How to save 1000 bucks on baggage fees 

 December 26, 2014

By  Pascal Depuhl

Spend 5 minutes – save a 1000 bucks

Traveling with gear is not only tough on your gear, but can get very expensive–especially when you’re flying. Airlines charge fees for checked bags already and those fees can get very steep even for a regular passenger. They can easily add up to more than your ticket price, once you add a few hundred pounds of gear.

Save money by cutting your checked bag fee by over 90%

An overweight or oversize bag can cost $600.- per flight and that adds up quickly. I’ll show you how to significantly save a few hundred bucks and cut that cost (by over 90% ) on every flight you take from now on.

A few weeks I flew from Miami to Panama City Beach on Delta. Normally it’s $25.- for the first bag (as long as it’s under 50 pounds and smaller than 62 inches all around) and $35.- for the second bag. Once you add oversize and overweight you can get charged 3 fees! Per bag. Per flight. Yikes!

  • First for an extra bag fee ($150 for the 3rd bag and $200 for a 4th)
  • Secondly an overweight fee, for being over the allowable weight limit (up to $200 per bag). Some airlines make this a flat fee, others charge by the pound.
  • Third an oversize fee, when your bag is larger than the allowable dimensions (another $200).

weight You see how that can get expensive in a heartbeat: one bag can cost you between $425 to $600. And you’ll get to pay that twice–once to go to work and again on your flight home.

My secret weapon to save…

However when you’re flying on a media rate (and yes you do need an ID that shows you’re a professional media photographer/cinematographer like the one that ASMP offers their members – make sure you double check the airlines ID requirements), each bag is a flat rate of –wait for it …

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… fifty bucks, so instead of paying $1,200.- per bag of gear, I paid $100 per flight, letting me pass on the savings of over $1,750.- in total to my very happy client. By the way I paid the same rate flying to the Florida panhandle as I did when traveling half way around the world to Afghanistan.

There are other professional trade groups that offer a media ID: APA does, but as far as I know PPA does not. If you know of another trade organization, that issue media ID cards please mention them in the comments.

Know your airlines baggage policy, sizes, weight and fees

Before you travel, find out what your airlines baggage policy is, they all post them online; but if you’re smart Luggage go a step further and call the airline a few days before the flight and ask about their media rate. Most of the big airlines have them (I’ve used them on Delta and American), but when you check in at the ticket counter since the agents don’t come across them very often, they may not know them or where to find them at all. This doesn’t just save you money, it saves you time & stress.

That’s where the phone call comes in. Discuss the media rate with the agent. Then politely ask the agent to make a quick note in your itinerary detailing what an extra bag costs. In addition print out the media rate webpage, what ever you can do to help the agent will be greatly appreciated.

Tips and tricks that’ll save your sanity when you check in:

  • Grab a skycap curbside – he’ll know how to get you to the ticket counter quickly. Plus it’ll save your back. Don’t forget to tip him – he’s worth every penny.
  • Take an extra 30 minutes. You don’t want to be in a rush and getting there early usually means shorter lines.
  • Stay patient and friendly. People don’t like to deal with fools. Don’t make one out of yourself. You’re a professional traveler – act like one. A smile goes a long way. Don’t forget to thank the agent.
  • Be prepared. Wear your media badge, have your ticket and ID ready to hand to the agent. Having the airlines travel policy referred to in your itinerary and having a printed copy with you shows the agent, that you’ve spend time to make the agents life easier. They’ll appreciate it.

Here are some more tips on traveling with gear and if you like saving money, check out how you can win $9,000 of free business coaching from eMyth!


  • Tomas,

    Happy to help – just FYI – your PPA member card will not do the trick. Airlines are looking for media professionals. I have a media badge from ASMP (the American Society of Media Photographers), which I use when I need to secure the media rate. I also have one from APA (the American Photographic Artists), which I have not used.

    NPPA should be able to offer you media credentials that you should be able to use. Let me know if they offer a media badge to their members – I would assume they do…

  • I never travel for my videography work so it has not mattered, however I may take a trip this year to record a missions project for my church and they may pay the cost so I would definitely want to use the savings from my membership and ID badge from PPA and NPPA. Thank you for the tip!


  • Mark, That list is called a carnet (at least if you do that officially). It’s more than just a list of equipment – it’s actually an official permission to import goods (i.E. your equipment) into a country for a short time and then re-import them into the US. They are not cheap and are not always required.

