Which is the Best Carry-on Bag for You? Wheels or No Wheels

First things first. Always use a carry-on. Here’s why:

How to pack a carry-on in 3 easy steps

Use a Carry-on Because —

  • You’ll save money: On most airlines, there is no fee for a carry-on for free (exceptions include Allegiant, Frontier and Spirt). By using a carry-on, you generally save a $50 round-trip fee.
  • You’ll save time: Don’t get stuck at the baggage carousel. Get off the plane and go.
  • You’ll save valuables: A carry-on is a bag that can’t get lost. Sure, fewer bags are lost all the time but why take a chance?

What to do when checked-bags are lost or damaged

Which Carry-on is Better – Wheels or No Wheels

Only you can make this decision. Personally, I like a bag with wheels. You may not. Here are the differences spelled out.

Bags with Wheels

Wheelies can be bigger than the no-wheels variety but all bags must follow airline size allowances (typically 22″ long x 14″ wide x 9″ tall on U.S. carriers but it varies); otherwise, the bag could get taken from you and put into cargo. Here are the advantages:

  • Cheap: As noted, you’ll save the checked-bag fee on most airlines.
  • Muscle-friendly: It can save you a pain in the neck – or back or arms.
  • More packing room: The fairly sizable footprint of many wheeled bags means you can pack more and clothes (or so I find) and they emerge with fewer wrinkles.
  • Maneuverability: Great for sprinting through the airport, especially bags with spinner-type wheels.

Bags without Wheels

This can be anything from a backpack to a squashy duffle or gym bag to a designer bag with shoulder straps (Brooks Brothers has an extravagant one for $15,000). Here are the advantages:

  • Avoid all fees: Even airlines that charge for carry-ons usually allow a small bag for free if it fits under the seat in front of you. Squishy no-wheels bags can often do this.
  • Bag stays with you: When bin space fills up, airlines sometimes stop passengers from bringing carry-ons on planes if they’re too big (and sometimes if they’re not). This is probably something you don’t have to worry about with a no-wheels bag.
  • Bathroom-friendly: Some find no-wheels bags are actually easier to maneuver into tight spaces like a restroom stall. [Editor’s note: True!]

See more on this in Rick Seaney’s latest column for ABC News. See all his columns here.


Published: August 11, 2014