Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 27, 2010

How to Out-Smart Airline Carry-on Bag Fees – with a Travel Vest

(UPDATE: Spirit Airlines says it will start charging $20-$45 per carry-on bag. So the travel vest idea mentioned here makes more sense than ever – unless Spirit starts charging for articles of clothing. What’s next? Nude air travel? That would sure make TSA screening a breeze.)

A USAirways connecting passenger, coming into Denver from an international flight earlier this month, says the airline charged him for an extra seat for his duty-free bag!

Not only that, but the greedy airline at first tried to nick him nearly $1,000 for the seat. But a “good cop-bad cop” routine between two gate agents got that negotiated down to “just” $237.70.  (I can just see these two jokers high-fiving each other afterward in the break room.)

We have discussed previously on this site how airlines, particularly USAirways, are engaging in increasingly questionable behavior in a push to jack up lucrative returns from the burgeoning bag fee industry. But this is a new low.

TSA-approved duty-free bag

Did you know that a duty free bag is one of five things exempt from carry-on baggage limits? Know the other four? They are food for your consumption, an umbrella, a coat and assistive devices, such as a cane or crutch.

So what does a traveler do to fight back, when he feels wronged? One, I hope this guy calls USAirways customer relations (866-523-5333 or 480-693-2341 – good luck getting anyone to answer), and demands a refund because he was within his rights carrying his duty free bag. Two, he should contact the FAA and file a complaint. And three, he should look into ways of avoiding being messed with again. I’d check out what I think is a clever solution to expanding your carry-on allowance, without running afoul of the law. For starters, I’d consider a travel vest – the best trick I’ve seen recently for outsmarting the airlines’ attempts at charging bag fees. (Other good tricks found here; The New York Times suggests others here.)

Several companies make them, but let’s give a shout out first to SeV/Scottevest, and their line of travel vests and coats. My favorite? The Travel Vest ($100) which features 22 pockets. It is also lightweight, so you could actually wear it under a heavier jacket. Special “no-bulge” stealth pockets help keep you under the radar of greedy gate agents (do they get a percentage on intercepted bags?). Slip it off at security and run it through the x-ray machine, put it back on to wear out to the boarding gate. Like the company says, “It is like a bonus carry-on.”

This company also makes the Evolution jacket ($150, 25 pockets) and “Essential” coat ($120, 19 pockets) that features zip-off sleeves which transform it into a vest if desired. There is also a microfleece hoodie version ($70, 11 pockets), and a Fleece 5.0 ($140,  24 pockets).

Customers have been known to buy the vest in a more form-fitting size, plus a jacket the next size up to put over it. Need more storage space? Buy the SeV Travel Pants ($60, 11 pockets).

X-Ray view, courtesy of Superman

Get a load (pun intended) of what you can load into just the vest (the pockets are specifically sized for this stuff): Books, a Kindle, a netbook, a digital camera, magazines, chargers, AC adapters, international plugs, glasses, a water bottle, memory cards, maps, headphones, assorted cords, your wallet and your passport.

That, folks, is a whole backpack worth of stuff. Just in the vest. With the vest, jacket and pants, you may be able to throw away your rollaboard completely – and dispense with any carry-ons – but that’s carrying it to extremes. (You may also clank like the Tin Man when you walk.)

There are specific vests for photographers, who love them for their extra cameras, lenses, small tripods and other gear. There’s also something called a CCW vest for people with concealed weapons – but let’s not get into that here, in a discussion of airline carry-ons.

Promo on Scottevest website

Plenty of other companies have noticed the opportunity in travel vests, and you have dozens of choices of manufacturers including Contourwear, Filson and Magellan. Even L.L. Bean makes a utilitarian Travel Vest ($79) but its exterior pockets are a little obvious.

But it is not like the airlines aren’t onto the travel vest trend. You can actually buy Scottevest products on SkyMall.

Jerry Garrett

January 27, 2010


  1. […] For tips on how to avoid having your airfares inflated by airlines’ increasing push to make you c…, check out my column on that subject. Any more suggestions? Please feel free to add your own. […]

  2. The feds will also let you bring on a camera bag in addition.
    TSA Regulations

  3. […] $20-$45 per piece for most carry-on baggage; Jet Blue countered that by suggesting passengers consider “wearable luggage” such as a travel vest. (Note: If airlines then counter-attack by charging for articles of clothing, perhaps passengers […]

  4. […] $20-$45 per piece for most carry-on baggage; Jet Blue countered that by suggesting passengers consider “wearable luggage” such as a travel vest. (Note: If airlines then counter-attack by charging for articles of clothing, perhaps passengers […]

  5. wearABle luGGage

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