Carry-on Bags Versus Checked Bags: Pros and Cons

Carry-on Bags Versus Checked Bags: Pros and Cons

Visiting Europe is a dream come true for travellers, but like any journey, it comes with obstacles, not least of all: what to do with your luggage?

Whether travelling for two days, two weeks, or two months, a proper grasp of how to manage your bags throughout your journey makes all the difference when making a memorable experience for you and your friends/family.

Understanding the nuances between carry-on bags and checked bags helps you make the decisions that could make your journey less expensive, less burdensome, and simpler. Learn the pros and cons of carry-on and checked bags before going on your next trip.

What are carry-on bags?

Carry-on bags are a luggage classification by transit organisations based on luggage size. These bags tend to fall within the small to mid-size range. As the name suggests, carry-on bags are pieces of luggage that can be feasibly carried without too much burden. 

Because they are easier to manage, carry-on bags are understood to be carried on your person. As a result, transit authorities allot spaces on their vessels for carry-on bags; usually, these spaces are in overhead compartments designed to store modestly sized luggage parcels.

What are the size requirements for carry-on bags?

Size requirements for carry-on bags may vary depending on your chosen airline, train, or transit service. The size you can generally expect to see when travelling with popular transit companies like American Airlines is 22 x 14 x 9 inches. Bags larger than those dimensions are better suited as checked bags.

Before packing your luggage, you should always consult your travel provider's specific policies regarding their carry-on size. Many travel providers will have sizers at the airport, train, or bus station to measure your luggage and determine whether it qualifies as carry-on. Bags deemed too large to carry on may incur a fee to be checked on-site.

Do you need to pay for carry-on bags?

Depending on your travel provider, you may need to pay a fee for your carry-on bag. 

While smaller than other luggage types, certain travel providers levy a fee for luggage they consider to be carry-on sized; because carry-on bags tend to take up overhead bin space, travel providers like airlines may charge a fee to store your carry-on.

Not all airlines, trains, and buses may charge you a carry-on bag fee. Be sure to check with your travel provider's policy on carry-on bags before booking your trip.

What are checked bags?

Checked bags are medium to large-sized parcels of luggage that your travel provider handles throughout your journey. As opposed to carry-on, these types of luggage are often too bulky to keep on hand while travelling. 

To facilitate a more comfortable travel experience, certain travel providers provide a service wherein they check your bags outside the passenger cabin. Checked by the travel provider before the beginning of the journey and stored in a designated area for more substantially sized parcels of luggage: the hold of the plane, a separate car on the train, cabins underneath the bus, etc.

What are the size requirements for checked bags?

Checked bags allow you to carry more personal effects, but they also have size requirements you should consider before packing them. Because there is limited space on the transport, travel providers must base their size requirements on weight and size. 

Exceeding the weight limit of your allotted checked bag may incur a fee or even prevent you from checking your bag. Your checked bags' size and weight requirements may vary depending on your travel provider. 

United Airlines sets a size limit for their checked bags at a cumulative 115 inches between the length, width, and height of your luggage. United does not accept bags that exceed 100 pounds, with a few exceptions.

Look into your travel provider's policies regarding checked bag size requirements to ensure that your luggage qualifies for transit.

Do you need to pay for checked bags?

Because they are larger, heavier, and require a designated space on the transport to be stored, travel providers generally charge a fee for checked bags.

The fees for checking bags may vary between travel providers. In general, additional fees may be incurred for heavier bags. For example, many airlines charge additional fees based on weight classes between 50 and 100 pounds.

Consult your travel providers and check bag fee policies before packing your luggage.

What is a personal item?

In addition to checked and carry-on bags, many traveller providers have a luggage classification for small parcels: personal items.

Personal items tend to be so small and easily storable that they do not require designated compartments. Like carry-on bags, personal items are expected to be carried on your person. Travel providers may or may not have specific policies regarding personal items.

What are the size requirements for personal items?

Personal items, the smallest luggage classification, must be storable underneath your seat or the seat in front of you. American Airlines has a designated size limit for personal items: 18 x 14 x 8 inches. Examples of personal items include:

  • Purses
  • Computer bags
  • Small backpacks
  • Lunch boxes
  • Diaper bags

Bags larger than these dimensions set by your travel provider may be subject to carry-on fees. If your travel provider’s baggage policy differentiates between personal items and carry-on bags, make sure your bag is small enough to qualify.

Do you need to pay for personal items?

Because personal items are small enough to be stored comfortably near to your person, they tend not to incur fees. To ensure that your bag qualifies for free transport on your journey, consult your travel provider's policy on personal items.

What are the pros of carry-on bags?

  • Less expensive fees
  • Grab your bag and go
  • Know where your bag is at all times

Less expensive fees

Carry-on bag fees are the most inexpensive way to store luggage on a flight. Depending on your travel provider, carry-on bag fees can vary and sometimes come without a fee.

Grab your bag and go

Easy access to your carry-on bag means you can just grab your bag and go straight from your transport; there is no need to wait at baggage claim to wait for your checked bag to arrive.

Know where your bag is at all times

Because your carry-on bag is stored so close to you, you can be confident knowing exactly where it is and even gain access to it if necessary.

What are the cons of carry-on bags?

  • Smaller luggage capacity
  • Security restrictions on certain items
  • Must have it with you at all times

Smaller luggage capacity

Because carry-on bags are necessarily smaller than checked bags, they cannot carry as much of your effects. If you plan on packing a carry-on bag instead of a checked bag, you must be more selective with your choices.

Security restrictions on certain items

Security precautions for carry-on bags are much more restrictive than for checked bags. For example, when you go through security checks at the airport, you may not be able to travel with certain items: liquids, toiletries, etc.

To ensure you can get through European customs properly, ensure you have the necessary travel documents, like ETIAS.

Must-have it with you at all times

Carry-on bags must be carried along at all times. As opposed to checking in a bag, you are responsible for your carry-on bag throughout your transit.

What are the pros of checked bags?

  • Carry more of your stuff 
  • Bring home more souvenirs
  • Ensure you have everything you need

Carry more of your stuff

With larger, checked bags, you can bring more of your things on your trip. A larger bag may be your preferred option for longer trips across multiple countries, like Europe’s Schengen Area countries.

Bring home more souvenirs

Because checked bags are larger and do not face the same security checks as carry-on bags, you can bring more souvenirs from your travel destinations. Bring home bottles of wine or other items that cannot make it through carry-on security checks.

Ensure you have everything you need

Checked bags allow you to travel with full confidence you have everything you need; you have the room to ensure every precaution is accounted for.

Which is best for you: carry-on or checked bags?

Choosing between a carry-on or a checked bag depends on your travel needs. Checked bags, while more expensive, allow you to accommodate more items on your journey. Alternatively, folks who are comfortable travelling light will benefit from the money saved on checking bags with carry-on bags.

Assess your travel needs before packing your bag, then choose the one that will serve you best on your trip so you can focus on enjoying all the countries you want to see.