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How and why I checked a huge cardboard box of food for free on my last flight

Sept. 29, 2020
6 min read
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Here in 2020, there are plenty of things happening in travel -- on both macro and micro levels -- that would have never happened before a worldwide pandemic rammed right into modern-day life.

This year has brought us deserts full of perfectly fine but grounded planes, empty airports and hotels, major theme parks that have been closed for six months and counting, a dramatically constricted air route network, a long list of travel bans, 95% drop in air travel at the peak, mandatory face masks required when traveling and so much more.

Oh, and for the first time, I checked a massive cardboard box of nonperishable food on our last flight -- for free. Here's how and why 2020 brought me to the point of flying with my own personal pantry.

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Travel has changed

Travel is returning now, but in some different ways than before.

While some are going back to their old travel routines, many travelers (including my family) now prioritize safety when traveling above pampering and some conveniences. As part of that trend, whole-home rentals have taken on an all-new appeal of allowing for more distanced and self-contained travel.

My family has rented several vacation homes since travel changed earlier this year, in part to utilize the kitchen to make meals to prevent venturing out more than we need to.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

BYO food

For a recent weeklong beach home rental, we needed to stock the kitchen.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, I ordered extra cereal, pasta, snacks, granola bars and more with our regular grocery orders. We were planning to drive to this particular home rental, so bringing along the goods wasn't going to be a big deal.

We'd need to supplement those travel-friendly items with fresh food when we arrived, but at least we wouldn't arrive empty-handed. Then (because this is 2020), a hurricane hit in between our home and our destination in Florida right before we were set to depart. As a result, we decided it would be better for all involved to fly instead of drive through the wake of a major storm.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

But -- I wasn't super excited to start the kitchen stocking process all over again, so we got creative. We decided we were going to stuff a big box full of that food, check it with the airline and bring it with us as part of our free checked luggage allotment.

Related: The best credit cards for a home rental

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Checking a box of food for free

I didn't have a piece of luggage easily accessible that was big enough to hold all this food, but I did have a big cardboard box saved from a massive Nordstrom Anniversary Sale order. In the end, that disposable box was actually the better plan since I only needed to move the food one-way and could then toss the box before we came home.

While every airline is a bit different, United allows its elite members, credit cardholders and those in first class to check up to two pieces of luggage for free. It's not just United -- having the right credit card can get you out of paying checked bag fees on most U.S. airlines.

There are size constraints, when flying economy with United, the maximum size for a free checked box is 50 pounds and a total of 62 inches (length + width + height) on the outside.

Lucky for me, the weight of the box wasn't a problem, but the size came in an inch or two under the total. I measured it several times at home, though at the airport it was only weighed, not measured.

Related: Case for checking bags when flying

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

I felt like a little bit of slub lugging a big cardboard box to the check-in area of the airport, but no one batted an eye in us checking the box for free to the final destination.

Related: Comparing checked bag fees for major U.S. carriers

Bottom line

The big 'ole box of pantry items was safely waiting at the baggage claim at the other end of the journey.

While I probably wouldn't have outlined things this way had we been planning to fly the whole time, it actually worked out perfectly. We arrived at the home rental around lunchtime pretty hungry, and immediately had ingredients for peanut butter sandwiches and chips at the ready. While we did order more groceries for delivery later that day, local groceries were much pricier than we could get at home, so this was a win/win with just a modest bit of extra work lugging the box into the airport on the front end.

Featured image by (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases