Avoid Airline Bag Fees With Free Items From Hotels
Air travelers looking to cut the weight of a checked or carry-on bag may find one offbeat solution helps: booking the right hotel room.
Consumers have more incentive these days to travel light. The 15 largest U.S. carriers collected a record $3.5 billion in bag fees during 2012, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That's 3.8 percent more than in 2011.
And it's not just travelers checking more bags. Of 52 airline fee changes tracked by TravelNerd.com in the year ended in January, more than half involved bags.
"It's become absolutely imperative to pack light," said Anne McAlpin, a packing expert behind PackItUp.com, who has seen increasing interest from travelers looking to reduce their load to an 18-pound carry-on.
Among recent changes, Southwest Airlines increased its fee for overweight bags from $50 to $75 for bags weighing 51 pounds or more.
In May, Frontier Airlines announced it will join Allegiant Air and Spirit in charging passengers for bringing on a carry-on bag to go into an overhead bin. The cost: $25 to $100, depending on how far in advance the fee is paid. (Carry-ons that fit under the seat remain free on all three carriers.)
Hotels have been quick to respond, touting programs that offer the ability to borrow, rent or keep for free items that—as a result of new airline policies—might not make it into that bag.
In February, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts introduced "Hyatt Has It," which offers guests free use of items including lint brushes and curling irons, while Westin Hotels recently expanded internationally its program allowing guests to rent New Balance shoes and fitness gear for $5.
"Hotels realize the publicity appeal of these kinds of things," said Kelsey Blodget, the editorial director for hotel review site Oyster.com. Although programs tend to be more common, with more items on offer, among four- and five-star properties and boutique hotels, even midrange brands that don't advertise borrowing programs may have such items available for guests who think to ask at the front desk.
But travelers should still call the specific location where they'll be staying before leaving home with an emptier suitcase. Not all items are available in all locations. "You can't necessarily count on it for every hotel," Blodget said. Keep in mind, too, that the savings on baggage fees aren't likely to be substantial enough to justify a pricier hotel room that offers more by way of freebies.
Among the items worth asking for:
It's common for properties to offer cribs, high chairs and booster seats. Some hotels go further. Kimpton Hotels lend play yards, while Fairmont Hotels & Resorts guests can get kid-specific toiletry kits including no-tears shampoo and other items. Four Seasons guests can borrow a Diaper Genie, and a spokeswoman says the chain also offers free wipes, diapers and swimming diapers.
After noticing that some guests were bringing their own protein powder and miniblenders for shakes, many Hyatt locations now lend out blenders for free, said Kristine Rose, Hyatt's vice president of brand experience. They also makes teakettles (and tea) available for in-room use. Many hotels also lend coffeemakers, if there isn't one already available in the room.
Sports equipment is one of the faster-growing categories of borrowable goods, said McAlpin. Plenty of properties have yoga mats, free weights and water bottles for guests to borrow, and more are renting or lending bikes. Westin isn't the only one renting out workout clothes—for $10 per stay, Fairmont guests can borrow Reebok shoes, shirts and shorts.
The Burj Al Arab in Dubai made news this year for offering guests use of a gold-plated iPad during their stay. That might be a one-off, but more hotels are offering loaners of tablets, e-readers, video game consoles and MP3 players, said Blodget. Some of Hilton Worldwide's Conrad hotels, for example, include iPads in guestrooms, as does SLS Hotels' South Beach location in Miami. On a more practical note, many chains also offer chargers and adaptors for phones, computers and other gadgets.
Pet Supplies (and Pets)
Pet-friendly properties may tend to have some of what Fido or Fluffy needs already on hand—namely, bowls and beds to borrow and free treats and toys. Four Seasons also offers cat litter boxes, litter and a scooper. Not that it's a true replacement for your pet, but some Fairmont properties let guests borrow on-site "canine ambassadors" for walks. The SOHO Grand in New York and some Kimpton properties also lend out goldfish.
Personal Care Items
It's fairly expected that a hotel will offer a resupply on shampoo, lotion and other basic toiletries, but the repertoire of items available is much wider. Deodorant, hairspray, razors and shaving cream make it onto many chains' lists. Hyatt has free makeup remover and hairbrushes; Affinia, nail polish remover and Kimpton, contact lens solution and dental floss. Guests may also be able to borrow tools like curling irons and flat irons. At Hyatt, "one of the top-request items is a high-powered [salon-quality] hairdryer," said Rose.
_ By CNBC.com's Kelli B. Grant