Luggage fees: the bane of the traveling diver. You may be the best bargain hunter when it comes to
scoring airfare deals to Indonesia, but if you don't know how to cut down on dive gear, photo equipment
and personal items, your savings will be eaten up in excess baggage costs. These days, finding
an affordable flight to a dive destination is only half the battle. We asked our Undercurrent contributors
-- heavy-duty travelers -- as well as our readers for their tips on saving money and shedding weight to
hedge the cost of flying.
Cutting Costs for Checked and Carry-on Luggage
When checking in for the domestic part of your trip on a major carrier like United, Delta or American
Airlines, you probably know the drill: $25 for the first checked bag, $35 for the second checked bag and 50
pounds maximum for each one bag. If you're flying overseas and taking a second bag, the rates can range
from $40 to $100. If you want to take a third bag, no problem, but expect to pay between $100 and $200
to check it. But did you know that some airlines, both domestic and international, now have a maximum
weight for your carry-on bag? According to Ken Kurtis, owner of the dive shop Reef Seekers in Beverly
Hills, CA, who routinely leads dive trips worldwide, "if your plan was to pack all the heavy stuff into your
carry-on and stow it above your seat, you may be in for a rude awakening when you check in and your carry-
on suddenly becomes your $100 third checked bag. Some airlines have a buried-in-the-fine-print weight
limitation on your personal bag as well, which may be as low as 20 pounds."
One easy -- though not necessarily cost-effective -- way to get around that is to fly first or business class.
"Many airlines allow customers riding up front a weight allowance of 70 pounds per bag, and they check up to three bags at no charge," says Kurtis. Dan Shepherd (Clifton Hill, MO) is a believer. "I've done about
everything that can be done to cut bag weight but now, I always check the business-class fares, as sometimes
they're cheaper or just a few dollars more than paying extra bag fees. You get the perks of businessclass
check-in and short security lines, and after a long flight, you are one of the first off the plane and don't
have to stand in line at immigration for hours.
If you want to use miles to convert to a first or business class ticket, you can do so starting 330 days
before your desired flight leaves, but Gary Luff, who writes the blog A View from the Wing, says you don't
have to book on that exact day. "The best availability tends to be between six and nine months out. Two
months out is tough -- the seats that open up early are long gone." Still, keep checking. Some seats may
become available later, though often at higher mileage costs.
If you don't want to buy a first-class ticket for a Caribbean dive trip, the long-term saving option
is to join the rewards program of the airlines you regularly travel with. You can get, say, a Delta Visa
card or United MasterCard that will give your first bag checked for free, advance boarding privileges,
and accelerate your level of status faster. Henry Schwarzberg (Mobile, AL) uses an American Express
Platinum card (the annual fee is $450), "because it provides up to $200 in reimbursement for excess
baggage fees." The card earns miles on Delta and several international airlines. Many airline-branded
credit cards offer baggage deals, so it's worth looking into these if you want more benefits for your
long-haul dive trips.
If you're changing airlines while in transit on a dive trip, the weight limits for the first airline might not
be the same as the second, so you may need to pack based on the more restrictive weights. That's a common
occurrence in Indonesia, where its domestic carriers often have strict luggage limits, plus separate allowances
for sports equipment. Fly Garuda Indonesia, says underwater photographer and Undercurrent contributor
Maurine Shimlock. "Garuda allows 66 pounds per person."
What Dive Gear Should You Schlep?
You may decide to skip the 5-mm wetsuit if you're going to the Caribbean in July, but otherwise,
readers have different opinions on what gear to bring on an overseas flights. Some go to great expense
-- maybe a couple grand -- to switch from their perfectly serviceable gear to new lightweight gear, so
hopefully they make enough dive trips to amortize the cost. Take Joel Snyder (Tucson, AZ), for example,
who tired of schlepping 35 pounds of dive equipment. "My first move was to switch to the Scubapro
Titanium regulator -- this saves more than a pound if you don't have a DIN regulator. Add an integrated
octopus into the inflator (dropping a hose and a heavier regulator) and an air-integrated computer,
and you're five pounds lighter. Miflex or similar hoses help lighten the load. I also traded in the heavy
Scubapro fins for Force Fins. They're lighter, smaller and have more than enough power. In my 'save a
dive' kit, no individual tools. Multitools, yes. Dives lights are similarly optimized: I swapped out a 4D
light for a 3C LED light, and got more light and a longer burn time. My wife and I use two REI duffel
bags, adding up to 50 pounds for the both of us, including neoprene. I have not given up any safety or
compromised the gear in any way."
|While on a puddle-jumper to Raja
Ampat, a woman boarded the
plane wearing her BC as a travel
vest. "She got away with it."
Jim Reilly (Lafayette Hill, PA) focused on lightening
his BC. "First I replaced my comfortable,
thickly-padded BC harness with a DIR-style rigging
made from a single belt of material. It digs into my
shoulders above water, but I don't notice it underwater.
I replaced the chrome belt buckle with one of
high-impact plastic. I also eliminated the neat-looking
but unused D rings, leaving only those absolutely needed for diving. I also replaced my BC bladder with a
smaller, lighter one and replaced my stainless-steel backplate with one of aluminum. Overall, I saved about
John Woolley (Olympia, WA) uses a regulator bag as his all-purpose shoulder bag. "It will hold my
regulator, prescription mask, dive computer, I-Pad, camera, and passport. Because it is my 'personal item,'
it escapes eagle-eyed airline employees who have started weighing carry-on bags. It also guarantees that the
most important dive items stay at my side."
Why not just rent it all, says regular Undercurrent contributor Bret Gilliam. "Many excellent resorts and
liveaboards offer complete equipment packages for a low rental cost, or they include it in your trip fee. The
Damai liveaboard in Indonesia includes all gear, wetsuits and even dive computers in their fare. All you
need to do is show up with a carry-on bag with your lightweight tropical clothes."
Kurtis also favors renting gear, except he brings his dive computer and hoods. "You're already used
to your own computer, and you know how it displays and looks. I also bring two hoods for a variety of
But if you want to bring your own trustworthy dive gear, there's no reason to fret about the cost, says
Shimlock. "People need to not freak out about paying overweight fees in foreign locations, especially if they
keep their luggage weight reasonable. When you add up daily rental fees for complete sets of gear, it could
well be more than the overweight baggage fee you pay. When I purchase domestic tickets for dive photo
trips, I tell my guests that it includes X amount of overweight, and that the charge for extra gear is X. We
also check in as groups, which spreads the luggage weight to a per-person average. Some people come with just a carry-on, others with 100 pounds of luggage, but it usually evens out, and often there is no extra
charge for anyone."
Or you can get creative in getting your dive gear on without paying for it. Fred Turoff (Philadelphia, PA)
says, "Back in the days of carting around rolls of film and batteries, I bought a many-pocketed vest to load
with heavy stuff to wear on planes. I've never been asked to get on a scale before boarding, so this allowed
me to take items that otherwise would have produced an overweight-luggage charge."
While on a puddle-jumper on the last leg to Sorong for a Raja Ampat trip, Bill Gleason (Kentfield, CA)
saw a woman boarding the plane wearing her BC as a travel vest. "She got away with it."
Next month: What clothes you really need to pack (and not), and paring down your photography gear.
-- Vanessa Richardson