General Travel Tips and Guides

Carry On vs Checked Bag: How to Get The Best Value?

Last updated: April 27,2022
Originally Published: January 28,2022
by Jestan Mendame

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Choosing between a carry-on vs checked bag is a part of every frequent flyer’s travel woes. It’s not an easy decision to make since different trips require different travel strategies.

You need to consider factors such as your length of stay and the activities that you’re going to do. Not only that., baggage fees and weight allowances also differ from airline to airline.

We’ve rounded up the pros and cons of each option to make it easier for you to decide on your next trip. Plus, we’ve also included a few tips on how to get discounted or free baggage fees using travel credit cards.

Understanding airline baggage rules can save you hundreds of dollars in fees every year.
Image Courtesy of EnvatoElments.com

Read More: 15 Genius Travel Packing Hacks When You’re Flying With Just A Carry On


Carry On Vs Checked Bag: Things To Consider

There’s an unending debate among frequent flyers whether it’s better to check their bags or not. And if you’ve been in a similar situation, don’t pressure yourself to find the best solution for your travel problems. Do whatever works for you.

However, it also helps to assess the situation first so you don’t have to pay unnecessary baggage fees that could cost hundreds of dollars. Try to ask yourself these questions before you go on that trip.

Are You Bringing Prohibited Carry On Items With You?

Booking websites usually include guidelines on what you can’t bring with you on your carry-on luggage but here’s a quick overview of what these prohibited items are:

  • Self-defense items like pepper spray, knives, weapons, and fake weapons
  • Sharp objects such as scissors, nail clippers, utility knives, and box cutters
  • Liquids that are more than 3.4 ounces
  • Sports equipment such as baseball bats, golf clubs, and skateboards

Airport personnel will confiscate prohibited items and throw them away during security checkpoints. However, these prohibited items are allowed on your check-in baggage so make sure you purchase extra baggage in advance.

How Long Is Your Trip?

When choosing between a carry on vs checked bag, the latter is typically the better option since longer trips require you to bring more clothes and essentials during your trip.

However, it may also be a good idea to travel light during longer trips and just purchase the things that you need at your destination. For example, instead of paying expensive baggage fees just to bring bottles of shampoo and multiple pairs of clothes, why not purchase them at the place you’re going to.

What Type Of Activities Are You Going To Do On Your Trip?

If you’re going to do multiple kinds of activities during your trip, especially at far locations, it’s better to buy extra baggage for your gear and equipment. The standard weight requirement for carry-on luggage is only 25 pounds and it’s nearly impossible to fit your skiing, snorkeling, or hiking gears in it.

Plus, if ever you plan to travel with just a carry-on and just buy equipment at your final destination, chances are the stores would not have what you need or they’re probably expensive.

Can You Afford Paying Extra For Baggage Fees?

Whatever reason you may have, money is typically the reason why people don’t buy checked baggage. Baggage fees can cost hundreds of dollars and prices even vary according to weight categories.

However, try to check your credit cards if it offers a free checked bag or a statement credit which you can use to cover the cost of baggage fees.

If ever you end up traveling with just a carry-on, just make sure that you’re following the exact weight allowances required by the airline since over baggage fees are even more expensive.


Read More: Top 3 Picks For The Best Beginner Credit Cards


Choosing between a carry on vs checked bag? It all depends on your travel preference.
Carry-on bags are easier to travel with but it can sometimes be a problem fitting them into the compartment bin especially on a full flight.
(Image courtesy of Envato Elements)

Pros & Cons Of Carry On Luggage

There are multiple reasons why travelers love to fly with only carry-on luggage. One of the main reasons is it allows you to cruise through airport security like a breeze and you don’t have to worry about losing your luggage. However, there are always pros and cons to each option and here they are:

Pros

  • Traveling with just a carry on means less clothes to bring so you don’t have to worry too much on choosing your daily outfit.
  • Lesser chances of losing your luggage. Carryon luggage often get lost which can cause trip delays.
  • You have easy access to your things. This comes in handy especially during security checks.
  • Flexibility and agility. You don’t have to worry about carrying big bags when you’re moving around the airport.