  • My wife (works at Air France) says it’s about $70 each bag currently. Sounds like another good reason to join ASMP. She also says you need a list of all your gear for customs if you have a real lot of gear.

  • Pascal,

    Yes. It does work for affiliated cinematographers that are ASMP (or similar organization members). Had you heard of ASMP before? I’d be interested …
    (Cool name, by the way!) I wish you a happy and productive 2015!

  • J.

    You’re absolutely right. The media rate is not designed to walk up to an airline counter and nonchalantly inquire about flying with your gear. It’s designed for professional visual content producers to be able to do their job. ASMP (the American Society of Media Photographers) is one of the oldest photographic trade organizations that carefully screens their members, who are all working published photographers.

    Many of our members are Freelance photographers that work for a wide variety of clients and our membership in this organization allows us to fly under the same rules that a full time employee of a television or broadcasting company falls under.

  • Surely its optimistic to think that just showing an ASMP membership card is going to cut it. Presumably you have to be an employee of a television broadcasting company or commercial film-making company, with valid business photo ID to prove it.

  • Thanks Pascal! I wish I had known about this back in October when I flew on AA from Hartford, CT to a small town in Illinois with my gear. I re-packed everything down to two camera bags, and another bag with light stands, tripod etc. By the way this was a Tuesday and I needed to start photographing on Friday, and couldn’t ship any sooner due to a previous assignment.

    When I took everything to a UPS store and said I wanted $10,000 in insurance and overnight she said that will be, are you ready……$2750!!! After picking up my jaw from the floor I asked what would it cost for two day……..$1800 was the reply. Trying to not freak out I asked for three day, $850. At the point it was starting to sound reasonable after the previous quotes. The price included shipping the equipment back to the UPS store to hold everything there in the event my return was delayed.

    Since I was out of time and options I paid the $850 and left there feeling sick about it. The store made two boxes, one to hold both camera bags and one to hold the lighting equipment. The camera equipment arrived the next day, and the lighting equipment arrived the day after by UPS. Both ahead of the three day which was strange.

    My husband who was with me at the store suggested we check everything with the airline and pay the extra baggage fees. At that point I had no way of knowing how to insure the equipment and was afraid I would never see it again. The UPS store said anything shipped from them was completely insured with full replacement coverage. Everything arrived and returned safe and sound, but live and learn!

  • Pam – great info – thanks for sharing. Always call ahead. Always have the airline enter the official media rate into your itinerary on that phone call (the agent on the phone is happy to take the time with you, the agent at the counter may not have the time to give you). Always be nice. Always plan extra time. You’re not in a very strong position to state your case, if the agent knows you need to be on your plane in 20 minutes.

    Planning ahead and paying a little more for a larger carrier, may save you hundreds of dollars on your equipment.

  • American, Delta, United and Southwest are the only carriers that offer media rates. Hopefully US Air adopts American’s policy soon. Alaska offers a good rate of $50 per bag for all passengers, or did last time I checked. I have yet to find an international carrier that offers the discount.

    Whenever I estimate a job I stress to my clients how imperative it is that I get flights on the right metal. 20 cases of gear and wardrobe to and from France could get very pricey on the wrong carrier. I had a client book us on British Air last year to save $100 per ticket, which ended up costing thousands in bag fees and an overnight at Heathrow where BA charged a second time for the bags in the morning. That $100 flight difference was well worth what we would have saved.

    I can tell you on our last trip we had issues in several US cities with Delta reps who were quite aggressive about refusing us the rate claiming it was an old policy at LAX and only 50 lbs in another city and that we weren’t really photo crew in yet another.

    For domestic flights it’s 100 lbs and international it’s 75. I always have a printout of the policy and am persistent about the fees. Just allow some extra time for curbside checkin since they rarely understand the rules.

    Another item to mention is that many international carriers restrict how many bags you can check (for instance 5 on Brussels Air and only with prior permission), but also have very limited carryon weight restrictions, far lighter than the average Pelican case loaded with bodies and lenses. As light as 7 lbs on some airlines. And just because you book with a participating airline, double check that you are actually flying their metal and are not on a codeshare flight with a partner airline. The metal you fly dictates the fees charged.

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    Pascal Depuhl

    Miami product photographer, video producer, cinematographer and chief mindchanger at Photography by Depuhl I love to share the knowledge I've gained over the past two decades. Catching light in motion.