Carry-On vs. Checked Bag: How to Decide Which Is Best For Your Trip

See the pros and cons of carry-on vs checked bags, as well as options for hybrid or convertible luggage for easier travel.

Whether you travel by air, rail, bus, car or bicycle, the type of luggage you carry affects not only how much you can bring with you, but also how easily you can get around once you arrive.

When you travel by air, you need to carefully consider the benefits of a carry on luggage vs. checked in luggage and explore all of your options for the best travel experience.

What Is a Carry-On vs. a Checked Bag?

 carry on vs checked bag

When arriving at the airport, you will need to decide if you will be using a carry-on vs. checked bag.

If your luggage is larger than 22″ long or wider than 14″, most airlines will require you to check your bag. If checking your bag, you will need to wait in line when you arrive so you can hand your luggage over to airline staff.

Depending on the route and the airline, you will probably pay from $30 to $50 to check luggage. Your luggage will then be handled by airport staff and stored beneath the plane. Once your flight is over, you will need to walk to the baggage claim area and wait for your luggage to come out on the conveyor belt.

For this reason, it is typically preferable to carry-on your luggage because you can avoid waiting in multiple lines and paying extra baggage fees. You also get to maintain control of your luggage, so you can make sure it doesn’t get lost by the airline or damaged by the staff while they are loading and unloading your bag from the plane. The main upside to checking your luggage is that you can bring larger luggage if needed, and you can also transport more liquids. Below are the pros and cons of carry-on vs. checked bags.

Pros: Carry-On Bag

Below are the main advantages of carry-on luggage:

  • Luggage Safety – Carry-on luggage is essential for a trip involving air travel unless you’re planning to sleep or watch in-flight movies during the flight and you don’t bring anything you’d be upset about damaging or losing. A carry-on is lightweight, flexible, versatile, easy to carry around and can be stored underneath the seat or in an overhead bin. You can be sure that your bag is carefully handled and remains with you all the time, so a carry-on is a great place to keep anything fragile, irreplaceable or costly.
  • Accessibility – For easy access, computers, tablets, phones and other electronics that need to be inspected by security should be kept in a carry-on. You’ll probably want to use these during the flight, along with books, snacks and other personal things that won’t be available if they’re in a checked bag in the cargo hold.
  • Less X-Ray Exposure – Though it’s no longer such an issue with the advent of digital cameras and video, anything that’s sensitive to x-rays, such as photographic film, should also be kept in your carry-on to reduce the amount of exposure it will get when it goes through the security process. Unless you have it hand-inspected, carry-on luggage still passes through an x-ray scanner but may not receive the higher exposure that checked baggage does.
  • No Baggage Lines and Fewer Fees – If you can pack everything into carry-on bags and travel with no checked luggage at all, you’ll breeze through the airport when you arrive and depart. Everyone else will be waiting in line to drop off and pick up their checked bags, and all of those people will be paying luggage fees. The convenience of traveling with only carry-on baggage is a rare luxury for most.
  • Versatility – Carry-on bags make travel easier wherever luggage space or bulk is a concern, including journeys by train, bus, taxi, boat or bicycle. With lightweight bags you can sling over your shoulder or easily carry in your hand, you’re always ready to go wherever your desire takes you. Some types of bags also include wheels and extendable handles for mobility on the ground.

>>READ MORE: Top 5 Essential Items to Keep in Your Carry-On Luggage

Cons: Carry-On Bag

While there are many advantages to carrying on your luggage, there are a few downsides:

  • Limited Space – While the typical carry-on bag provides the most freedom and flexibility for travelers, these bags offers minimal storage space because they must fit in an overhead compartment or under a plane seat. On a crowded flight, you may have to compete with other passengers for the overhead space or store your bag in a bin that’s out of sight from your seat.
  • Additional Effort to Transport –  When checking your luggage, you can pass it off to airport staff upon arrival. They will handle it from there, so you don’t need to lug it through the airport or lift it up into the overhead storage bin.

What Are Checked Bags?

checked luggage

Checked luggage is luggage that is given to airline staff when you first arrive. They will label your luggage and transport it to be stored beneath the plane. Once you arrive, airport staff will gather your luggage and send it inside to the conveyor belts in the baggage claim area. Most airlines have fees to check a bag.

