherwise, your allowance is dropped to 20kgs.

Least generous: Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai International, Cathay Pacific, JAL, ANA, Swiss International and Air China.

These airlines offer you 20kgs of free checked luggage allowance – worth keeping in mind if you’re travelling through Asia with a home carrier.

Somewhere in the middle are Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Qantas, British Airways, United, Etihad and Air France-KLM, which are a little more flexible, offering a 23kg allowance.

Advice if you tick the ‘excess’ baggage category

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents the airline industry, says the ‘standard’ charge for excess baggage is 1.5% [per kg] of the highest one-way fare in economy class. So, typically a full price £1000 economy ticket carries an excess charge of £15 per kg.

However, the average excess fee at the airport currently weighs in at £40 per [extra] kilo – ouch!

Excess baggageBritish Carriers offer the best value on direct flights

If you’re a BA or Virgin Atlantic passenger, while you’re entitled to 23kgs of complimentary checked luggage, excess baggage charges are among the most generous.

If you fill up your case with an extra 9kgs [to 32kg], it’ll attract a one-way flat fee of £32, which is better value for money in airline terms.

And if you’re splitting the weight between two cases, why not pay online before you travel [with either carrier] for a second bag, for £32 (one-way). This fee is low considering that you’re allowed a maximum of 23kgs in each case, or 46 kgs in total! The charge is £40 if you don’t pre-pay and rock up to the airport with the bags.

But please be warned. If you need to connect with a codeshare airline, you’re potentially liable for a new set of fees [on the partner airline] when you re-check your bag – unless you are flying straight through to your final destination.

For example, let’s take a popular ‘trunk’ route from London to Sydney with a stopover in Asia – such as Bangkok or Singapore. BA codeshares its flights with Qantas, so to avoid the extra fees, you’ll need to ensure you’re flying on a BA plane straight through to Sydney.

Did you know?

No matter where you fly in the world, no bag must weigh more than 32kgs – it won’t be accepted as it’s deemed too heavy for baggage handlers to lift.

Otherwise, Qantas planes pick up most BA passengers from Asia to Australia and if you re-check your bags another day, expect to pay Qantas’ excess fee of AUS $50 per kg. That’s a bill of AUS $450/£265 for your 32kgs of luggage – one-way.

Something airlines don’t advertise too much is that they have their own cargo handling agent. Why not ask who their provider is before you fly – for example BA world cargo (Tel: +44 (0)845 722 277) and ask for a quote to send your excess baggage ‘unaccompanied’? As you’ve already purchased a ticket through the airline, you’ll be entitled to a discounted cargo rate and your bags will usually follow a few days later on another flight.

Qantas also has its own freight agent: Air Ocean Logistics:

Be mindful that the airline’s cargo carrier is probably one of your best bets if you’re planning to take masses of extra luggage with you. Minimum handling charges apply, so generally speaking, the heavier your bags are, the better value.

Alternatively, use a ‘cargo consolidator’, which groups tonnes of baggage from passengers travelling on different airlines and flies them over in one hit.

Here are just a few examples:

DHL Global: (+44) 208 754 5000

Active Air: (+44) 1784 890 005

But of course the best solution is to stick to your weight guidelines and you can’t go wrong!

What others have said

  1. WARNING about partnerships between airlines above is on the money. BA negates its very generous allowance by partnering with ultra stingy shoddy-service Quantas. If you have a BA flight operated by Quantas, Quantas rules apply, overriding BA’s allowance. And you are caught for a baggage excess charge amounting to legal robbery! To be honest, I pity Australians for being stuck with one of the world’s trashiest airlines.

    • First of all what the hell is a Hospitality Lawyer ? Second, before all this silly oowvblren paranoia began I flew often. Now, I refuse to fly anywhere & it’s very doubtful that I’ll ever fly a commercial flight again. I refuse to be treated like a criminal & embarrassed by the TSA & the flight crews. Ever since this insanity began I have drive when I travel.

  2. This story got me thinking about the tricks I have used in the past to avoid the dreaded excess baggage fees such as wearing several layers of clothes (really uncomfortable on long-haul flights), pretending not to speak english when you are approached about your large carry on (very hard to pull off traveling on an Australian passport! but I successfully achieved my bag being put in the luggage hold for no extra cost and checked through for my connecting flights) and my favourite holding my bag up with my foot while on the scale at check-in! I doubt you could get away with these now…

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