Luggage comes in many different sizes, shapes, and forms. Not only does each one has its own benefits and drawbacks, but also different fees. If you aren’t an experienced traveler, it’s really difficult to understand what size luggage you’ll need. And if you’ll choose the wrong one, you might end up paying more in luggage fees.
This article will explain in simple words the differences between various luggage sizes with real-life examples. Hopefully, after reading this article you’ll understand what size and type of luggage will work best for you individually.
Standard Suitcase Sizes
Luggage is generally split into two main groups – hand luggage and checked baggage – regardless of what type of luggage it is (for example, a suitcase, backpack, or duffel bag).
Hand luggage is all the baggage that you’re allowed to take on the plane with you. Usually, airlines allow bringing two pieces of hand luggage – a personal item and a carry-on. The personal item needs to be small enough to fit under your front seat and it’s included in the ticket price. Carry-on luggage can be larger and needs to be stored in the overhead compartments on airplanes. Usually, carry-on luggage can be brought on for free, but some airlines charge a small fee for it (10-30$).
Checked baggage is the largest type of luggage, and it needs to be handed over at the check-in desks before the flight and stored in the cargo hold of the airplane. Checked luggage usually costs 20-60$ per bag, but premium airlines will include one free checked bag per passenger. When you’re shopping for checked luggage, it’s usually split into three groups – large, medium, and small checked bags. The luggage fees don’t change based on how large your checked bag is, so it’s more a matter of preference of which one you choose.
Most travelers choose to travel with a personal item and a carry-on to avoid paying excess baggage fees. A good combination is to use a small backpack as your personal item and a small suitcase as your carry-on so that you can easily carry both of them at the same time.
Luggage Size Chart
Down below, you’ll find a chart of the most common standard luggage sizes, so that you can get a better understanding of which size will work best for you.
|Type||Size (Longest End)||Examples||Volume||Packing Capacity||Fees|
|Personal Item||Under 18 inches||Small backpacks, duffels, suitcases, totes, messenger bags||Under 25 liters||1-3 days||0$|
|Carry On||18-22 inches||Small suitcases, backpacks, duffels||20-40 liters||3-7 days||10-30$|
|Small Checked||23-24 inches||Medium suitcases, small trekking backpacks, large duffels||40-50 liters||7-12 days||20-60$|
|Medium Checked||25-27 inches||Large suitcases, trekking backpacks||50-70 liters||12-18 days||20-50$|
|Large Checked||28-32 inches||Extra large suitcases, large internal frame backpacks||70-100 liters||19-27 days||20-50$|
Personal Items (Under 18 Inches)
- Small backpacks, purses, duffel bags, totes, etc.
- Included in the ticket price, no additional fees
- Size restrictions vary greatly between airlines
- Weight restrictions vary greatly between airlines
Nearly all airlines allow bringing one personal item free of charge onboard the aircraft, which has to be stored under the seats. They usually don’t specify what kind of bags are allowed, as long as it fits under the airplane seats. You can also use small underseat suitcases as your personal item, but it’s advised to use something flexible instead, like a backpack, duffel bag, tote, messenger bag, or purse because there’s a higher chance that it will fit.
Because the space under the airplane seats is so different among aircraft models, there isn’t a universal size limit that all airlines follow. The size restrictions for personal items can range from 13 x 10 x 8 inches (Aer Lingus) to 18 x 14 x 10 inches (Avianca), depending on the airline. Generally, if your personal item is under 16 x 12 x 6 inches, it should be accepted by most airlines.
The weight restrictions also vary a lot between different airlines, with some not having a weight limit at all, some having a combined weight limit for personal items and carry-on luggage, and others having a single limit for personal items, ranging between 10-50 lbs.
Traveling only with a personal item is usually good for quick overnight hikes and very short vacations if you’re a minimalist packer. When I need to travel somewhere quickly, I can usually fit my laptop inside my personal item backpack, headphones, a few toiletries, and a few spare clothes for 2-3 days.
Carry-Ons (18-22 Inches)
- Medium backpacks, duffel bags, small suitcases, etc.
- 0$ fee for premium airlines, 10-30$ fee for budget airlines
- Needs to be smaller than 22 x 14 x 9 inches (but the exact restriction varies between different airlines)
- Restricted in weight between 15-50 lbs (depends on the airline)
Most medium class and premium airlines (American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Air France, British Airways, and others) allow each passenger to bring one free carry-on on board the airplane, which has to be stored in the overhead compartments. Budget airlines (for example, Frontier, Spirit, Ryanair, and others) charge a 10-30$ carry-on fee to recoup some of their costs.
Airlines don’t really restrict what kind of bag you’re using as your carry-on. The most popular choice is a small carry-on suitcase, but you can also use medium-sized backpacks, duffel bags, or anything else.