Pros: Checked Bags

Below are the main advantages of checking your bag:

  • Space – Larger bags designed to be used as checked luggage provide a sturdier alternative to carry-ons. Most larger bags have a strong construction that won’t easily cave in when stacked, jostled or wedged into tight spaces. Airlines allow you to check much larger bags than you would be able to take as a carry-on, so you can bring a lot more on your trip, including plenty of clothing.
  • Easy Movement – Many types of checked bags include wheels and extendable handles, so the bags are easy to move quickly through an airport and other places with flat surfaces to roll on.
  • Protection – If you’re traveling with a lot of specialized equipment, rugged or hardened cases with lots of protective padding can be checked for your journey. This level of protection is generally too bulky to fit within the confines of any carry-on bag.

Cons: Checked Bags

Below are the main disadvantages of checking your bag:

  • Damage – Checked luggage is turned over to airline staff, and they are responsible for transporting it on and off the plane. During this process, your luggage is stacked with other passengers’ luggage and often takes a beating. Fragile or breakable items need to be packed with care, and hard-sided luggage is often needed to withstand the checked luggage process.
  • Loss – Your checked luggage is also at risk of being misplaced or lost in the process of being delivered to your destination by a different flight (or flights if you have multiple connections) than the one you’re on. Assuming your luggage does travel with you on the same plane, you still have to wait a long time for it to appear on the carousel once you arrive.
  • Fees and Lines – You need to spend extra time waiting in line to check the luggage in at the airport before your flight departs. Also, fees for each piece of checked luggage have been climbing higher and higher, significantly increasing the cost of your trip. The cheapest budget airlines often try to make up for their low prices by charging high fees for any checked luggage.

These advantages and disadvantages can help someone decide from a carry-on vs. checked bags.

The Best of Both Worlds — Convertible Bags

hypath travel carry on bag osprey ozone convertible luggage eagle creek morphus bag

In most cases, a carry-on is preferable. The main reason for checking a bag is if you need to bring more luggage than is allowed by the carry-on space limitations. For this reason, hybrid or convertible luggage can be a nice compromise to maximize carry-on space while still being able to bring everything you need.

Convertible Luggage Features

2-in-1 Designs – Convertible luggage typically comes with two separate luggage pieces that can be attached or detached. Certain airlines may charge fees on a per-bag basis, so attaching two bags together so they count as one bag can avoid this. In addition, you can put one piece in the overhead storage bin and the other beneath your seat. This way, between the two bags, you can still carry a similar amount of luggage as you could with a larger checked bag.

For example, Hypath Travel offers a 2-in-1 design that provides maximum storage capacity while still avoiding the need to check bags. The Hypath Travel bag is two bags in one: a smaller backpack that fits under a standard airline seat and a larger bag with wheels that fits in a standard overhead bin.

The two bags can be attached with a heavy-duty zipper and buckle straps in a variety of configurations. The bags can also be stacked or carried separately. They can be worn and used as one large backpack (saving money on per-bag storage fees), rolled like a checked bag or carried by multiple handles like a duffle bag.

You can also wear the large backpack your back and the small bag on your front at the same time. Sometimes, having a duffel bag can come handy as well.

Even when the bags are stacked, the design helps prevent them from tipping over. The Hypath system gives you the volume to bring a large number of items on your trip while still only having carry-on luggage.

Maximizing Space and Versatility With Convertible Luggage

backpack carry on luggage checked bag

Convertible luggage can provide the space of a checked bag with the versatility of a smaller carry-on. Like a standard carry-on, the smaller, lightweight backpacks can fit under your seat and can hold enough for a day trip. The larger bags can fit in the maximum allowed space of an overhead compartment (22 x 14 x 9 inches) and can hold enough of your belongings for a more extended trip.

With the option of having two bags in one, convertible luggage can give you the maximum amount of mobility while also giving you the maximum amount of space.

With two versatile carry-on bags, you’ll enjoy easy mobility while avoiding the risks of damage by baggage handlers and security personnel so common to checked luggage. Your bags will remain near you on the same plane throughout your trip so that you can safeguard any fragile, expensive or irreplaceable items and electronics. Everything you bring on your trip will be accessible to you during your flight.

Perhaps the most enjoyable benefit of all is that without checked baggage, you’ll be able to breeze quickly through the airport, avoiding long waits for luggage drop off and pick up and avoiding the rising fees that airlines are charging for stowing your bags in the cargo hold.