Carry-On Vs. Checked Baggage: The Pros and Cons

In the world of Miles & Points, the concept of baggage control is almost sacrilegious. Basically, when someone checks a bag and something goes wrong, they’re told, “Well, that was a rookie mistake, you should never check a bag.”

In this post, I wanted to discuss the pros and cons of carry-on versus checked baggage and share my (controversial) opinion on why checking baggage isn’t always terrible.

The advantages of traveling with hand luggage

What are the advantages of traveling with hand luggage only?

  • You don’t have to get to the airport that early as you can usually skip the check-in counter
  • There is less risk of your luggage being delayed or lost, especially on irregular flights
  • No need to wait at baggage claim
  • You may save on checked bag fees (although it really matters — many people get checked bags for free, and some ultra-low-cost airlines have checked bags cheaper than carry-on bags).
There are advantages to traveling with hand luggage only

The benefits of traveling with checked baggage

What are the benefits of traveling with checked baggage?

  • You can take more stuff with you; It’s nice to be able to travel with multiple pairs of shoes, different clothes, etc.
  • You are not limited to consuming liquids in containers less than 100ml
  • You don’t have to worry about boarding early or that your luggage might be checked at the gate. When traveling outside of the United States, you’ll often find that airlines have a 15-pound carry-on weight limit, which is very restrictive
  • You don’t have to carry your bag that far and don’t have to keep an eye on it throughout the trip
Traveling with checked baggage has advantages

Hot Take: Checking bags isn’t that bad

I never checked bags before. When I lived in hotels full-time for a few years, I only had one carry-on bag. In recent years, however, I’ve come to terms with the concept of baggage screening. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely don’t always check bags, but I do it a lot more often than I used to, and I’m starting to not mind it anymore.

To be clear, I still don’t check luggage on most of my trips. However, when taking a longer trip, usually internationally, I have no qualms about checking a bag. So why isn’t the baggage check that bad?

  • While domestically I avoid checking bags with American Airlines at all costs, both Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines have a 20-minute bag guarantee, and I find that outside of the United States (particularly in Europe) bags are regularly even faster arrives
  • I really appreciate being able to check bags with larger liquids; For example, if you are traveling to a tropical destination, it is great to be able to carry good quality sunscreen, which can save you a lot of money and hassle compared to what you would be spending at your destination
  • It’s rare for your baggage to be delayed, but when it does happen, certain premium cards allow you to take advantage of delayed baggage credit card benefits and go on a little shopping spree
  • Airlines have much better baggage tracking technology than in the past, so you can usually see when your baggage was loaded, unloaded, etc, throughout the journey.
  • Statistically, the risk of bags actually getting lost is very low, and with technologies like AirTags, we have more security than ever
  • Generally, when I travel with only carry-on baggage, I technically exceed the limit outside of the United States since it’s so low (often 15 pounds); It’s easier not to worry that your bag might be rejected
  • There’s something nice and liberating about just walking through the airport with a backpack

Again, I’m not advocating always checking bags. I do everything I can to avoid checking baggage if I think it will take a long time to arrive or if I think there is a significant risk of operational problems (due to a complicated itinerary, bad weather, because airlines generally operate poorly, etc.).

But if I fly Alaska or Delta or travel on any airline where bags usually come out quickly, I’ve certainly warmed to the idea.

It is rare for problems to arise with checked baggage

bottom line

While many seasoned travelers swear by only traveling with carry-on luggage, I think that at least in certain situations, checked luggage should also be checked. If you’re traveling with an airline that delivers your luggage reliably and quickly, if you have credit card insurance for delayed or lost luggage, and if you value being able to travel with more luggage (including liquids), then it’s definitely worth it to check in your baggage .

That’s at least my two cents, but I know others will think differently…

How do you feel about carry-on baggage versus checked baggage? Do you swear by carry-on baggage, checked baggage or does it depend on the situation?

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