Smartest ways to travel with gifts


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The holiday season is a time to celebrate both faith and family, and that often leaves consumers traveling far from home. Some 107.3 million Americans traveled by automobile, bus, train or plane over last year’s Christmas and New Year’s holidays, according to AAA, and this year could see similar numbers of people traversing the globe to exchange gifts and connect with the ones they love.

But what do you do if you need to travel with gifts in tow — or if you anticipate having to bring gifts home? If you’re traveling by automobile bus, or train, you may have no trouble packing your luggage to the gills both ways. If you’re flying by plane, on the other hand, there are rules and strategies you should be aware of.

These simple tips could save you time, money, hassle or stress this holiday season.

Save money on checked luggage

First things first. Since airlines limit the amount of carry-on luggage you can bring on a plane, you would need to check a bag. Since checked luggage up to 50 pounds usually costs between $25 and $35 one-way, you should look for ways to get around it.

Fortunately, several co-branded airline credit cards offer this benefit as a cardholder perk. Consider the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® for flights on American Airlines or the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card if you’re flying Delta Airlines, for example. Both cards offer a free checked bag when you fly on one of their domestic itineraries.

Also note that earning even the lowest tier status with most major airlines (American, Alaska, Delta, United, etc.) means you already have a free checked baggage benefit. While it’s too late to achieve status for the purpose of scoring free checked luggage this year, make sure you’re taking full advantage if you are already a status member.

As a side note, you can also consider flying an airline that doesn’t charge for checked luggage if you haven’t booked your flights yet. Southwest Airlines is a popular option for families since two bags per person fly free.

Ship your gifts — or your luggage

You can also consider shipping your gifts — and even part of your luggage — ahead of time. This strategy can come with exorbitant costs if your gifts are heavy, but it may not cost more than checking a bag if your package is on the lighter side.

You can get an instant quote on the cost of shipping your luggage at The U.S. Postal Service also offers shipping rates and a quote tool for Priority Mail on its website. To give you an idea of what to expect, shipping a medium-size flat rate box will set you back $13.65 at the post office.

Purchase expandable luggage

Whether you need extra room on your way to your destination or on the way home, you can also purchase expandable luggage that can turn from carry-on size to a checked bag at the drop of a hat. While some expandable carry-ons can bloat to give you a few more inches of packing space, others will nearly double in size. This strategy could help you avoid paying for luggage for at least part of your trip.

Look into the Biaggi ZipSak Boost — a light, convertible suitcase that expands from a carry-on to offer another six inches of packing space for gifts for either leg of your journey.

Take advantage of carry-on limits

Also make sure you’re taking full advantage of carry-on limits if you want to avoid checking a bag. While the exact dimensions for the maximum size of a carry-on bag vary from airline to airline, most draw the line somewhere in the 9 inches by 22 inches by 14 inches range. Before you head to the airport with the intention of carrying on all your bags, check your airline website to find out exactly where their rules fall.

In addition to a traditional carry-on bag, airlines also let you carry on one personal item that fits underneath a seat. If you’re a woman who carries a purse, consider packing it within in a larger bag or a backpack so you can pack gifts in the additional space. If you don’t typically carry on a personal item, make sure you take advantage of this rule by packing an additional bag that is small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you.

Remember that some gifts must travel in checked luggage

The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, does set some limits on what can be packed in carry-on luggage — including a ban on liquids that are more than 3.4 ounces. If you’re gifting a bottle of scotch or a large bottle of perfume, those will need to go in a checked bag. However, you should also make sure you think about gifts that may include liquids you don’t consume. Many people gift snow globes over the holidays, for example, but they must contain less than 3.4 ounces of liquid to travel in your carry-on luggage.

In terms of the TSA’s other rules, they are vast. Examples of rules covering potential gifts include:

  • You cannot carry a baseball bat in a carry-on bag even if it’s a gift.
  • You can carry on a blender, but only if the blade has been removed and placed in a checked bag.
  • You cannot bring a dart set on the plane — even if it’s a new package that has never been opened.

Make sure to read through the TSA’s extensive list of items that must travel in checked luggage before you pack gifts in your bag.

If all your gifts can be carried on the plane and you have plenty of room, also take note that the TSA has the authority to unwrap gifts if they trigger an alarm or a search. For that reason, the TSA asks you not to wrap gifts with wrapping paper and tape. Instead, bring the wrapping paper and tape in your bags and wrap your gifts when you arrive at your destination.

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