Filmmakers: Avoid Paying Excessive Baggage Fees...For Good

As a filmmaker, it’s hard to figure out what you need to bring on set, and even harder if you’re limited by baggage restrictions and fees when flying to a shoot. 

How can you bring the gear you need to a far away destination without paying tons of fees?

Media rates...they’re great!

Enter the oh-so-great media rate, a special price for you as a filmmaker that can save you some serious cash when it comes to time to check your bag...and even get you out of overweight and oversize fees.

Each airline has a different policy, and each policy may vary based on your route. But we took a lot of the legwork out for you by calling 12 major U.S. and Canadian airlines and breaking down the media rates for checked baggage for each.

How can you qualify for a media rate?

For most airlines, you’ll need to show proof that you’re actually a member of the media, so be ready to flash your credentials when you arrive at the ticket desk, and give yourself plenty of time to check in.

Often, you can present your media pass (including a homemade one), but a business card along with a business credit card can also help convince the folks at the counter that you are, in fact, legit.

We list the requirements for 12 different U.S. and Canadian airlines below, but make sure you always call ahead so that you have what you need when you’re dropped off with 10 bags in tow.

And now, on to our airline breakdown.


Air Canada

This is one is for all you Canadians out there (including our very own co-founder, Justin).

Unfortunately, Air Canada doesn’t provide special rates unless you’re a member of the military. A customer service rep said they while they didn’t have a maximum bag allowance, you should contact their Cargo Department ahead of time (1-800-387-4865) to make sure they’ll have room for all your stuff on the plane.

Air Canada has a maximum weight of 50 pounds and a max linear dimension of 62 inches, just like in the ol’ U S of A. Prices for checked bags are based on your fare type and destination, so check their site when planning your trip. Their basic Tango flight within Canada lists the first bag at $28.25 CAD, the 2nd at $39.55 CAD, and additional bags at $113 CAD. Overweight and oversize bags will be $113 CAD, as well. For travel between the U.S. and Canada, basic fares list checked bag fees, as well as the overweight/oversize charges, at the same rates.

All in all, Air Canada’s baggage fees are very expensive if you’re traveling with a lot of gear. Sorry, Canadian friends!

Alaska Air

Good news for you...if you’re flying on Alaska, you can check an unlimited amount of bags! The other good news is that your 3rd and additional bags on Alaska will be $50 each instead of the usual $75. Your first and second bag on Alaska—that’s under 50 lbs. and 62 linear inches—will cost you $25. Bags weighing 51-100 pounds or that are 63-115 inches will be $75 a pop. If they’re over the limit, guess you’re not taking that light stand. Just show an ID that indicates you’re in the media when you get the airport and you should be in the clear.

You’ll still have to carry whatever you bring, so you may not want to go with the 25 bag route. But knowing how much you’ll need to pay per bag and how to get a media rate will help you prepare for your next travel shoot.

American Airlines

American Airlines has a generous baggage policy for members of the media, but make sure you secure the rate ahead of time by contacting your “American Airlines Entertainment Sales Representative,” or emailing entertainment.service@aa.com. Gotta be eligible, yo!

Once you’re deemed an official media member, you can take up to 25 pieces of luggage, and guess what––if they’re oversized or overweight, you’re off the hook. For domestic flights, you’ll pay $50 per piece per; for international flights you’ll pay $70 per piece per one-way international trip.

In summary, American offers great deals for media members.

Delta Airlines

Delta also offers a media rate. Here’s what they say, because honestly it’s easier to copy and paste than to paraphrase that company jargon:

“Camera, film, video tape, lighting and sound equipment that is tendered by representatives of network or local television broadcasting companies or commercial film-making companies will be accepted as baggage at the fees noted below. Valid photo ID with company insignia is required.”

Once you’ve flashed your credentials, you’ll still have to pay Delta’s standard baggage fees, which will vary by your destination and your level of fanciness (oh, to travel first class).

Generally, domestic rates are $25 for first check bagged and $35 for the second; international rates vary by destination. As a media member, your 3rd-25th bags on domestic flights will cost $50 each; international, $70 each. As a layperson, you can only check 10, your 3rd bag will be $150, and bags 4-10 will be $200 a pop. Basically, you’re saving a lot of money all thanks to your company ID if you’re flying Delta with your film gear.

The other perk of flying Delta with a ton of gear is that if you’re bags are overweight, they’ll charge you a flat media rate of $50 per bag for domestic flights or $70 for international flights, instead of a whopping $100 for bags weighing 51-70 pounds or—get this—$200 for 71-100 pounds. Beware: no matter who you are, even those overweight and oversize bags can’t exceed 100 pounds or 115 linear inches.

Frontier Airlines

Avoid flying Frontier if you’re traveling with a lot of gear. Frontier allows you ONE personal item that’s “no larger than 8” tall, 14” wide, and 18” long,” but you have to pay for your carry-on! They also seriously up-charge depending on when and where you check...see here for the details.

