Flying is a complicated business. Taking a plane is always a balance of cost, comfort, and convenience. This is especially true when it comes to baggage! Wherever you go, you’re bound to have at least one bag or backpack that you need to take with you. Should you check your bag or carry it on? Making the right decision can save you precious moments, lots of money, and travel stress! What should you do in your situation? Read on for some tips from a frequent flyer.
Checked Baggage: The Pros
It used to be pretty standard to check your bags before taking off. That was back when bags flew free. It wasn’t that long ago that most airlines allowed you at least one free bag per flight! Those days are long gone. Today, most airlines charge an arm and a leg for each bag and enforce strict weight regulations. However, that doesn’t mean that checked bags can’t be the best and even the cheapest option in some circumstances.
Checked bags are the obvious option if you have to transport something that is not allowed on the plane. If you want to take an authentic Scottish war sword, for example, you will have to check it. Of course, the same goes for large liquid containers. Taking wine? Check it.
Lots of stuff
If you have a lot of things you need to take with you, you will have to check your bags. While you can make almost any trip with just a carry-on item if you really want to, there are times when you will want or need a lot of things. Going on an extended trip? It depends on how comfortable you are with washing your clothes in the sink (and how many pairs of shoes you just have to bring). Moving? You will probably have to check your bags.
Checked bags can be convenient if you don’t want to haul things on and off the plane. People with bad backs might not want to drag a suitcase all over the terminal. Some airports offer curbside baggage check, which makes checking your bags even easier! You can avoid long lines at the ticket counter and usually get friendlier service, since these guys and gals appreciate tips. This is a great option if you want to go hands-free onto the plane.
If you have first or business class tickets, you likely get a free bag or two. Also, your weight limit per bag may be higher. And, while offering far from the amenities of first class, budget Southwest Airlines is the only domestic flyer that still offers free checked baggage (2 bags!) with all tickets. If you can check bags for free, you may as well do it!
Checked Baggage: The Cons
Checking bags can be expensive! Your first bag will usually cost you around $25, and the price goes up from there per bag. Heaven forbid you have overweight bags! You can sometimes double your ticket cost if you check luggage. It takes a little calculation, but be sure to factor in the baggage fees when comparing tickets.
Checking bags adds a good 45 minutes (at least) to your total time in the airport. You have to arrive earlier to check your bags, and then you’ll have to stick around while things get unloaded. Be sure to check ahead of time how early you must check your bag or you may get hit with a late check fee. If you have a short time between layovers, this is not ideal. And yes, I have missed flights because of checked bags. It is not fun.
Have you ever seen a shoeprint on your suitcase? Or opened it to find everything a mess? When you check your bags, you turn your stuff over to strangers for handling. They don’t always do a great job taking care of it. I’ve seen suitcases fall off airline carts and lay there for over half an hour without getting picked up. Lightning delay? Your bags may be sitting in the downpour waiting for the storm to pass so they can be loaded. And then there’s always the risk of your bags getting lost forever.
Carry-on Bags: The Pros
Personally, I am a huge fan of carry-on luggage. I can see where it is, I can get to it, and it doesn’t cost me a thing. Throw everything in a huge backpack, and I’m set to go for any length of trip! It’s not always the best choice, however. Read on to see when to use – or skip – the carry-on bags.
If you’re traveling on a budget (and who isn’t), this is a great way to cut costs! Take what you need in a small suitcase or large backpack, and you can shave a nice chunk of change off your total flight cost. You should be aware that this doesn’t hold true for super budget airlines like Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier. They charge for carry ons as well as checked bags.
While you will have to take your carry-on bag wherever you go, at least you won’t have to wait in as many lines. You might get a little sore from carrying around all your stuff, but you won’t be anxiously watching the clock as you wait for your bag to appear on the carousel. Or have that hollow, sinking feeling when the belt is finally empty and your bag is nowhere in sight.
If you have smaller items that weigh a ton, then sticking with a carry-on is the “weigh” to go. I’ll take a moment to let you appreciate that pun. But in all seriousness, you really can save money by taking heavy things with you. You may need to use a rolling suitcase if your bag is very heavy, but often you don’t have to worry about it. Things like books can add a lot of extra weight to your suitcase, while it doesn’t make any difference for carry-ons. If you are still taking a checked bag in addition to your carry on, switch out some clothes for the books, and you can keep your suitcase under the weight limit.
Carry-on Bags: The Cons
If you want to take a pocket knife or scissors with you, you’re out of luck. No larger containers of toiletry items either. You’ll have to leave these things at home if you are planning to take a carry-on rather than check your luggage.
You can only take so much if you go with a carry-on. Often, this is just fine. But if you like to travel with a blow dryer and a dictionary or whatever, it might be tough to fit everything you need into a carry-on bag. The more you travel, though, the less you will pack on each trip, so you might have to work yourself down to the carry on only lifestyle.
Actually Carrying It
If you arrive early for your flight or have a long layover, having to lug your carry on around the airport may put a damper on your ability to shop, eat, or just relax. Maneuvering your bag in the restroom stall or navigating the crowded restaurants and shops can be a hassle with a suitcase in tow.
So there you have it! I hope this helps you decide how you’ll handle the luggage question on your next flight. In the end, it really comes down to cost and time verses volume of luggage. Which is more important for your trip? That’s up to you!