The Secret to Saving Money on Airport Luggage Carts

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When traveling with family, it helps to have a luggage cart to make the travel experience easier.  But I *really* don’t like paying the ~$5 fee per cart!

Cheap Luggage Cart Airport

Why Pay for a Luggage Cart If You Don’t Have To?

If you have checked luggage and need an airport cart at your destination, you can find airport luggage carts near the ticket counters and at baggage claim.  However, you have to pay up to $5 or more for a cart.

Cheap Luggage Cart Airport

I Saved $4 And Got My Luggage Cart for Free By Looking Around Baggage Claim

Carts are usually free in airports outside the US, but US airports charge for them.  But here’s a way to sometimes get them for less.

Saving Money on Luggage Carts Upon Arrival

Your checked bags will take several minutes to be offloaded from the plane.  So instead of waiting at baggage claim and paying for a luggage cart, you can try to get 1 for free.

You can usually go outside to the curb or to the Departures section of the airport and you will find empty carts waiting to be returned.

Cheap Luggage Cart Airport

The Airport Arrivals Section Is the Best Spot to Find Free Luggage Carts

Folks rent the luggage carts from baggage claim after their flight, load the cart with their luggage, and then leave them around after they’ve loaded their car or taxi.  So Emily waits at baggage claim for our suitcases and I look for a cart that someone has returned.

Saving Money on Luggage Carts When You’re Leaving

You can use the same principle if you’re checking luggage on a departing flight and want a free cart. If you go outside the Arrivals section of the airport, you can get an unreturned cart from the.

Cheap Luggage Cart Airport

You Can Use Abandoned Luggage Carts for Free

Folks will have already checked their bags and discard their carts.  So you can use 1 for free!

Of course this doesn’t work all the time, but Emily and I have had more than a 50% success rate.

You Can Even Make Money!

Some airports give you an incentive to return your luggage cart.  If you have time, you can make some money retrieving abandoned luggage carts.

Cheap Luggage Cart Airport

You Can Get 25 Cents for Every Luggage Cart You Return

I could have made ~$20 returning all these luggage carts!  But Emily would not have been happy with me. 🙂

Cheap Luggage Cart Airport

You Can Make Money for Cab Fare by Returning Luggage Carts

Bottom Line

You can save money on airport luggage carts if you know the secret to getting a free luggage cart.

Folks abandon their used luggage carts in the airport Arrivals area after they’ve checked-in for their flights.  You can use a discarded cart for your checked bags at baggage claim or to check-in to your flight.

Has this worked for you?

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32 responses to “The Secret to Saving Money on Airport Luggage Carts

  1. I always used to do these things, and then the last time, we parked our car and there happened to be two carts unreturned that we took. As soon as we entered the airport (JFK), a security agent came to us and told us he got a message from his supervisor on his walkie talkie that we didn’t pay for our carts. He gave us a long lecture and then made us empty our carts in front of everyone waiting at the airport. SO embarassing.

  2. Yay, theft! At least there were no big red arrows.

  3. Lol..This is so cheap. I know, but $5 – not my cup of tea. But good advice

  4. (Rohal, yeah but that’s NYC. I’m a resident of NJ, and we NY/NJ-ers expect this from our authorities. So, we just play dumb, say “yeah, yeah”, and walk away. Then we go find another cart! 🙂 )

    For once I am ahead of Darius on something. I have been doing this for years. My rule is, I never pay for a cart. My success rate is probably 75-85%. I don’t worry about lectures from low-skilled security guards (no dis; I did several security guard jobs). I have never had a worker say anything to me (unless I was trying to take one from his collection pile, and even then, you play dumb!) “What, I have to pay?! That’s outrageous!”

  5. I travel a lot and check in bags frequently and end up paying the $5 fee quite often. If I get the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and pay for the trolleys using that card, do you think it might be worth the annual fee? Do these purchases count as “travel” purchases?

  6. Dan's the Man

    @jettyboy: How would paying $5 on your card (even if you do get 2X points which I don’t think you would) pay for your fee? When you charge something on your card you have to pay it back. They don’t pay for the charges you make 🙂

  7. Is your next blog article going to be how to panhandle on the offramp of a highway??? WTF?

  8. Yeah, actually, I’ve been doing this for quite some time. And, the other day on my 50% downside percentage event, I gave up my paid-for cart to someone at baggage claim after I was done with it. Do unto others… 🙂

    PS To those who grouse that someone might actually need a cart, 1) I travel with a trunk, sometimes two, and 2) sometimes peeps have temporary injuries and need a cart when traveling. I fell in 2013 and I had difficulties for the rest of the year. Had therapy this year and I am much better.

  9. I’ve had 100% success not paying for carts at the airport, nor have I ever paid to check luggage! I simply don’t check bags. Ever.

    No, I don’t wear the same stuff over and over, I use the hotel laundry service.

  10. This is a hot tip worthy of so much prose and photos? Go find an unattended cart? Why not just post some nice pictures from one of your trips instead… would have been a more valuable use of those last, well, 30 seconds :).