The most common size restriction for carry-ons is 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 26 x 23 cm) because the overhead compartments are fairly similar across different airplane models. However, the restrictions may vary between different aircraft, so it’s advised to check the rules for the airline that will be operating your flight. For example, for Frontier, the carry-on limit is 24 x 16 x 10 inches, and for Qatar Airways it’s 20 x 15 x 10 inches.
The weight limit for carry-on luggage usually ranges between 15-35 lbs (7-16 kg), but it varies between different airlines.
Traveling with a carry-on and a personal item should offer enough space for most travelers. I personally can put my laptop, several electronics, toiletries, spare shoes, and clothing for up to 2 weeks in both of them and if I’m traveling for longer, I’ll just wash my clothes mid-way. But if you aren’t a minimalist packer or you’re traveling with family, then you might need to swap your carry-on for a checked bag instead.
Small, Medium, and Large Checked Bags (23-32 Inches)
- Large suitcases, trekking backpacks, sports equipment, and large duffel bags
- Free for premium airlines, 20-60$ fee for budget and medium airlines
- Needs to be under 62 linear inches (width + height + depth)
- 50-70 lbs weight restriction
Only premium airlines and business/first class tickets offer passengers to bring 1-2 free checked bags. For most airlines, the checked bag fee ranges between 20-60$ for the first bag, and then progressively gets higher with each additional bag, so it makes sense to split checked baggage among different passengers.
You can check in pretty much anything (large suitcases, trekking backpacks, golfing or camera equipment, bicycles, etc.), as long as the total dimensions don’t exceed 62 linear inches / 157 cm. The rules vary slightly between different airlines, but generally, the size limit is 62 linear inches for most of them. You can calculate linear inches by measuring the height, width, and depth of your bag and then adding it all together. There are exceptions for some sporting equipment, which can be slightly larger.
In weight, checked baggage is usually limited to 50-70 lbs, because this is the limit enforced by the flight authorities to improve the working conditions for baggage handlers. Slightly heavier luggage is sometimes accepted, but for high fees.
The size and weight restrictions as well as the fees are identical whether you’re checking in a small bag or a large one. So realistically, it depends on you what size checked bag you prefer. When traveling though, less is better, because you won’t have to lug around heavy bags. So I personally would recommend getting a small or medium checked suitcase. Another benefit is that it will weigh less, which will allow you to pack heavier stuff inside it and still stay within the weight limits set by airlines.
What Size Luggage Should You Travel With
If you aren’t bringing too much stuff on your vacations, then I would definitely recommend traveling with a small backpack as your personal item and a small suitcase as your carry-on. This will allow you to easily walk around with both of them at the same time, occasionally pay only 10-30$ in carry-on fees, and it offers enough packing space for 1-2 week vacations.
Another option is to skip carry-on luggage altogether, and only bring a small purse or tote as your personal item, and a large trekking backpack as your checked luggage. This way you’ll get more packing space and you’ll only have to carry one large backpack and no suitcases. A lot of backpackers that travel around Europe and Asia choose this option.
If you’d rather keep stuff in a suitcase, but having just a carry-on and personal item doesn’t offer enough space, then you can swap your carry-on for a medium-sized checked suitcase. This will offer a lot of additional space, around 2x more, and you’ll only be paying only a bit more in fees (20-60$ in checked luggage fees vs 10-30$ for carry-on). This is a good option for larger families, for people who are planning to travel a long time but are mostly staying in hotels, and for people who generally carry more things.
How Is Luggage Measured
Luggage is usually measured in three dimensions – height (top to bottom), width (side to side), and depth (front to back). To measure your own luggage, you need to pack it with stuff first (to allow it to expand) and then measure each dimension with a measuring tape. Make sure to include the wheels, handles, and other elements that stick out, as airlines measure luggage at the widest end. If you’re measuring softside baggage, you can detract 1-2 inches from each dimension to account for flexibility.
Checked luggage is usually measured in linear dimensions (linear inches or centimeters). This means the total sum of the height, width, and depth, so you can easily calculate that by measuring each dimension.
To ensure your luggage is within the required dimensions, airlines have measurement boxes at airports, which are just in the correct dimensions. If your luggage is too large, you won’t be able to fit it inside this measuring box, so having a flexible bag is advantageous. Checked baggage is measured at the check-in desks with measuring tape.
To weigh your luggage, you can use a regular bathroom scale. To do this, you need to weigh yourself with and without your bag and subtract the difference.
Other Tips For Buying Luggage
As a frequent traveler, I’ve traveled with all kinds of different suitcases. Over time, I’ve started to understand what makes a suitcase good and what not. Down below, I’ll share the most important things to look out for when shopping for luggage.