The cheapest option leaves you paying $35 for a carry-on, $30 for the 1st bag, $40 for the 2nd, and $75 for the 3rd and onwards. They don’t offer media rates—checked bag fees apply, as do overweight and oversize charges.

But if you want to transport some antlers on Frontier, you’re in luck—for a mere $100, you can check residue-free antlers and horns. 

Hawaiian Airlines

Probably the best part about flying Hawaiian Airlines is that you can check a box of pineapples or papayas for FREE.

Oh, that doesn’t help you as a filmmaker?

Well, you can check an unlimited number of bags according to a Hawaiian rep; but the rates vary. To neighbor islands and North America, your 1st bag will be $25, the 2nd $35. To neighbor islands, the 3rd or more will be $50; to North America, they’ll be $100/each. There are a bunch of overweight and oversized fees that you can’t get out of, and Hawaiian just won’t accept bags exceeding 80 linear inches.

You can check out their breakdown, but we wouldn’t recommend flying Hawaiian if you have tons of gear and are going beyond the islands themselves.

Jet Blue

After calling JetBlue to find out their media policy, we think they have stellar customer service...a REAL LIVE HUMAN answered the phone (when we called Alaska and Hawaiian, we were spammed by cruise ads for 3 minutes before we just hung up).

We have mixed feelings about JetBlue’s media policy. You can contact them at corpcomm@jetblue.com to request a media rate or baggage allowance form, but the general rates will leave you high and dry and broke. For the common Blue fare price point, first bags are $20, second bags are $35, and all other bags are $100. Wowza!

The worst part is that you can usually only check 3 bags unless you have a “special circumstance” that you’ve gotten clearance from ahead of time. But based on our positive customer service experience, it might be worth a try to contact them to work out a deal.

Southwest Airlines

Wow, Southwest even has their own tab for “Cameras and Film” on their baggage policy page. We knew we liked them...and no, it doesn’t have to do with the in-flight Cheese Nips.

Per usual, you get 2 free checked bags on Southwest flights, and that’s great. You’ll probably bring more than that, since you’ve got a lot of gear, and each additional item will cost you $75 apiece. To bring extra bags, you’ll also need to prove your media-ness, which means showing that you’re a  “representative of a network or local television broadcasting company or a commercial filmmaking company.”

On the plus side, Southwest won’t charge you overweight or oversized baggage fees for media gear which would usually run $75, so go ahead and stuff your suitcase.

Spirit Airlines

Spirit is a budget airline. That means that they don’t give any discounts, even to media members. They price bags based on your route, so check their site to see if it makes sense for you.

We tried contacting Spirit and got a funny email back about sponsoring golfers, so good luck trying to bargain with them. If you want to try, reach out to Media_Relations@Spirit.com. At least they responded?

United Airlines

United does have a media rate, and they’re nice and clear about what you need to do to qualify for it. Just bring “media credentials; company personnel identification for an entertainment, media or production company; or clearly identified media equipment cases labeled with company identification” and show it to the check-in person.

You can bring 25 bags; the first and second are at standard rates (which vary by route) and for oversized, overweight, or bags 3-25, you’ll pay $50 for domestic flights and $70 for international.

Not too shabby, United. In fact, this is on par with Delta and American for offering the best rates for the media.

Virgin America

So, we unintentionally saved the best for almost-last. Turns out that Virgin actually has the best rates for media members. Standard rates for bags are $25, up to 10 bags. That’s pretty awesome!

You can get around the standard 10 checked bag limit and bring up to 25 pieces of gear for $25 apiece after you show ID proving that you’re a rep from “a network or local television broadcasting company, sports organization or a commercial filmmaking company.” This only applies to travel within the U.S. and Mexico, and you will still have to deal with overweight and oversize baggage fees. Still, Virgin offers media members a pretty good deal.

Virgin recommends contacting the airline before you arrive to check in all your gear; their site also says that “In some cases, we can even arrange a special check-in area/position when possible.” Neat!

WestJet

WestJet is another Canadian airline, and they’re stingy on their baggage allowance—you can check up to 4 bags, max—that’s it! Plus, no media rate. And here’s another warning: if you’re flying with a partner airline for one of your legs, make sure you find out that airline’s policy too.

Rates for checked bags on WestJet vary on your fare price-point, but your first bag will run your $25-29.50 CAD, your second will be $35-41.30 CAD, and your 3rd and 4th bag will cost $100-118 CAD. Overweight and oversize bags will cost you $75-88.50.

When it comes down to it, WestJet’s tiny bag allowance makes it unfriendly towards media members traveling with lots of gear.


And the winner is….

Ultimately, you’ll have to budget your trip according to where you’re going and what you’re bringing.

American, Delta, and United have comparable rates for media gear. But surprisingly, it seems like Virgin has the best rates for media members. 


Your turn: Do you have any other tips for checking gear on flights for travel shoots? Share your hacks below, and don’t forget to send us a postcard! :)