Our number-one tip for beating checked bag fees is to skip packing altogether and wear all your clothes on the plane.
We’re kidding, of course (at least partly). But as anyone who has traveled recently understands, every airline has different size and weight requirements for carry-on bags and bags that must be checked.
But it’s getting more and more expensive to check luggage, and carry-on sizes change all the time. So how do you measure your luggage correctly to avoid surprises (and added expense) once you get to the airport?
We’ll tell you how.
Here’s a simple guide to how to measure luggage and save money by avoiding checked and overweight bag fees. As a bonus, we also gathered exclusive luggage-measuring hacks from travel gurus and luggage industry experts.
Philip Weiss, founder of Philipweiss.org, a travel blog focused on digital nomad lifestyle and culture, says when it comes to measuring carry-on luggage, weight matters just as much as size.
“Overweight luggage can cost you a lot of money,” he says, “and sometimes you have no choice but to cough up the extra $100 so you won’t miss the flight. Staying within the weight limit is one of the most important things to keep in mind.”
Like to shop while you’re on vacation? Weiss also has a travel hack to make sure your carry-on bag hasn’t gained too much weight while you’ve been away, costing you extra money in fees.
“Stop by a local pharmacy,” Weiss says, adding that most pharmacies in the world offer scales as a service, especially in developing countries. “In some places, they are outside the pharmacy or take a few coins to operate,” Weiss continues.
“It might look awkward,” he says, “but it’s by far the best way to quickly check the weight of your suitcase in foreign countries. If for whatever reason the pharmacy doesn’t have a scale in plain sight, you can ask for one.”
Or if you can manage it, bring your own scale. Chris and Christina from the travel blog Travelingaccountants.com swear by the Etekcity digital hanging luggage scale.
Simply wrap the strap around the suitcase handle, turn on the scale, and lift the suitcase, and the scale’s digital screen displays your bag’s weight within seconds, in either pounds or kilograms.
“We have tested the scale against the scales at the airport baggage check counters,” Chris and Christina tell RAVE Reviews, “and the portable scale proves to be accurate to within a pound.” And at only a few inches long, the scale won’t add too much extra weight to your luggage.
Bill Angelos, owner of the travel blog The-Expat.com, also uses the Etekcity digital scale. “This has been a huge lifesaver, because I love to buy so many gifts for friends and family when I travel,” Angelos says.
But in the modern world, do we really need to be relying on old-fashioned scales, or even digital scales, to weigh our luggage? Is there an app for that?
The answer is yes, according to Anita Loomba, marketing director App in the Air, a travel app that helps manage itineraries, boarding passes, and frequent-flier programs, among other functions—one of which is a luggage-measuring tool.
“Our app offers many features,” Loomba says, “but relevant here is our luggage scanning feature, which uses AR technology to ensure all personal, cabin, and drop-off luggage is within the size requirements.”
The Kayak app also features a bag measurement tool. By simply moving your phone’s camera over your bag, the app captures the size of the suitcase. It then does the math for you, showing you the exact size of your suitcase.
“What’s really cool,” says Asen Stoyanchev, travel blogger for Gearuphiking.com, “is that it will alert you with the bag’s exact measurement, so you know whether you should bring it as a carry-on or [if] you’ll need to check it.”
Or perhaps the best way to beat checked bag size restrictions is to simply ship your luggage through a service like LugLess.
“LugLess is a replacement to checked baggage fees,” says Brian Altomare, director of business development for the service.
“We ship luggage as low as $15 a bag in the US for travelers looking to ditch measuring and lugging and ship ahead of time,” he says.
But if you’re looking to keep your luggage with you on the plane (or at least find it on the baggage carousel after your flight), here’s how to measure luggage and save on checked bag fees.
Luggage Measurement Methodology
To create this easy-to-use guide to measuring your luggage and also tips and tricks to cut checked and overweight luggage fees, we consulted with travel experts, bloggers, luggage professionals and more. We asked them about the following:
- How to find luggage size and weight requirements from individual airlines
- Tips for packing to keep baggage weight to a minimum
- Apps and scales to weigh and measure your luggage
- Traditional tools and techniques to measure your luggage
Here’s what we found out.
Besides measuring the linear inches, weight, height, width, and depth of your luggage, the process of accurately weighing and measuring luggage begins with buying the right bag. Before you even choose a bag, and especially before you begin packing, check your airline’s bag requirements.
Airline Bag Requirements
Generally speaking, airlines cap carry-on bag sizing at 45 linear inches, and checked bags max out at 62 linear inches (we’ll tell you how to figure out linear inches a little bit later on).
For international travel, expect carry-on restrictions ranging anywhere from eight to 35 pounds, with checked bag restrictions starting at 50 pounds. Fees for overweight luggage range a lot as well, with some starting at about $50 while others go as high as $200 per bag.
