Airlines are as strict as ever when it comes to checked baggage size rules.  Not only are carry-on bags being scrutinized more, but each airline has their own checked baggage size rules & restrictions that travelers need to know about before packing a suitcase for a flight.  It’s not easy packing for a trip, but the last thing you want when you are heading out on vacation is to show up at the airport and be surprised with a hefty fee from the airline…or being forced to repack your bags at the ticket counter.

Major Airline Carry-On & Checked Baggage Sizes, Rules & Fees

Most major airlines are charging for any kind of checked bag nowadays, unless you have special benefits from their loyalty program.  Many travelers opt to pack a carry-on bag for a flight rather than checking a bag in order to save money.  However, sometimes there is still going to be a need to check a bag.

It’s a pain to keep track of all the different checked baggage size rules and fees. Not all airliners charge a fee for checked baggage (like Southwest Airlines), and others will let you check one bag for free.

Make sure to check your chosen airline’s checked bags guidelines.  To make it easier for you, we’ve compiled a quick reference list here for you to download.  Keep in mind that things can always change, but we’ve included direct links on the document for current information too. (click on the picture below to download the PDF)

Airline Baggage Rules & Restrictions PDF

Packing a Suitcase for Checked Luggage

If you have chosen to check a bag onto your flight, then there are a few things you should keep in mind so that you meet the checked baggage size, rules and restrictions.  Below we’ve outlined some of our most basic packing tips if you prefer packing a suitcase for checked luggage.

Traveling with a Backpack? Check out these tips on checking your backpack.

Airport 2

Creative Commons Airport” by oasis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Start Packing Early…Not the Night Before

It’s a bummer for those procrastinators out there, but you really should NEVER pack at the last minute.  Beginning the process of packing a suitcase well ahead of your trip can save you a lot of stress and fees later.  You need to have time to in case there is a need to make adjustments before you leave for the airport.

Related:  Check out our pre-departure International Travel Checklist

Pack as light as possible

Airlines make a lot of money on checked bag fees.  This includes overweight checked luggage charges!  So even though you have are likely bringing more items on your trip than you would if you were just bringing carry-on bags onto the flight, you should keep your checked luggage as light as possible.

There are several packing tips to help you pack light.  We recommend that you start the packing a suitcase by first laying everything out that you THINK you want to bring.  Then cut it in half (yes, you read that correctly)!  Move those items to the side and then begin to packing a suitcase.  If there is extra room, go ahead and put start prioritizing which of the other “half” will make the cut and add them to the bag.

Keep in mind your airline’s checked baggage size, rules and weight restrictions during this process (from our downloadable document mentioned above).  

Once your bag is packed, you should weight it.  This way you have time to make adjustments well before you get to the airport.  You can try to weight your bag the old fashioned way (a human scale – but it’s not very easy or the most accurate) or you can purchase a travel luggage scale.

Put a some identification information inside your checked luggage

Travel suitcases often look a lot a like, and it’s difficult to easily see which one is yours. You can purchase colorful luggage handles that can help identify your bags from all of the rest at baggage claim, or just tie some kind of colored ribbon to the bag so you can easily see it.

Also, luggage can get lost and it could be difficult to identify the owner.  In case your luggage tags fall off, a backup precaution is to to throw a business card or some other type of paper with basic contact information inside your checked luggage.

Packing your toiletry kit & other liquids

By checking your luggage you don’t have to adhere to strict restrictions on liquid amounts as those traveling with only carry-on luggage.  Of course, you still must follow the airline regulations about not carrying any dangerous chemicals or anything like that.  The main thing you will be concerned with when it comes to packing a suitcase for checked baggage is that your toiletry kit doesn’t leak.

You can always purchase special leak-proof travel toiletry containers, or you can seal items with plastic wrap and put them inside a plastic or zip lock bag.  This way if something bursts open during flight, it won’t ruin your clothes.

For those of you packing other large liquids, such as liquor and wine or olive oil (perhaps from a trip to Tuscany) then you really should consider purchasing special travel pouches that protect the bottles and seal in the event of leaks.  Liz used these before on a trip to Tuscany, and was ecstatic when she arrived home to find that a large bottle of olive oil and two bottles of Chianti arrived home in her checked bags from Italy perfectly safe!

Travel Tip:  Know the 3-1-1 TSA Liquids Rule for your Toiletry Kit

Use Packing Cubes

At first, we thought that packing cubes were an unnecessary expense.  But we have been proven wrong — we love our packing cubes!  It’s great to be able to keep our suitcase or travel backpack more organized, and packing cubes really help separate some items that you don’t want close together (like hiking boots and dress clothes).

Packing cubes also help you to get more items into your suitcase by compressing little pouches of items.  We’ve definitely seen a difference when using the packing cubes, and they make it so easy when getting in and out of the suitcase and not having things just roll around and become a mess.  So it’s really more efficient and keeps you from having to re-pack the suitcase over and over.

Roll your Clothes to Save Space

Rolling your clothes has been proven to save space when packing.  We’ve heard this over the years, but weren’t sure if it was true or not.  Recently we saw a video that proved it to us — and yes, it is true!  Even in packing cubes, you still save even more space by rolling your clothes.

**Watch this Video of how much space you can actually save by rolling your clothes

Bring some extra plastic bags or two

When you are packing your suitcase don’t forget to add a few plastic bags in there. You can just use some of the free supermarket plastic bags that you have laying around your house, or you can get some sealable zip lock bags too.

Plastic bags (especially zip lock) are really great for a variety of things, including dirty clothes, muddy shoes, wet bathing suits and so much more. Don’t leave home without them.

Travel Tip:  Shower caps that you get from hotels as amenities make a great shoe cover for your dress shoes as well as sneakers.

Do not pack what you will buy

If you are one of those people who love to shop, especially if you plan to buy wearable souvenirs, then cut back on the clothes you pack initially to save space in your bag.  You might as well plan to wear what you buy during the trip.  That way you will have more room to bring back fun things from your trip.

Read also What Makes the Best Travel Souvenirs?

Start Packing!

With these helpful tips, we hope that you will have a better experience packing for your next trip.  Happy travels!

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