New to traveling and don’t know what size suitcase should you get?
Don’t worry. We’ve all been there at some point. You just have to learn the basic luggage size restrictions and find out which size is perfect for you.
In this luggage size guide, we’ll explain the differences between various suitcase types and sizes. We’ll explain which ones can be carried on board, and which have to be checked in, and tell you about the most basic luggage size restrictions.
Let’s get started.
Understanding Different Types of Luggage
On airplanes, you’re allowed to take a few types of different luggage, depending on the airline and the luggage size. Some your can take for free and for some you’ll have to pay additional charges.
What Is a Personal Item?
A personal item is a backpack, a small suitcase, a tote, or a similar small item that you’re usually free to take on the flight for no additional charges.
It has to fit under the front seat, and the size requirements vary from airline to airline. In general, it has to be 6-9 inches in width, 10-14 inches in height, and 17-18.5 inches in length. Some airlines also have weight restrictions for personal items.
What Is Carry-On Luggage?
A carry-on is a backpack, a large tote, a duffel, or a suitcase that you can take on the flight with you. This luggage has to fit in the overhead compartments, which are usually 8-10 inches in width, 13-15 inches in height, and 19-23 inches in length. Some airlines also have weight restrictions for carry-ons.
Sometimes you’re free to take a personal item and a carry-on, but most of the times you’ll have to pay a 10-20$ fee for bringing a carry-on.
Editor’s tip: If you’re looking for specific airline size and weight restrictions, it’s best to check on the airline’s official website, because they change the restrictions quite often, and other sources might show outdated information. But for a general overview, here’s a guide that covers 170 different airline carry-on size and weight restrictions.
What Is Checked Luggage?
Checked luggage is a large suitcase or a large item that can’t be taken with you on the flight, and has to be checked in. They’ll later be transferred to the storage compartment at the back of the airplane.
Checked bags can’t exceed 62 linear inches (height + width + length) and under 50-70lbs. Checked luggage comes in different sizes, and usually, the longest dimension is 23-32 inches long.
If you’re flying economy, most of the times you’ll have to pay a 20-50$ fee for checked luggage.
How Large Suitcase Should You Get?
Luggage isn’t just divided into three categories (personal items, carry-ons, and checked luggage.) Actually, it’s divided into six main categories based on the size.
We’ll quickly tell you about each one, so you can find out which one is best for you.
Important tip: When purchasing luggage, always make sure that the dimensions mentioned are with wheels and handles included because that’s the correct measurement airline employees will look at. Most of the times, the correct measurement is written in small letters in the product description.
|Personal item||<= 17 inches||Documents, electronics, valuables.||Always free|
|International carry-on||18-20 inches||Clothes for 3-7 days.||Free or 10-20$|
|Domestic carry-on||21-22 inches||Clothes for 3-7 days.||Free or 10-20$|
|Small checked luggage||23-24 inches||Clothes for 1-2 weeks.||20-50$|
|Medium checked luggage||25-27 inches||Clothes for 1-3 weeks.||20-50$|
|Large checked luggage||28-32 inches||Clothes for 2-4 weeks.||20-50$|
Underseat Luggage/Personal Item
Longest side length: Under 17 inches
Weight restrictions: Usually, none.
Use: For storing electronics, documents, medicine, and valuables.
If you’re looking to get an underseat bag, make sure that it isn’t larger than 6 inches in width, 10 inches in height, and 17 inches in length. Anything over that is generally considered a carry-on.
For personal items, I believe the best choice is either a backpack (which I personally prefer over anything else,) a wheeled suitcase, a tote bag, or a small duffel bag.
Most of the times, people use personal items in combination with carry-ons, so I’d suggest choosing a bag that has a strap on the back that fits around the carry-on’s handle. That way, you can secure your personal item on top of the carry-on. It makes traveling in crammed metros, trains, and buses much easier (trust me, I know.)
International Carry-on Luggage
Longest side length: 18-20 inches
Weight restrictions: 20-30 lbs
Use: storing clothing for 3-7 days
Most of the times, carry-ons are differentiated by “domestic” and “international” sizes. The international carry-ons will be slightly smaller (18-20 inches,) because carry-on restrictions for international flights are stricter compared to domestic flights.
