In an effort to squeeze profitability out of their flight schedules, airlines have become downright miserly in both comfort and free amenities. In 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was ordered by a Washington federal appeals court to review the cramped seating arrangements that may pose a safety risk for people in an evacuation. And in what’s being marketed as “Basic Economy” service for the cheap seats, passengers are expected to pay a $25 fee for a carry-on item larger than a backpack. The charge is doubled if you try to sneak it on.
It’s up to the FAA to do something about the seats, but you can do something about the fees. Over at Thrillist, Ryan Craggs explains that the major domestic airlines (American, United, Delta) all promote credit cards that come with travel perks. If you’re a member, you’re exempt from Basic Economy’s draconian carry-on policies. Participating cards are typically found on an airline’s terms and conditions page, like this one for American.
Some of these programs even allow you to carry on an item as well as check a bag—all without fees. But make sure you scope out the airline's individual baggage policies, as not all of them try to squeeze you for every nickel. Southwest, for example, doesn't have a carry-on surcharge.
The catch—and there’s almost always a catch—is that many of the eligible credit cards come with an annual fee. But if you fly more than twice a year, you’re still likely to come out ahead.