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A Simple Guide to Different Luggage Sizes

By Molly Weinfurter


Updated on

If you aren’t an experienced traveler, it’s really difficult to understand the importance of different luggage sizes. And if you choose the wrong one, you might pay more in luggage fees. That’s why choosing the right size is so important.

Standard Suitcase Sizes

Standard Suitcase Sizes

Luggage is generally split into two main groups – hand luggage and checked baggage – regardless of the type of luggage (for example, a suitcase, backpack, or duffel bag). Hand luggage is all the baggage you can take on the plane with you.

Airlines tend to allow 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. Though it can be larger, you must store carry-on luggage in the overhead airplane compartments. Usually, carry-on luggage is free, but some airlines charge a small fee (10-30$).

Checked baggage is the largest type of luggage. You must hand it over at the check-in desks before the flight. 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 your checked bag size. It’s more a matter of preference of which one you choose.

Luggage Size Chart

TypeSize (Longest End)ExamplesVolumePacking CapacityFees
Personal ItemUnder 18 inchesSmall backpacks, duffels, suitcases, totes, messenger bagsUnder 25 liters1-3 days0$
Carry On18-22 inchesSmall suitcases, backpacks, duffels20-40 liters3-7 days10-30$
Small Checked23-24 inchesMedium suitcases, small trekking backpacks, large duffels40-50 liters7-12 days20-60$
Medium Checked25-27 inchesLarge suitcases, trekking backpacks50-70 liters12-18 days20-50$
Large Checked28-32 inchesExtra large suitcases, large internal frame backpacks70-100 liters19-27 days20-50$

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. They usually don’t specify what kind of bag you may use, as long as it fits under the airplane seats.

The space under the airplane seats is so different among aircraft models. So, 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).

Carry-On Luggage Sizes (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 (depending 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 you must store 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.

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 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.

Small, Medium, and Large Checked Bags Luggage Sizes (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. Then, it 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, cardboard boxes, 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. Then add it all together.

In weight, checked baggage must be under 50-70 lbs, because this is the limit flight authorities enforce to improve the working conditions for baggage handlers. Slightly heavier luggage is sometimes acceptable but for high fees.

What Luggage Sizes Should You Travel With?

If you aren’t bringing too much stuff on your vacations, then travel 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. This way you’ll get more packing space, and you’ll only have to carry one large backpack and no suitcases.

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 a bit more in fees (20-60$ in checked luggage fees vs 10-30$ for carry-on).

How are Luggage Sizes Measured?

TSA measures luggage d 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). 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.

They usually measure checked luggage 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 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

  • 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 scratch 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, 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.
About Molly Weinfurter

Molly Weinfurter is a freelance writer and editor that specializes in family, travel, and animal-related topics.

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