Traveling With A Checked-In Bag Versus A Carry-On: Which is Better?

It’s often a flier’s greatest dilemma: Do you opt for carry-on or checked bags? Some frequent travelers are staunch advocates of only traveling with a carry-on bag. Others don’t want the hassle and prefer to check a bag. Some flyers make the call on a flight-by-flight basis; a short business trip could require only a carry-on while a two-week Europe cruise might necessitate a checked bag.

If you don’t fall firmly in the Team Carry-on or Team Checked Luggage camps, consider the following reasons why you might choose a carry-on versus a checked bag on your next flight.

  • Airline Baggage Fees

If you’re looking to save money, carry-on bags are the better bet because most airlines allow you one free carry-on bag and one free personal item. At the same time, most airlines will charge a checked bag fee, typically starting at $30 for the first checked bag on a domestic flight, with prices increasing for additional bags.

On the flip side, you might be eligible for free checked bags if you have elite status on the airline you’re flying or have a co-branded airline credit card. Depending on your particular status, you might also get free bags for some or all of your travel companions. In addition, some premium seats, such as business or first class, come with one or two free checked bags.

  • Hassle-free travel

Both checking and carrying on your luggage can offer hassle-free travel, depending on which situations irk you more.

If you’re in a rush or hate waiting in lines or at the baggage carousel, you’ll want to carry your luggage. When you arrive at your departure airport, you won’t have to queue up to check your bag, and when you arrive at your final destination, you can walk right off the plane and out to transportation — without spending eons at the baggage carousel waiting for your suitcase to appear.

But, if you’d rather stroll through the airport unencumbered by a suitcase, check that bag. You’ll be able to navigate through the terminal, maneuver in small bathroom stalls or squeeze into an airport restaurant booth without the burden of a rollaboard. Carrying fewer items will also give you more space to stretch out once you’re on board the airplane.

  • Risk of Loss or Damage

Lost luggage is a major buzzkill on any trip. If you want to avoid lost luggage at all costs, you’ll want to carry a bag. Once your suitcase is out of your possession, it’s out of your control whether you see it again … or not. Suitcases, car seats and sports and music equipment can get rough-handled and damaged on their way to and from the airline’s hold. Aim for carry-ons, when possible, if you’re worried about the airline damaging your luggage.

  • What you need to pack

You can’t carry on a large suitcase even if you want to, so sometimes the amount of stuff you plan to take on a trip makes the carry-on versus checked bag decision for you. If you’re going on a two-day business trip, for example, it’s unlikely you’ll need more than a small rollaboard and a laptop bag. Checking a bag would seem like overkill.

However, if you’re going on a two-week expedition to Antarctica and need a bunch of warm-weather gear, you might find it impossible to fit everything you need in a carry-on. Checking a bag might be inevitable.