Random Travel Tip: Nabbing Free Luggage Carts

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I’ve already shared my habit of trying to get bumped off of airline flights on purpose for the free tickets. I haven’t been bumped recently, but here’s another frugal travel quirk that most people don’t seem to do…

Sometimes even those us who like to pack light end up bringing a lot of bags or heavy boxes. At the baggage claim, you’re then faced with the prospect of paying $3 for a cart to hold your stuff for 8 minutes. The horror!

Your bags usually take several minutes to be loaded onto the carousel anyways. So instead of going straight to baggage claim, after I get off the plane I go directly to the check-in ticketing level. Usually, especially if there are baggage scanning stations, there are plenty of discarded carts. I grab one, take the elevator down one or two levels to baggage claim, and proceed to load my bags on my free luggage cart. 🙂 I’ve wasted no extra time, and my success rate is around 90%.

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  1. Good thinking! Half the time the baggage takes about 10 minutes to come out so you haven’t wasted extra time and a bit of extra walking after a long flight never hurts. Never had this problem though, all the airports I go to seem to have free carts.

  2. Jen, writer MembershipMillionaire.com says

    Good idea. It’s a great way to be economical. Plus, it’s not like you’re hurting anybody. The carts have been discarded. In fact, you may be doing them a favor. You’re getting one of the carts out of people’s way. It’s a simple matter of knowing how or when to be practical.

  3. i don’t even remember the last time I checked a bag. Maybe because I tend to go places that are warm so all my clothing is small.

  4. Ooh la la, yes that is most definitely a smooth idea! I feel that would work best in busier airports. Last time we went down to Florida (or Slooooow-ida), there were just as many carts abandoned as there were elderly.

    Either way though, your idea has been noted in my “idea” book. Thank you good sir.

  5. I haven’t used a baggage cart yet but if the time comes when I need to use one, I’ll try your method.

  6. As a kid, I would collect the carts and return them, getting a $1 or .50 for each one returned. I’d make a few bucks and promptly go right to the gift shop and blow it. LOL

  7. Are those the ones where you get your money back? Because in that case it’s particularly cool—you just found money lying on the floor.

    But even if not, you can make sure the cart gets safely home….even if you put it next to the rack so someone else can have a free cart.

  8. I also started cart scrounging recently. I just love that quarter jingling in my pocket! Opportunity costs can get pretty low when you’re stuck at an airport…I get the reward of walking around and stretching my hind legs after a flight rather than standing still. Than I get the little shot in the arm.

  9. Here’s another idea i heard recently (could’ve even been mentioned here already) –
    Need an umbrella? Instead of buying one to replace the one you lost, visit a nearby restaurant and search their lost & found for an umbrella. You’ll have plenty to choose from during the rainy season.

  10. i love to play the devil’s advocate here but isnt that stealing 🙂

    ur stealing potential income for the cart company.

    Thats why i really hate it when people over analyze things especially when it comes to ethics.

    Last week at my company meeting, i mentioned to fellow colleagues that u can buy train passes on craigslist….they jumped on it as said thats illegal coz its actually non transferable…

    then i said back….so is driving 66mph on 65.

  11. I do the same thing. works almost always, except when the airport is slow and they have cleaned up the carts…

  12. Here’s something else I’ve done to save time. When picking up people at the airport, I have them go to the departure level where its likely not as busy for pickups then the arrivals. This has worked out great at busy airports like LAX.

  13. You can even make a quick 1/4 buck by returning that FREE cart, back to the station.

  14. that’s just plain cheap!! Don’t waste your time and mind on things like these.. there are better things to think about..

  15. I always enjoy the free quarters from shopping carts left in the parking lot of bulk clubs that can easily be returned. I can’t believe how lazy some people can be, even when you get a reward!

  16. Something that I noticed while traveling in Europe last month: Those luggage carts are free over there!

  17. Shrug, I’m traveling right now and this came to mind. 😀 They don’t give back the quarter anymore around here, haven’t seen them do it for years. I guess they made a business decision, which is good for me because there are always lots of carts now.

    As for ethics, I don’t think there is very much to worry about here. A good rule of thumb for ethics is this – would do you it with both the police and your mom looking over your shoulder? Downloading mp3s off of the internet? No. Driving 80 mph in 65 mph zone? No. Taking 100 ketchup packets from McDonald’s and putting then in your pocket? Probably not.

    Taking unused carts? Yes. I do it in front of airport police, TSA, and everyone else every time. Like people have said, they used to pay you 25 cents to take it away.

  18. But is it really worth going through security all over again to save 3 bucks ?

  19. toasty aroma says

    getting the money back for them reminds me of the movie “terminal”.

  20. “Downloading mp3s off of the internet? No”

    I am sure you meant to say :
    “Downloading mp3s off of the internet, and writing about it here?


  21. Ha! I also do the same thing. Another place I look is the ground transportation area. There’s always tons of carts lying around. I have ALWAYS gotten those carts for free.
    @Ruby – I am not sure what you mean when you say go through security. After arriving you just get out…there’s no security to go through!

  22. philcarpenter says

    this is a silly post. you can be one cheap bastard.

  23. My old roomies used to go to the bar and look for money on the ground. I tried it several times and realized I was looking at the ground the whole time and not talking to people – the main reason I was there…

    at the airport, “you’ve got better things to think about…” like calling people to tell them that you’ve just arrived and are waiting for baggage and how was the flight and it was delayed and there wasn’t any food and you can’t find a good wifi connection anywhere and where is the nearest starbucks…

    I think airport behavior is generally pretty silly.

  24. why did u choose the extreme 80mph on 65 mph? why not 69 mph? still illegal?

    its like saying would you stuff the cart in the back of your van? or let your wife jump in the cart as you push it?

    Taking 100 ketchup packets in front of the owner or police is EMBARRASSING!! I would not do it.

  25. philcarpenter – Why is an idea like this “cheap”? In order to please someone like you, we have to dutifully pay $2.00 to get a cart and stand around the baggage claim area doing nothing for 10-15 minutes instead? What’s wrong with something like this? As Jonathan rightfully pointed out, he’s not wasting any time at all since he’d be waiting for the baggage to arrive anyway.

  26. I’m not sure why so many of them have stopped offering the small reward for putting the carts back. Sure they lose a quarter or whatever per cart, but they’ll make more revenue because there won’t be free carts sitting around. Not to mention the airport will be less cluttered. It makes you wonder.

    I think more grocery stores should do this too (but not to make a profit off of it…like $1 in and $1 out). That way people might put their carts back instead of leaving them in the middle of the parking lot, and it’ll save the employees some time as well (meaning a lower payroll).

  27. When i was 14, my family had a long lay-over on the way to vacation. To burn the time I ran around collecting these discarded carts and returning them for the 25 cent deposit. I made around $13….

  28. @Phoenix:

    The idea to grab umbrellas from the lost and found came from Alan Corey, who just wrote a book on personal finance. I saw the same thing on an ABC news ‘Money Matters’ episode (video here: http://www.alancorey.com/blog/2008/01/money-matters-abc-news.html)

  29. some body says

    i would be interested in your success rate with this technique as you pass the immigration officer (but before you reach customs) after your arrival into the international terminal at jfk.

    – s.b.

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