Woman talking(l+r), Phone with united airlines app(c)

Postmodern Studio/Shutterstock @hutravelstheworld/Tiktok (Licensed)

‘I’ve done this several times’: Woman shares hack for never having to pay for checked bag

'...and I always pay for the most basic economy seat.'


Jack Alban


Posted on Feb 22, 2024   Updated on Feb 22, 2024, 12:33 pm CST

If you’re a frequent flier, you’ve probably picked up some methods to save money.

For instance, if you don’t want to fork over the extra cash for an economy-plus seat, you can check the flight map to see if there are any available empty seats. If you’re the last person to board the plane, there’s a chance there will be an economy-plus seat unfilled, so you can just slide right into it. Flight attendants may just give you the benefit of the doubt and let you sit there without hassling you about it. (Hint: this trick probably works best if you’re traveling alone.)

A similar hack can usually be employed with checked luggage. Sure, not keeping your belongings with you is a bit of a pain, and if you only need a small carry-on piece of luggage, you’re going to want to keep it with you on the airplane and toss it in an overhead bin. All other baggage gets tossed in the plane’s storage area. But that means having to wait at the baggage carousel and, depending on the type of ticket you purchase, paying for a checked bag.

But there’s a way around forking over the cash for that checked baggage fee, according to TikTok user Nicole Nina (@hutravelstheworld) who is a self-proclaimed solo traveler who is always jet setting with a decent amount of luggage.

She said that there’s a way to ensure airlines like United and American will check your bags for free, you just need to be willing to get them past security and to a gate agent, who will more than likely be eager to take care of that for you to conserve overhead bin space.

“OK, this is my hack for never paying for a checked bag, and I always travel with so many bags and I always pay for the most basic economy seat,” she explains in the clip. “This is only for airlines like United, American, Lufthansa, Iberia, whatever. This isn’t for like Spirit, RyanAir, EasyJet.”

Nina says that the aforementioned “premium” airlines have begun charging for checked bags or even carry-ons, but she’s found a workaround.

“You have to check in online and then just download it to your phone—your ticket—and then go through security,” she says. “Go to your gate, and then just be like, ‘Can I check this bag?’ ‘Cause they’ll usually ask people if anyone wants to check the bag anyways because there’s never enough room. And then they’ll just do it for free, and that literally just happened to me.”

Many carry-on bags come in different sizes, and there are usually gaggles of passengers who are in a rush to pack themselves into an airplane to claim the precious overhead compartment space to stuff their carry-on bags in.

What Nina is proposing is patience. Since many of these carry-on bags and passenger items aren’t of a uniform size, it’s difficult to determine what’s going to fit and what won’t in the overhead compartments. So rolling your carry-on bags through TSA airline security and then handing them to a gate agent before boarding gives you a pretty good chance of having your bag checked for free.

There are some caveats to this approach, however: rolling an overly large piece of luggage that hits the 55lb (or applicable weight minimum) weight limit may be clocked by security. They may tell you to turn right back around and get it checked with your airline. In these instances, it’s probably best to get a carry-on-sized piece of luggage, or maybe a slightly bigger one, while traveling. Even if it helps you to get out of just one bag charge, for frequent fliers, all of these payments can add up.


Anyone else think its insane checked bags or carry ons arent included for international flights now???

♬ original sound – Nicole Nina | solo traveler

Travel + Leisure also writes, “Gate checking is always free of charge, and basically means your carry-on will be put into cargo hold with all the other checked luggage.”

Viewers who saw Nina’s post offered up some tips of their own as to the best ways to ensure that they wouldn’t get turned away.

“Honestly, this advice is solid as long as your bag is carry-on sized. Gate checking your carry on bags helps us gate agents SO MUCH,” one user wrote.

Nina also explained how she maximizes her item packing potential without paying a ton in bag checking fees: “Yeah I have a 40 L backpack but I also have a daypack and a tote bag and camera bag so it looks like a lot so I need to check one lol.”

Another viewer echoed Nina’s thesis, writing that in their experience with a popular airline, they’ve never not been offered the opportunity to check a bag: “If you use American Airlines the kiosk ALWAYS ask if you want to check a bag for free.”

Someone else argued that the whole point of paying money for checked bags is to have a more convenient flying experience. “But you pay for convenience, checking at the gate eliminates any conveniences…” they claimed.

Nina argued that convenience means different things for different people, apparently: “It’s convenient for me to not have to bring a giant backpack with me to the bathroom before I board.”

The Daily Dot has reached out to Nina via TikTok comment and United and American Airlines for further information.

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*First Published: Feb 22, 2024, 9:00 pm CST