Is It Better to Check a Bag or Carry-on?

Traveling to new places can be exciting. But the actual flight process is not always as fun. With all the different rules on baggage, it may be difficult to keep up.

Depending on where you go and which airline you take, baggage rules can differ. Whether it’s your first time flying, or you’re well-versed in travel – choosing a checked bag vs carry-on can still be tough. 

This post dives into what the difference between the two is, the best travel bags, and the specifications for the most popular U.S. airlines. Rather than stressing about your journey, this post will relieve you of all your worries and clear up any confusion you may have.

Carry-on vs Checked Baggage

The main difference between carry-on and checked bags is the way the flight companies are storing your luggage during a flight. While a carry-on bag will be brought in the passenger area and stored in the top compartments or under your seat, a checked-in bag will be stored in the cargo area of the plane.

Deciding between a checked bag and a carry-on bag all comes down to what kind of trip you are taking. It is important to read carefully what is included in your ticket, so you can avoid fees and issues upon arriving at the airport.

The table below shows a table of the pros and cons of the carry-on vs checked bag.

PROSDon’t have to carry it throughout the journey.
Saves time in the security line.
Can carry larger liquid containers.
Have higher weight and dimensions limits.
Usually free.
Accessible during flight.
Keeps valuables safe.
No need for baggage claim.
CONSMore likely to have a fee.
Have to wait for baggage claim.
Inaccessible during flight.
Has many extra fees.
Has more restrictions.
Can’t hold as many things.
Have to carry the whole journey.
It will have to be checked in the security line.

What is a Carry-on Bag?

In simple terms, a carry-on bag is baggage you take on the plane with you. It is different from a personal item like a purse or laptop bag. The carry-on bag should fit under the seat in front of you, or in the overhead bin.

Carry-on bag

It is usually free to bring a carry-on bag on a flight unless you are on a short flight. The dimensions of the carry-on differ between airlines, but the average carry-on size shouldn’t exceed 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 centimeters). These measurements include the handles and wheels.

Since this is the baggage you take on the flight with you, carry-on items should have your essentials and valuables. Things like passports, books, money, medications, and electronics should be with you.

If you are going on a long flight, travel-sized toiletries could be another thing to add to your carry-on. All liquids should be maxed 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) and all fit in a 1 quart-sized bag. Carry-on bag rules are a bit stricter than checked bags.

What is a Checked Bag?

Unlike a carry-on bag, a checked bag is usually taken to the front desk to be loaded onto the plane. You will not have access to the contents in your checked luggage during the flight, so make sure not to put essentials in there.

Checked Bag

There are much fewer restrictions on checked bags than carry-on bags. However, we will get into more detail later about checked baggage rules. 

These days, more airlines are charging for checked bags. Some fees are as low as $25, but others can cost up to $60 or higher. 

Flying internationally, fees range by the airline, but many still offer a first checked bag for free for economy tickets or higher classes (such as business or first class). In basic economy, you may have to pay for a checked bag. 

When checking a bag, the typical weight limit is 50 pounds/23 kilograms. The weight can still vary between airlines, routes, and travel classes.

Carry-on Bag vs Checked Bag Size Limit

For the most popular U.S. flight companies:

American Airlines

  • Carry-on
    • Weight: Up to 40 pounds
    • Dimensions: The size of a carry-on bag can be a maximum of 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm).
    • Price: Free for all passengers to all destinations.
  • Checked luggage 
    • Weight: Up to 50 pounds
    • Dimensions: Travel-sized luggage can be a maximum of 126 in (320 cm). 
    • Price: Domestic flights generally charge $30 for the first checked-in luggage. International flight’s first checked bag is of no charge.
    • Fees: The oversized fees are $150-200, and the overweight fees are $100.

For more details: How Strict Is American Airlines Baggage Allowance?


  • Carry-on
    • Weight: Currently no weight restrictions, except for some countries
    • Dimensions: Maximum of 22 x 14 x 9 inches (55.88 x 35.56 x 22.86 cm).
    • Price: Free for all passengers and destinations
  • Checked luggage 
    • Weight: Up to 50 pounds
    • Dimensions: Maximum of 62” (157.48 cm) overall (length + width + height)
    • Price: Within the US it costs $30 for the first checked luggage. For international flights it’s free. 
    • Fees: Depends on your flight and destination. 

For more details: How Strict Is Delta Baggage Allowance?

Spirit Airlines

  • Carry-on
    • Weight: Maximum of 40 pounds
    • Dimensions: Maximum of 22 x 18 x 10 inches (56 x 46 x 25 cm).
    • Price: vary on location, but usually ranges from $38-44.
  • Checked luggage
    • Weight: Up to 40 pounds
    • Dimensions: Maximum of 62” (157.48 cm) overall (length + width + height)
    • Price: Depends on your destination, but usually ranges from $25-32 for the first flight.
    • Fees: For a specific breakdown on fees, follow the above website as the cost depends on destination and route. 

For more details: How Strict Is Spirit Airlines Baggage Policy?