Cons

  • Packing your things can be difficult. It’s hard to fit all of your stuff inside a small luggage and not go beyond the weight limit.
  • Risk of paying for over baggage fees. Excess weight is charged per pound and can cost triple the original amount in the booking platform.
  • Lesser space available for carry on luggage in the overhead compartment. You’re not the only one wants to travel with just a carry on.

Basically, choosing the type of luggage to bring on your trips all boils down to your travel style. If you’re a backpacker who wants to visit multiple places, then a carry-on suitcase is enough.


Read More: 3 Frequent Flyer Tips To Help You Fly Like A Pro


Choosing between a carry on vs checked bag? It all depends on your travel preference.
Not all airports have DIY kiosks that automatically print bag tags. This makes baggage drop a long and stressful process especially during peak seasons (Image courtesy of Envato Elements).

Pros And Cons Of Checked Luggage

As much as travelers want to travel with just a carry-on, there are times when you need to bring bulky stuff with you, like sports equipment and souvenirs, which can go beyond the weight limit.

Plus, even if you meet the weight requirements the standard dimensions for a carry-on bag should be 9 inches x 14 inches x 12 inches which are too small to fit sports equipment.

However, here are some pros and cons that you might want to know to help you decide:

Pros

  • You can bring alcoholic beverages and other types of liquids above 3.4 ounces.
  • You can bring bulky stuff such as sports equipment and souvenirs.
  • Upon arrival at the airport, you can just check-in your bags at baggage drop and pick them up at your destination.
  • Risk of losing your bags especially on connecting flights.
  • Having trouble carrying your bags especially in destinations that don’t have taxis.
  • Long waiting lines at baggage drop. Some airports don’t have DIY kiosks that let’s you print out a baggage tag that would make handoffs faster.

A checked bag is necessary for travelers who are going on honeymoons, weddings, and other big events. However, if you just feel like buying a checked bag for the sake of convenience – DO IT – no one is judging you.

Don’t worry too much about the disadvantages because they’re easy to deal with. For example, If you’re scared of losing your bags, most airlines have apps that let you track your luggage.

If you want to avoid long lines at baggage drop, get a TSA PreCheck membership. In fact, TSA has a dedicated bag drop and express lobby in Atlanta airport right now and it’s not going to take long before they roll it out to other airports.

Cards That Come With Free Checked Bags

Co-branded airline credit cards typically come with free checked bags and the perfect examples are Delta Airlines and United Airlines.

Delta Co-branded Cards

Delta Airlines typically charges $30 for the first checked bag and $40 for the second checked bag on one-way flights within the U.S.

However, Delta’s co-branded cards such as the Gold, Platinum, and Reserve (for both personal and business) all come with one free checked bag each for the primary cardholder and eight traveling companions. The only condition is that the booking must be made under the name of the cardholder and all travelers must be on the same itinerary.

Here are Delta’s co-branded cards.

Personal Cards:

Business Cards:

United Co-branded Cards

United Airlines also has its own co-branded credit card line that offers free checked bags and there are currently four cards that offer this benefit.

One free checked bag for the primary cardholder and one travel companion (must be under the same reservation):

  • United (SM) Explorer Card – Earn up to 70,000 bonus miles: 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months + 10,000 miles after you spend $6,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months.
  • United Business Card – Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 within the first 3 months of card membership.

Two free checked bags for the primary cardholder and one travel companion (must be under the same reservation):

  • United Club (SM) Infinite Card – Earn 120,000 bonus miles after spending $6,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.
  • United Quest Card – Earn 70,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.

Bottomline

When it comes to choosing between carry on vs. checked bag, there’s no perfect answer for this. All the decisions that you make on your flights and trips will be based on three important factors: budget, type and duration of travel, and preference. Try to weigh out all the factors so you can decide for yourself.

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