Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Travel Strategies – How to get 140 pounds of Stuff to Indonesia?

There used to be 2 magic numbers in travel: 50 for domestic air and 70 for international. Those were the weight in pounds that one could check without incurring overweight charges. We all know the formula is changing, but without checking the airline’s website it seems one can never predict from one trip to the next what rules apply.

Case in point … my trip to Indonesia at the moment. When I checked in at my US gateway, in this case Las Vegas, with a bag full of camera gear at 67 pounds and a clothing/dive gear combo at 70 pounds, I assumed I would be OK. Not! If it was a US destination and I was flying American, for example, I would now expect to pay $15 for the first bag + $50 since it was 50-70 pounds + $25 for the second bag + $50 since it was 50-70 pounds. $65 for the first bag and $75 for the second bag = $140. Not perfect, but a new reality I can accept. After all, diving and underwater photography are heavy past-times and I expect to pay.

But, here was the new and quite unpleasant new parameter. American, or any US carrier, has to play by the rules of the international carrier they connect to. In this case Singapore Air, and Singapore Air expected to be paid 3 times the overweight charge for the 50-70 pound limit PER BAG. $150 per bag in overweight x 2 bags. $600 in overweight each way. $1200 in overweight just getting to and from Bali, let alone whatever I was likely to incur in overweight with the domestic carriers within Indonesia. Probably $1500 in overweight to get to Raja Ampat. Yikes!!! This is getting a bit silly.

However, I lucked out with a helpful ticket agent at the American counter, and she told me it was cheaper to pay for a third bag if I could get them all under 50 pounds. So, I raced to a nearby shop at the airport and bought a particularly ugly $50 suitcase patterned like a giraffe. I redistributed the weight between the 3 bags, and now each was less than 50 pounds, yielding new math that worked out to be $109. I can’t tell you what the formula was that she used to come up with that, but I wasn’t arguing!

The new magic number appears to be 50, whether for international or domestic. Hopefully, armed with that knowledge I can make the next trip with 2 bags at 50 pounds each, but if not possible, it is nice to know the better option is a third bag. Well, at least for now, until they change the rules again.

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