  11. I used to work at an airport. We would collecy carts during breaks to earn a couple of dollars a day…fun times!

  12. Ever seen the movie “The Terminal”? The last picture of all the carts reminds me of a scene from it 🙂

  13. Duaris, your are cutie!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. yeah and you could get luggage with wheels and make your wife pull her own…you can also dig through the trash and find food and save yourself $5 on lunch, we all know how expensive airport food can be, and besides there are children starving in India…so not only are you saving lunch by telling Emily you ate the other half already, but your setting an example to all those food wasting travelers….don’t steal the unreturned carts, how are the homeless supposed to pay for mad dog, if they cant return carts?!?

  15. Actually, even if you don’t have to pay for the carts directly, you are still getting charged by the airport in the form of airline fees… And that’s even if you don’t need to use a cart.
    I personally prefer to buy my ticket at a lower price (be it 5 bucks) and only pay for services I use.

    And most airports in Europe do charge for the carts 2 euros/pounds.

  16. Come on people, give the man some slack…

    It’s a blog on miles and points. Sometime, or most of the time, you have to be creative and come up with something to write. Could you imagine if all the bloggers write about same or similar stuffs. You run out of things to write.

    Gave the man some credits. If you don’t enjoy the blog then read something else or another blogger, otherwise others may enjoy reading it or learn something from it or just a simple laugh.

    Be nice!!!, you “thumb down” people. He’s not making money from you reading it.

  17. I liked this post and it made me laugh! Not explosive or hard hitting content but give the man a break. This stays true to his big travel with small money theme. We all love traveling on the cheap and this is just one more way Darius practices what he preaches.

  18. Cindy and Rick

    Yes, I have see the movie, The Terminal, and it’s exactly what came to mind when I saw the post. Tom Hanks’ character was returning the carts to get the money back. He was keeping the airport tidy and making a little money, but of course airport security didn’t like him eating food with that money.

    That was a strange movie, and I wondered if it was even probable.

    All of the people going across the border illegally, being protected by our government, and this poor guy couldn’t get out of the airport. Something is terribly wrong with our system.


  19. Thanks for this valuable tip! I hate waiting around at airports and this gives you something active to do while saving a few bucks. How resourceful!

  20. They should charge $10 for the cart, but give you $5 to return it. Would probably almost eliminate the stray carts.

  21. Doing it for years. Easy stuff for a 50 yard walk. However, think of the 5 points you are losing!

  22. Been doing that trick since carts were 50 cents. I also still wander around and pick up used newspapers which seem to abound once a flight leaves a gate (gotta hustle to beat the cleaning crews and once, believe it or not, I got into a hassle with a cleaning crew lady….like she was going to get a rebate for every paper she picked up?). Back to the carts, at LAX they used to have roving bands of local street “businessmen” who would fight for those carts so they could get their quarter. Guess it paid better than picking up bottles and cans.

  23. Forest Barbieri

    US AIR Dividend Points Question. Just signed up for Dividend program to take advantage of double mile buy but while I have my number, anytime I try to buy it says my account is not properly set up to buy. AM I missing something? Thanks

  24. Haha!! I used to make money returning airport carts when I was in middle school in Toronto! The machines return a dollar CAD (or a “loonie”) for every cart returned. I would make $10-20 while waiting to pick up my visiting relatives at the airport. The good old days…

  25. Cindy and Rick–as strange as The Terminal was, it’s based on a true story of a man who spent 8 years living in Charles de Gaulle Airport because he supposedly lost his passport.

  26. Sorry, that’s 18 years he lived in the airport!

  27. Fun & practical post….. why didn’t I think of dat? The Daraius I remember. Common cents ;-). and even doing the airports a service by returning orphaned carts. 😉

  28. BOShappyflyer

    Haha, I enjoyed this post. Very entertaining. And practical.

    I very rarely have any need for luggage cart when traveling by myself (one carryone and one check in), but it’s a whole other story when traveling with family. We paid for luggage cart a handful of times; in some countries it’s an airport amenity/convenience. US airports can learn from that.

  29. Sloppy writing: “you have to pay up to $5 or more for a cart.” Is it up to $5, or is it $5 and more…but it isn’t up to something and then more than that something.

  30. Yeah, my wife and I just did this in Baltimore. We had our 4-year old, her car seat, and 4 suitcases, and saw the cart just lying around. Good tip!

  31. Don't want to fess up

    I haven’t done this in a few years, but discovered after getting double charged on a cart rental that the machines (at least back then) didn’t have a cellular connection to complete the transaction. They likely did some rudimentary checking at the time of the swipe that the expiration was good, the check digit was good, etc. , recorded the card number then would batch process all the transactions a day or 2 later (a guy goes to the machine to get a thumb drive of transactions when collecting the cash also?). you might be able to get a cart using a gift card with no money on it – the card looks good number wise and expiration date wise. Again, that was several years ago and cell connections likely got cheaper.

  32. I was operations manager for both of the luggage cart companies and we only had people getting free carts when the employees were not doing their job by collecting the carts and refilling the machines. Only the cheapest of the cheap people do what you are describing. You are taking money away from the low paid employees when you do this.