How to Choose Luggage Sizes When Flying

How to Choose Luggage Sizes When Flying

Woman packing her luggage
Airlines have strict rules about luggage weights and sizes, so it's important know the restrictions of the airline you're using to avoid delays and fees when traveling. The most important rule is to check with individual airline websites to determine the measurement and weight caps before you buy a new bag for a trip and before you fly. These tips will help you choose the perfect luggage for your travel adventures.

Know Airline Limitations

Red luggage in various sizes

Airline size restrictions include limits on a bag’s height, width, depth, and weight for both carry-on and checked luggage. Generally speaking, the maximum carry-on size is usually 45 linear inches, and the maximum checked-bag size is usually 62 linear inches. (Learn how to measure for linear inches below.) Airlines also have weight restrictions for every bag. If you go over the weight limits on a carry-on, you may be asked to check your bag for a fee; and if you go over the limit on checked bags, you may have to pay an extra fee. Weight allowances vary widely for each airline, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Carry-on restrictions generally range from 8 pounds to 35 pounds, and checked bags restrictions start at 50 pounds. Fees for overweight luggage start at about $50 and go as high as $200 per bag.

Measure for Linear Inches

Infographic for how to measure luggage in linear inches

Since luggage comes in many different shapes and dimensions, airlines base their size restrictions on linear inches rather than fixed dimensions. To get the linear inch measurement of any item, first measure the height, width, and depth of the bag, making sure to include the wheels, soft handles, and retracted handles in your measurement. Next, add all three of those numbers together. The sum of those dimensions is the linear inches of your bag. Remember, even if a carry-on bag technically fits the linear inch restrictions, it will still need to fit in an overhead compartment or under a seat to qualify as a carry-on bag.

Understand Bag Dimensions

Carry on luggage packed for a vacation Image Provided by Arnel Hasanovic

Luggage manufacturers often list luggage sizes by height and length dimensions and not linear inches. For example, a bag described as a 31-inch upright is 31 inches high. Depending on the bag’s style, upright bags are measured from the retracted handle to the bottom of the bag, including any wheels or standing pegs. Online retailers generally have additional measurements for width and depth listed for each piece of luggage so you can approximate linear inches of a packed bag. Keep in mind that the actual storage compartment will be slightly smaller than the inches listed, which will affect the number of items that will fit in your bag. To help avoid over-packing, read How to Use Packing Cubes.

Check Bag Extensions

Hard side luggage with an extendable zipper

Many bags come with an extension that can be zipped or unzipped to accommodate changing traveling needs. Although this adds an inch or two of space for souvenirs or unexpected purchases while traveling, you’ll want to make sure that the expansion doesn’t extend your bag’s measurements beyond the airline restrictions. When you use a bag extension, also pay close attention to the added weight or packed items to keep within the limits.

Consider the Material

Hard side suitcase and canvas carry on

When you’re considering bag capacities and how they affect your linear inch measurements, it may be important for you to consider the thickness of the luggage material as well. Nylon and leather bag materials generally have a similar thickness, but some high-performance materials may be much thinner. Additionally, because of different construction methods and bag frames, the actual capacity of some bags can vary even if the outer dimensions are the same. The material of the bag and the frame will also affect the weight. So if you’re a heavy packer, a bag with lighter fabric and framing will work best for you. Read our Tips on Buying a Lightweight Suitcase.