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Should You Check Your Bags or Carry On?

AuthorThe AirHelper

To check your bags or to carry on, which is better? As far as much of the travel community is concerned, this isn’t really a debate at all. You have to pay a fee to check bags and (most of the time) you don’t have to pay a fee to carry on. Case closed, right?

Maybe not.

As more and more people are carrying on their bags to avoid checked bag fees, more and more gate attendants are asking them to voluntarily check their bags instead. And for those who don’t voluntarily check their bags, trying to get them in a bin that’s actually over their seat is practically becoming a contact sport.

So the question really comes down to this: what’s your top priority when traveling? Comfort, time, or money? This could end up being your deciding factor in the check versus carry on debate.

Learning How to Determine Your Top Travel Priorities

There seems to be a lot of right and wrong answers when it comes to travel best practices. But in reality, everyone’s going to have different priorities for their travel experiences:

One person may think it’s worth paying for first class while another will book on the cheapest airline they can find. One person might pack as light as possible to avoid being burdened with weight while another might want to have comforts from home with them on their travels.

If you want to have the best (and most efficient) travel experience possible, you should think about what your top priorities are. If you don’t, you might end up paying to get them later – and anything you pay for while traveling is likely to be more expensive (especially on a plane). Taking a few minutes to decide your priorities before you go can save you a ton of time and money later.

So what priorities do most of us have to consider? Usually it comes down to a preference for saving time, saving money, or maximizing comfort. Which one do you fall under?

If you’re not sure, consider your past travel habits. If you find yourself paying extra on the plane for a blanket or purchasing one of those $8 in-flight movies, then you’re definitely on the comfort side of things. If you’ll do anything to make sure you’re the first one through security and the first off the plane, saving time is your game. And if you’re willing to suffer through long layovers and budget airlines, then saving money is your top priority.

It’s easy to say that all of these things are important to you, but everyone ends up leaning one way or another. Think of what you’re most likely to do in the most annoying air travel situations and that will give you the answer you’re looking for.

So, What’s Better? To Check your bags or Carry On?

It depends! I used to always carry on my bags – not to avoid fees but to get out of the airport faster and to prevent losing my luggage. But now that I’ve become a frequent traveler, I’m becoming more frustrated with lugging all of my stuff on the plane. Plus, I’ve noticed that it’s nearly impossible to get my bags into the overhead bin above or near my seat unless I pay for priority boarding. If I do have to put my bags in the back of the plane, it ends up taking just as long to get off the plane as it would have taken me to wait at baggage claim. (There’s nothing like swimming upstream for your luggage when everyone else is desperate to get off the plane!)

Therefore the convenience I was optimizing for has been called into question and I’m finding myself leaning more towards checking my bags.

As if losing the convenience isn’t bad enough, I’m wondering how much longer carrying on luggage will amount to less fees. Simply put, most planes can’t accommodate for everyone’s luggage in the cabin. So airlines will continue looking for ways to discourage travelers from carrying on. I smell some new fees coming on….

No room for overhead storage on this flight!

When it comes to choosing whether to check your bags or carry on, don’t feel like you have to come up with a perfect answer for all of your travels. Instead, just decide what makes the most sense for your next trip. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do you need extra room for souvenirs? Are you willing to ship them or do you want to have them on you on your way back?

Are you able to pack light for this trip? Or are the activities varied enough that you need more?

Do you like to have more with you when you travel? Or does the idea of carrying less make you feel freer?

If you attempt to pack light, will you end up spending more money acquiring what you need on the trip? Or can you pack light and still have all you need?

Do you prefer to spend the money for the convenience of packing light? Or will that bother you?

Are you okay with carrying all of your bags on the plane versus dropping them off at check-in?

The Answer Isn’t As Simple As It Used to Be…

The whole idea of carrying on your luggage to save money may be going by the wayside as airlines encourage travelers to check instead. And if you pay for priority boarding so you can get on the plane early enough to keep your bags close, then you’ve just exchanged one fee for another. For a quick analysis, consider this:

If you really want to save money, then you should carry on your bags. (Just make sure you check your airline’s policy to ensure they don’t charge a fee for this.)

If you really want to save time, then you should pay for priority boarding and carry on your bags.

If you really want to maximize comfort, then you should check your bags but make sure your carry on has all the conveniences you want for the flight.

Image Credit: Strange Luke, Garry Knight, Sivi Steys

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