Baggage Fees: How To Travel And Save This Winter

You paid $300 and this is the shape the boards arrived in on the last day of the trip. Like paying someone to kick you in the nuts. Photo: Stafford

You paid $300 and this is the shape the boards arrived in on the last day of the trip. Like paying someone to kick you in the nuts. Photo: Stafford

Everyone’s got their horror stories: elbow-sized holes, snapped glass-on fins, a whole trip without the boards ever appearing. Airlines plain and simple give it to surfers straight up the bum. And what else can we do? We need our boards when we travel and can argue till we’re red in the face, but we’re eventually at the mercy of the airlines.

Winter is heavy travel season for surfers, and there are ways to get around exorbitant baggage fees. Knowing which airlines charge what, how to handle check-in workers, and even other ways to get your boards to your destination can save you a lot of frustration and dough this winter.

Bag Fees by Airline

Alaska

$15 for first checked bag, $25 for second, $50 for third. Alaska is one of the best around. They don’t rummage through your bags or interrogate you on how many boards you’ve got. $50 if it’s less than 100lbs and under 80 linear inches. If it’s larger, it’s $75. 

American

$20 for first checked bag, $30 for second (each way). $100 in addition to the applicable checked baggage charge, based on the number of checked bags. This also only applies to one surfboard. 

Continental

These are the guys who screw us over pretty hard. They have these ‘non-excess baggage embargo periods’ when they charge an extra $50-$100 on top of the applicable excess baggage fee. The kicker with these periods is that they will not accept surfboards during them—so make sure you check out the dates before you head out of the country. First checked bag is $20, second is $30. They charge $100 for one bag with up to two boards, $400 for three boards, and $700 for four boards! Careful of anything over 70lbs and 115 inches, as they usually won’t accept these. 

Delta

First checked bag free, second $50, third $200! $100 for one surfboard, they say that additional boards in a bag will be charged per board, leaving it entirely at the whim of the check-in employee. If it’s over 70lbs they’ll tack on an extra $175. 

Hawaiian

$20 for first checked bag, $30 for second. Can carry two boards per bag (excess charges will be assessed) for a charge of $100.

Northwest

First checked bag free, second $50, third $200! They accept one board for $175 and say all surfing equipment is subject to excess charges and that they don’t accept liability for loss, damage, or delay of ANY surfing equipment and you can’t buy excess valuation insurance. 

United

$15 for first checked bag, $25 for the second. One case holding up to two boards, $175 per board! 

US Airways

$25 for first checked bag, $35 for second, $100 for each additional. US Airways now coordinates with SportsExpress.com to pick up your bags at your house and they will deliver them to you at your destination. Only problem is four boards traveling from LA to Honolulu in early December is gonna run you almost $1,000! They’re definitely making things easier… If you wanna brave it the old-fashioned way of hassling with them at the airport, it’ll run you $100/board.

Friendly Fliers

Alaska

Hawaii

DO NOT FLY WITH

Continental

Northwest

US Airways

An Alternative

You can also ship your boards to your destination. This makes sense if you’ve got a bunch of boards you want to bring. But there are a few drawbacks: you’ve gotta get them shipped before you leave by taking them to the airport and there’s a good amount of paperwork to fill out. But other than that you’ll be saving yourself a good chunk of change.

Delta Cargo

To ship with Delta Cargo, you must be a known shipper to begin the process. You’ve gotta fill out that paperwork and pay the $60 non-refundable fee. Then you need to fill out a credit application.

Once you get all your boards packed up check out the rates—they typically range from $.50 to $2/lb depending on where you’re going. But when you think about it, four boards with an average of eight pounds per board gives you 32lbs before packaging. After you get them all wrapped up, let’s say they weigh 50lbs, at the highest rate of $2/lb you’re only shelling out $100 to get four boards to Hawaii.

If they do damage your board, a clear receipt must be reported in writing at the destination within 15 days after delivery of the shipment.

Alaska Air Cargo

Alaska Airlines also has Air Cargo that ships up to 300lbs starting at $77 depending on where you’re flying from. Definitely a good little deal because even if you have ten boards there’s no way you’re going over that 300lb limit.

International jet-setter Ian Walsh knows all the tricks to the trade—even if that means flirting with the gay guy at the ticket counter to save a few bucks...Photo: Dorsey

International jet-setter Ian Walsh knows all the tricks to the trade—even if that means flirting with the gay guy at the ticket counter to save a few bucks...Photo: Dorsey

More tips:

  • If you’re gonna do some island hopping, check out Aloha Air Cargo, as they offer flat rates for surfboards throughout the Hawaiian Island chain for $35.
  • If you have multiple boards try and hide one or two with the layer foam or towels.
  • If you pre-pay for your checked bags (other than surfboards) online you can save a few bucks.
  • Allow yourself some extra time to get your bag properly checked.
  • If you can (domestically), check in with the porter outside the terminal. With an extra tip they’ll get your bags through without the fees.
  • If you have preferred miles or member status with certain airlines, most times they will waive the regular checked bag fees. This doesn’t include excess baggage fees, which surfboards are considered, but it could save you a few bucks.
  • Flirting with the check-in attendant (woman or man) can often result in a few dollars dropped off those hefty baggage fees.
  • Make sure you have the proper address labeled on your bag in case it’s lost. People forget.
  • There’s tons of airlines out there, especially when going international. Do some research yourself to find the best prices. Most times the small international airlines are the friendliest.

Let’s hear your thoughts on these airlines and more in the comments below. Bad experiences, airlines to stay clear of, your own tricks of the trade, surfer-friendly airlines, chime in below and happy travels this winter!