- For checked luggage, fabric suitcases outperform hardside ones because they won’t crack from rough baggage handling conditions and they’re lighter.
- Suitcases with spinner wheels are much easier to move around but offer less packing space, they’re heavier, and the wheels are more likely to break off.
- Brightly-colored hardside cases look good, but they’re hard to keep clean and get scratched very easily.
- The best luggage brands for optimal price and durability are Samsonite, Travelpro, and Delsey.
- Rather than focusing on good interior packing features, get a simple suitcase and buy a set of cheap packing cubes, which will allow you to organize your clothing.
- Most manufacturers list the size without wheels and handles. To find the actual size, you have to read the description thoroughly.
- If your suitcase has locks, ensure that they’re TSA-approved. Otherwise, if they’re checked in, the TSA agents will just break them apart to check the contents of your bag.
- USB charging ports, built-in luggage tags, waterproof toiletry pouches, built-in removable power banks, and other smart features are nice to have, but they aren’t essential. Instead, focus on durability, weight, and price.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Type Of Luggage Should I Use (Backpack Vs Suitcase Vs Duffel)?
For your personal item (stored under the airplane seats), I definitely recommend getting a backpack. It’s lightweight, flexible, easy to carry, and just in the right size. For carry-on and checked luggage, I recommend getting a suitcase, which will be very easy to move around on smooth surfaces and offers a good amount of packing space. Duffels can also be used as hand or checked baggage, but they’re awkward to carry, so I’d only use them for quick overnight trips.
What Is The Biggest Checked Luggage Size?
Checked luggage is limited to 62 linear inches (height + width + depth), so the largest checked luggage size will be very close to this limit. For example, 30 x 20 x 12 inch or 28 x 21 x 13 inch bags would both be good candidates to maximize the amount of total packing space.
Another important thing to look out for is whether the suitcase comes with spinner wheels and if it’s made from fabric materials. Inline suitcases with 2 wheels that are made from fabrics offer slightly more packing space than hardside spinners, so the total volume of the interior will be higher.
What Size Should A 23 kg (or 20 kg) Suitcase Be?
A good size for a 20-23 kg checked bag is 70 x 50 x 30 cm (28 x 20 x 12 inches). Most airlines that have a 20-23 kg (44-50 lbs) weight limit for their checked bags also enforce a 62 linear inch (157 cm) size limit, which means the total sum of the height, width, and depth of the bag. Your checked bag can be any size under 62 linear inches, but to maximize the total amount of packing space, you should use a 26-28 inch suitcase (longest side).
What Size Luggage Should I Use For International Travel?
For international travel, you’ll most likely need to bring more things because your vacation will be longer. So bringing a checked bag instead of your carry-on makes more sense. Plus, a lot of international airline carriers include one free checked bag per passenger. So if you’re traveling internationally, bringing a 24-28 inch suitcase as your checked bag and a 30-40-liter backpack as your carry-on makes the most sense.
But if you’re a minimalist packer, then you can also get away without any checked baggage. Bringing a 20-25 liter backpack as your personal item and a 19-22 inch suitcase as your carry-on should offer more than enough packing space. This will also decrease the chances of your luggage getting lost or stolen because it will be with you at all times.
What Does 62 Linear Inches Mean?
62 linear inches means the total sum of the height (top to bottom), width (side to side), and depth (front to back) of your luggage. For example, if your suitcase measures 30 inches in height, 20 inches in width, and 11 inches in depth, then it’s 61 linear inches in size. The 62 linear inch restriction is used by most airlines to limit the size of the checked bags to ensure that their baggage handlers aren’t carrying too large bags and getting injured.
What Size Suitcase Do I Need For 7 Days?
When traveling for 7 days, most travelers should be able to fit everything they’d need into a small personal item (usually, a 20-25 liter backpack) and a small carry-on (19-22 inch suitcase). Inside the personal item, you should be able to pack your electronics, toiletries, valuables, accessories, and maybe a spare jacket if it gets cold. And in your carry-on, you can easily pack spare clothing for 5-14 days and 1-2 pairs of shoes, depending on how minimalist of a packer you are.
Summing Up: Choosing The Right Size Luggage
I always recommend one thing for people who are new to traveling – when it comes to luggage, bringing less is better. For example, you don’t need to bring a hairdryer, a full bottle of shampoo, and a formal dress for going on a vacation. If you bring less, you can have a smaller suitcase, thus saving money in baggage fees and carrying less while moving from one place to another.
I personally travel with a small carry-on suitcase (20 inches) and a small backpack personal item (25 liters volume). I can pack in there everything I’d need for 2-3 week vacations and most of the time, I don’t have to pay any luggage fees. If you’re willing to become a minimalist packer, this combination can also work for you.
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