But again, these are only estimates, so it’s always best to check in with the specific airline you’ll be flying to find out what size luggage for carry on they allow. Airline bag requirements can be found on the airline’s website, often under frequently asked questions.
Checking the carry-on bag rules first helps prevent any surprises once you get to the airport. It’s also important to check this every time you fly, even if you’ve flown with the airline before, as airline bag requirements change frequently.
Also, don’t just trust the measurements on the luggage retailer’s website. Although a lot of luggage retailers claim their bags are “carry-on compliant,” listing measurements that fit with most airlines’ carry-on size requirements, that isn’t always the case.
Always measure the bag on your own before you pack it and take it to the airport.
Choosing Your Luggage
Beating checked and overweight luggage fees begins as early as choosing which luggage to buy. Here are some pointers to help you choose bags that will easily comply with airline checked luggage restrictions:
While airlines list carry-on restrictions in linear inches, suitcase manufacturers just list the height and the length, while some online retailers also supply width and depth to help you estimate the linear inches. Make sure you can see all the dimensions of a bag before you buy it.
Don’t Forget About Extensions
if your bag comes with extra zippered extensions or compartments to stash extra stuff you acquire while you’re on the road, that’s going to count in your size and weight measurements.
Consider What Your Bag is Made Of
Luggage is made of materials from nylon to leather to hard plastic, and what your bag is made of will affect its weight. The frame will also add some weight. If you tend to pack heavily, go for luggage made from lighter materials.
Packing Your Bags
When you’re ready to pack, there are a lot of packing tips and tricks to save weight and space in your luggage. One hack comes from Kristi Mason, lifestyle and travel influencer with Kristimason.com.
Pack jeans in your carry-on bag, she says, adding, “Denim items weigh the most and packing that in your carry-on can save weight in your checked luggage.”
Next, rather than packing multiple outfits, Masons recommends packing articles of clothing that are easy to mix and match.
“Bring the basics like a white shirt, black tank and jacket,” she says. That way, you can start the day as a business professional in a blazer, then change your jacket to head to a concert, she continues.
“Have items that [are] multi-purpose so it cuts down on weight,” she says.
It’s important to measure your bag again once you’ve packed. Many suitcases come with extra expandable compartments that, if used, will change the dimensions of your luggage. Don’t forget to also weigh your bag.
Measuring Your Luggage
Once you’ve checked your airline’s checked-bag size restrictions and packed your bag, it’s time to measure. Again, it’s important to measure after you’ve packed to account for any changes in the dimensions if you’ve used any expandable compartments of your luggage while packing.
Airlines usually provide a linear inch or centimeter measurement. Your bag must measure less than this total amount to be allowed as checked luggage. Here’s how to figure out the size of your bag in linear inches or centimeters:
- Height: measure from the wheels to the top of the handle. Any measuring tape will do, or you can use a measuring app on your phone. Hack: if you’re traveling with a duffle bag, simply stand it on end to measure the height. There’s no need to measure retractable handles, or really any part of your bag that won’t stick out or affect the size, shape, and weight of your bag.
- Depth: measure from the back of your suitcase—meaning the part where you laid your clothes while you were packing—to the front, including all extra pockets and compartments.
- Width: first, position the luggage so that it faces you straight on. Then, simply measure across the front of your bag. Don’t miss any additional handles that may change the width of your luggage.
- Weight: remember to weigh your bag after it is packed.
Do you include wheels when measuring luggage? Some luggage manufacturers say there’s no need, but we disagree. Always include the wheels when calculating the linear measurement of your suitcase.
But how do you convert these measurements into linear inches or centimeters? Simple. To convert your bag’s height, depth, and width into linear inches or centimeters, simply add up all your measurements.
If you’re left with inches when it’s centimeters that you need, that’s also an easy fix. To convert from inches to centimeters, simply multiply your total by 2.54.
On Your Way to the Airport
Luggage measurements aren’t just for the plane. Most people hail a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft to get to the airport. How do you know your bags will fit in the vehicle? An app called Up Hail is here to help solve this problem.
If you’re concerned about hailing a sedan only to find out your bags won’t fit and you really needed an SUV, the Up Hail website lists the carrying capacity of each kind of car, based on a standard suitcase.
The app also has a handy measuring function for the iPhone SE and newer. “Simply point the camera at a point on an object,” Up Hail Vice President of Marketing Alex Miller tells RAVE Reviews, “such as the corner of the suitcase,” he continues, “and pan the camera to the other end. A virtual line will be drawn. Through augmented reality, the exact dimensions will be displayed on the screen,” Miller says.
There you have it: everything you need to know about how to measure luggage. With these simple tips, tricks, and apps, you’ll save money on checked baggage fees and never have to deal with gate-checking your carry-on. Safe travels!