Use The Duty-Free Bag Hack To Sneak Extra Luggage Onto Your Flight

Did you know that duty-free shopping bags don't count toward your carry-on luggage limit when you're boarding a plane? In international airports, you'll see all sorts of duty-free shops enabling you to purchase items without having to pay tax on them in your country of departure. Perfume, skin care products, cigarettes, and alcohol are among the top sales in duty-free shops worldwide. Traditionally, the tax-exempt status of such products is a big benefit for bargain hunters, though it's debatable now whether online stores have made "buy duty-free" one of the most outdated travel tips out there.

Another, lesser-known benefit of purchasing duty-free products, however, is simply the bag they come in, which you can sometimes use to hold additional items if your carry-on luggage is overflowing. This tip comes from an actual flight attendant, who told Express, "I always do this when I fly as a passenger." Miguel Muñoz, who has over a decade of experience in the industry, even recommends asking the duty-free shop for an empty bag, which you could then repurpose as a carry-on supplement.

"When I see people coming on board with a duty-free bag that looks very full," he shared, "I always assume they are using it for this purpose as it obviously doesn't contain just one perfume or bottle of wine. But a lot of crew don't know this and most won't realize." Just how foolproof is this trick, though, and is there any risk of getting in trouble with it?

Your bag may be inspected by staff

In duty-free shops, you typically have to show your boarding pass and maybe even your passport when making purchases, so the staff can ensure whatever you're buying is within the duty-free limits of your destination country. As far as asking for an empty bag goes, it's worth a try, but you might encounter some shops that simply refuse to hand them out unless you're buying something. Another trick would be to buy a small duty-free item and then fill up the rest of the bag with your surplus carry-on items. 

However, even if you have the bag, there are other things to consider. An extra bag could potentially lighten the load of your carry-on if you're worried about the latter exceeding the weight allowance. At the same time, a paper or plastic duty-free bag might not hold up as well with something that's already heavy. You don't want to have your bag break on you. Clever Journey also warns that your bag will still pass through security, and you may even need to show a receipt to prove you really bought something from the duty-free shop. 

YouTuber Cheap Holiday Expert adds that they could ask to inspect your bag and that some airlines have specific guidelines stating they don't allow any additional items in duty-free bags. The flip side is that individual staff members, in a hurry to get passengers aboard, might not be as stringent about enforcing such policies.

Other options besides duty-free bags

If you're trying to circumvent the weight limit by transferring items to your duty-free bag, just be aware that if they notice it, it could still result in an excess baggage fee. On the other hand, if you've just packed your carry-on bag too tightly, and you want to squeeze in an extra personal item like a purse without smushing it, you can certainly try sticking it in your duty-free bag. A casual scenario like that has less obvious repercussions; the worst that could happen is that you may be asked to pack the purse properly in your luggage.

There are plenty of other packing strategies you can use to travel light and effectively, so you never get to the point of needing to load carry-on items into an overstuffed fishing vest (which is a real thing) or a duty-free bag. Depending on the airline, there are some wearable items, such as hats, neck pillows, and camera bags that might not even count as personal items. United Airlines, for instance, lists jackets/coats, umbrellas, and books as things that are all free to bring on the plane "in addition to your carry-on bag and personal item."

While it's worked for some people, it's probably best not to rely on the duty-free bag trick as a slick, foolproof method for bringing additional carry-on items. Be prepared in the event something goes wrong, and in that case, you'll be relieved if and when it does work for you.