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The Critical Points: Why I love checking bags when I fly

Oct. 18, 2019
7 min read
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Each week in his column “The Critical Points,” TPG Loyalty and Engagement Editor Richard Kerr presents his opinion on a loyalty program, card product or recent news that he believes is overlooked, unsung or the result of groupthink taking mass opinion in a direction with which he doesn’t agree. His goal is not necessarily to convince you to agree with his position but rather to induce critical thought for each of the topics and positions he covers.

At this point, it's almost an unspoken rule and status symbol that real frequent flyers only travel with a carry-on bag. No true road warriors in 2019 dare check a suitcase and leave the fate of their trips to airport baggage systems and contracted baggage handlers, right? In an age where you're made to feel uncool if you even hint at heading to the ticketing/check-in counter to drop off a bag, I love doing just that. Let me lay out all the reasons why I love checking my bag whenever possible.

I don't want to sit on a plane any longer than necessary.

Unless I'm flying international business or first class, the interior of a plane is not a place I am longing to spend an extra 30 minutes hanging out. If I'm flying domestically, you'll see me try and be the very last person to board. The mad rush to spend more time in a metal tube with all the germs baffles me every time I see people standing to board before the inbound aircraft is even at the gate.

However, there's a scarce resource that makes people behave in such a manner: overhead bin space. With checked baggage fees encouraging people to carry on and priority boarding available in a variety of different ways, the competition to get on the plane so your suitcase has a space directly above you is fierce. The amount of time and mental effort people spend to get overhead bin space makes no sense to me. You have to arrive at the gate before boarding, wait in your spot to board, anxiously approach your seat to see if there is bin space it, then sit an extra 10, 20 or 30 minutes while everyone else boards.

No thank you. I can stay home and play an extra round of Old Maid with my kids before going to the airport, simply because I check my bag.

My airport routine typically includes arriving at the gate during final boarding announcements. I sit down with my back pack under the seat in front just in time to feel the parking brake release and push back commence. It's a glorious thing to give up the overhead bin space anxiety and minimize your time on a plane.

Delayed bag protection? Yes please.

Several credit cards have delayed baggage protection, a perk that allows you to buy necessary items and get reimbursed for those items if your bag is delayed in arriving at your destination. When I lived in Japan, I used to hope my bag didn't make the transpacific journey, because Chase reimbursed me $100 a day to buy clothes, shoes and toiletries whenever my bag was delayed. It only happened a couple of times, but I continue to hope for a free shopping spree every time I check my bag, all courtesy of the protection from my Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

RELATED: What to do when your bag is delayed or lost

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Delayed bag mileage compensation? Yes please.

There's another silver lining if my bag doesn't arrive on the conveyor belt at my destination. On top of a free shopping spree, I immediately envision the mileage compensation showing up in my account. In fact, with Delta and Alaska, if your bag doesn't arrive on the carousel within 20 minutes of your plane arriving, you can leave the airport 2,500 miles richer — simply by hitting a button in the app (Delta) or filling out a form (Alaska). Sadly, in my home airport of Atlanta (ATL), my bag beats me to the carousel every single trip. By the time I walk to the underground train and ride it to baggage claim, my bag is already waiting for me.

For other airlines without such formal, published policies, a simple form online under the "Contact us" option allows you to submit your feedback or complaint. Dropping a brief note about a delayed bag will — most of the time — earn some miles or a small travel voucher. I am visibly disappointed whenever my bag shows up on the baggage belt as planned. I just missed out on a shopping spree and miles.

Hands free through the airport

Stairs, escalators, moving sidewalks, crowds, kids, pets, lounges, security — all of these obstacles are so much easier if you aren't wheeling a suitcase around (and trying to handle your small, personal item at the same time). A backpack allows me to be hands-free, and I can scoot through any airport and to the gate with minimal hassle. I enjoy not squeezing in a stall with a rolling bag, dragging it across public bathroom floors, trying to get a drink and food in a lounge with one hand tied up, moving it out of the way for people to walk by when I'm seated — just skip it all and check it.

(Photo by fizkes/Getty Images)
(Photo by fizkes/Getty Images)

Ever walk in a crowded lounge and see the people you know just bragged about packing for a two-week trip to Europe in carry-ons? Yet there's nowhere for them to sit their two bags that look armed for an Everest expedition. Have fun navigating the airport and airplane with all that stuff — not to mention dealing with customs, immigration and other arrival formalities after you land. Me and my backpack will do just fine in hands-free mode.

Bottom line

I'm a huge proponent of checking bags, but not everyone shares this mentality. After all, for this really to make sense, you need to avoid paying checked baggage fees. There are several ways to accomplish this:

  • Always fly Southwest
  • Earn elite status
  • Use airline fee credits from credit cards
  • Sign-up for a cobranded card that comes with a free checked bag

If I had to pay $35-$50 every time I wanted to check a bag, I would stuff my belongings into a carry-on as well — and suffer through the early boarding and overhead bin space anxiety like most other travelers.

And of course, apply some common sense to this argument. Don't check things like your medicine, car keys, wallet or money. If you're flying from the U.S. to Nepal on four segments with three different airlines, it's also probably not a good idea to check a bag you must have when you land in Kathmandu (KTM). For now, though, I love my flying routine that's efficient, has the potential to be lucrative, removes stress, and keeps me in hands free mode while navigating airports.

Featured image by Darren Murph / The Points Guy

Featured image by (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.