If you decide to get a slightly smaller international carry-on, you won’t have any difficulties boarding European and International flights, but the main compartment will be slightly smaller.
In my opinion, it’s not worth it getting two separate carry-ons for international and domestic flights. Just figure out which types of flights you’re flying more often, and depending on that, choose the correct size.
For example, I live in Europe, so to meet the strict European size restrictions, I have a 19-inch international carry-on, that fits most airlines. I’m fine with a slightly smaller main compartment because I’m a minimalistic packer.
Domestic Carry-on Luggage
Longest side length: 21-22 inches
Weight restrictions: 40-50 lbs
Use: storing clothing for 3-7 days
Domestic carry-ons will usually be 21-22, sometimes even 23-inches inches large. They’re mostly made for the American market, where the size restrictions are less strict for domestic flights (as well as most U.S.-Canada flights.)
They’ll be perfect for people who mostly fly within the U.S. For example, for business travelers who are mostly flying to business conferences and trade shows to different states.
Most of the times the airline employees won’t even measure your suitcase, so you’ll be able to also use the domestic carry-on on most international flights. Worst case scenario, they’ll make you check-in the bag for a 20-50$ fee.
Small Checked Luggage
Longest side length: 23-24 inches
Weight restrictions: 50-70 lbs
Use: storing clothing for 1-2 weeks
Essentially, checked luggage has to be under 62 linear inches in width, and most small checked suitcases will be around 50 linear inches, so there’s still a lot of room to fit the requirements. The fee for a 30-inch checked suitcase will be identical for a 23-inch suitcase, so you might want to choose a larger suitcase instead.
The small checked suitcases in the 23-24 inch range will be too small for most adults but will be perfect for kids and younger teenagers.
Medium Checked Luggage
Longest side length: 25-27 inches
Weight restrictions: 50-70 lbs
Use: Storing clothing for 1-3 weeks
The medium checked luggage is the most popular type of checked luggage.
The 25-27 inch size is perfect for most adults – it’s not too large, but not too small. It’ll be enough for most 2-3 week trips. If you’re getting checked luggage, we’d suggest choosing something in this range.
Large Checked Luggage
Longest side length: 28-32 inches
Weight restrictions: 50-70 lbs
Use: storing clothing for 2-4 weeks
Some people prefer to use larger 28-32 inch suitcases. If you’re the type that packs way too much stuff, you might consider getting this type of checked luggage instead.
However, before getting one, you should make sure that it’s under 62 linear inches (width + height + length with wheels and handles included,) because that’s the most common size restriction for checked luggage.
Also, you should consider getting a luggage scale, because when 28-32 inch suitcases are fully packed, most of the times they’re above the 50 lbs/70 lbs weight limit.
Here’s What Luggage I Usually Use
This is me just before my last vacation to Spain.
I usually travel one or two weeks at a time, so a personal item (backpack) and an international carry-on is more than enough to fit in everything that I need. I rarely use checked luggage, because I’m a minimalistic packer.
For a personal item, my favorite has become the Matein laptop backpack, which fits perfectly under the front seat, and has many neat compartments for everything that I need. It’s 18 x 12 x 7.8 inches large, but I never pack it full, so it always fits under the front seat.
And for the carry-on, I use the Travelpro Maxlite 5 International 19-inch Carry-on, which is pretty light, and small enough for European luggage restrictions. It’s 21.75 x 15.75 x 7.75 inches large with wheels and handles included, so sometimes it’s a little bit above the limit, but I’ve never had any issues with it. I’ve tried squeezing it inside the measurement boxes myself, and I managed to fit it in with a tight squeeze.
My laptop backpack has a rear strap that wraps around the carry-on’s retractable handle, so it can be securely stored on top of it.
It’s really useful because my carry-on has spinner wheels and it’s super easy to move around. In tight spaces, for instance, in the metro, it’s much easier to store the backpack on top of the carry-on, especially if you’re riding for longer periods of time.
If you’re a light packer like me, I’d suggest going with a backpack and a carry-on. It’ll be enough for 1-2 week trips, but if you wash some clothes midway and don’t but too many souvenirs, you can stretch that to three weeks. If you’re traveling longer than that or you’re an over-packer, you should also get an additional 25-27-inch medium checked suitcase.