6 Things to Know about Luggage: Right Bags vs. Wrong Bags

Take a good look at your traveling bag (carry-on or suitcase) before you plan your next flight and see if you've got the right or wrong luggage. There are important differences and sometimes the wrong luggage will cost you money. Here are six things you should know.

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1. Right Bag: Portable

By portable, I mean a small bag that can be hand-carried onto a plane. A carry-on will save you money in bag fees, which run about $50 round-trip on most airlines. More than that, a carry-on will save you valuable time in two ways:

  • Quick and easy airport entrances and exits
  • No time wasted at the baggage carousel

Note: Free checked-bags are still offered by JetBlue and Southwest, while Allegiant and Spirit charge for all bags including carry-ons.

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2. Wrong Bag: Solid Black

Most of us buy basic black and there are two problems with that – they're hard to identify at the carousel and that makes them easy prey for thieves. You know the drill: big bold colorful baggage tags or tape or ribbons – anything that says, "I'm yours and no one else's." And next time you shop for a bag, consider 2012's color-of-the-year: tangerine.

3. Right Bag: Approved Size and Weight

Airlines have baggage allowance limits for both carry-ons and large suitcases.

Big bags: Most airlines limit checked-bags to 50 pounds before the steep overweight fees kick in. Spirit allows just 40 pounds. Choose a bag based at least in part on weight, especially if you tend to overfill your bags. Luggage pros suggest materials like aluminum, polycarbonate, carbon fiber and of course, lightweight fabrics.

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Small bags: Airlines limit the size of carry-ons, too. Most U.S. carriers allow from about 45 inches, which is the total you get by adding the number of inches in a bag's height plus length plus width (and you must include the wheels in your measurements). Discount airlines often restrict you to smaller bags especially in Europe. Check with your airline before you even think of packing.

Note: Even if your carry-on does meet the required size, you may still have to check it if there's been a last-minute plane swap – the overhead bins on smaller regional jets don't hold much.

4. Wrong Bag: Non-Flexible

A small, squashable bag such as a duffel or a gym bag will fit under the seat in front of you, which can be handy if you are among the last to board and the overhead bins are filled (and if you don't mind a little less room for your feet).

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5. Right Bag: Easily Stowed

According to flight attendants, wheeled carry-ons with should go into bins wheels out, that is, with the wheels facing you. In most cases, it'll mean more room for everyone. Also, don't expect help from the flight attendant when it comes to hoisting your bag, as it is not part of their job description.

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6. Wrong Bag: Contains Valuables

Don't pack anything expensive or of sentimental value. Many airlines ban valuables in checked-bags so any losses will not be covered. Carry valuables on your person or leave them at home.

More from Rick Seaney:

Picking the Right Travel Bag

Rick Seaney
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