United Airlines

  • Carry-on
    • Weight: No weight limit restrictions
    • Dimensions: Maximum of 22 x 14 x 9 inches luggage (56 x 35 x 22 cm).
    • Price: Usually free, but if you have a Basic Economy ticket it will cost $25 for the airline carry-on bag.
  • Checked Luggage
    • Weight: Up to 50 pounds for Economy, but 70 pounds for Business and First Class
    • Dimensions: Maximum of 62” (157.48 cm) overall (length + width + height)
    • Price: For Basic Economy, it’s $70, but for other classes it’s free. 
    • Fees: Usually $100 for additional checked bags.  

For more details: How Strict Is United Airlines Baggage Allowance?

Southwest Airlines

  • Carry-on
    • Weight: No weight limit restrictions
    • Dimensions: The largest carry-on size is 24 x 16 x 10 inches (60 x 40 x 25 cm).
    • Price: Free. More information here.
  • Checked luggage
    • Weight: Maximum of 50 pounds 
    • Dimensions: Maximum of 62” (157.48 cm) overall (length + width + height)
    • Price: First 2 suitcases are free, but the third is $75
    • Fees: Overweight and oversized airplane luggage will cost $75 for each item.

For more details: How Strict Is Southwest Airlines Baggage Policy?


  • Carry-on
    • Weight: Currently no weight restrictions 
    • Dimensions: Maximum of 22 x 14 x 9 inches (55.88 x 35.56 x 22.86 cm)
    • Price: depends on what type of ticket you buy and the loyalty level you have. It’s generally $65, but for a full breakdown, you can look at their website
  • Checked luggage 
    • Weight: Up to 50 pounds
    • Dimensions: Maximum of 62” (157.48 cm) overall (length + width + height)
    • Price: Depends on where you go and ticket level. The basic level can range from $35 to $65 depending on where you go.
    • Fees: Oversized luggage costs $150, and overweight costs $150. 

For more details: How Strict Is Jetblue Baggage Policy?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is cheaper carry-on or checked bag?

Depends on what kind of flight. Generally speaking, the carry-on bag is almost always free.

Do carry-on bags need to be checked?

Carry-on bags will be screened when in the security line. You don’t have to check it in with your check-in bag. If the flight ends up not having enough overhead space, then you may be asked at the gate to check your bag. You likely won’t be charged a fee if this happens.

What is allowed in a carry-on bag?

Most things are allowed. You can’t bring liquids over 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters), aerosols, or weapons. No Lithium batteries, e-cigarettes, and lighters are allowed either. For more specifics on what is allowed in a carry-on bag, you can visit TSA’s website.  

How big is a carry-on bag?

Each airline will have different measurement requirements on how big a carry-on can be. But, carry-ons are generally the size of 24 x 16 x 10 inches. 

Can you bring alcohol in carry-on baggage?

There is a list of allowed carry-on items, and alcohol is allowed. But, they have to be less than or equal to 3.4oz (100 ml). 

What to pack in a carry-on for a flight?

It depends on how long your flight is. No matter your route, these are the essentials: valuables, electronics, passports, important documents, and medications.

For a longer flight, you may want to bring your travel electric toothbrush and some facial wipes. With newer regulations, bring extra face masks, hand sanitizer, and cleaning wipes. If you take liquids, make sure they are domestic carry-on-sized toiletries. 

How many carry-on bags are allowed?

Usually, only one carry-on bag is allowed and a personal item. A personal item would be a backpack or a small purse. Some companies will allow you to get an extra carry-on bag for an additional fee.

Can you put a laptop in a checked bag?

Yes, they are allowed. But, it is best for you to keep your laptop on hand with you in a carry-on. 

Do checked bags get scanned?

Yes. When you check in your luggage and it goes on the conveyor belt, the bag will go through an airport bag check. X-ray machines and chemical sniffers will be used on these checked bags. If your luggage sets off a flag, then it will be checked by hand. 

What can I pack in my checked luggage?

Almost anything can be packed in your checked luggage. Clothes, shoes, souvenirs, hairdryers, packaged foods, etc. can be placed in your luggage. For a full breakdown of TSA’s checked bag rules, you can visit TSA’s website. 

What can go in a checked bag?

Everything that you won’t need while on the flight can go in your checked baggage. Try not to pack valuables in your checked bag. If you are unsure of what can or cannot go in your suitcase, then visit the site linked in the previous answer.  It will show you what can go in checked baggage.

Why is a checked bag cheaper than a carry-on?

Checked bag fees tend to be on the cheaper end because you aren’t paying for the “space” you take up. There is only so much space on the plane itself, so fees help prevent people from taking multiple carry-on bags.

Is checking a bag worth it?

It depends on what kind of trip you’re taking. If it’s a short domestic trip, a carry-on should be fine. But, if it’s a longer trip, or international, it’s better to check-in luggage. 

How long before your flight can you check in your luggage?

This all depends on the airline. You can pay for your carry-on and checked-in luggage when you buy your ticket. Most check-ins are 24 hours before your flight, but you can also check in your luggage when you arrive at the airport.

Can you bring food in checked bags?

Fruit and fresh produce cannot be taken in checked bags, but most processed foods can be taken. For a full breakdown, please visit this website

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