In the miles & points world, the concept of checking a bag is almost sacrilege. If someone checks a bag and something goes wrong, they’re basically 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-ons vs. checked bags, and share my (controversial) take on why checking bags isn’t always terrible.
In this post:
The pros of traveling with carry-ons
What are the benefits of traveling exclusively with carry-ons?
- You don’t have to arrive at the airport as early, since you can typically skip the check-in counter
- There’s less risk of your luggage being delayed or lost, especially in the case of irregular operations
- You don’t have to wait at baggage claim
- You potentially save on checked bag fees (though it really depends — many people get free checked bags, and on some ultra low cost carriers checked bags are less expensive than carry-ons)
The pros of traveling with checked bags
What are the benefits of traveling with a checked bag?
- You can take more stuff with you; it’s nice to be able to travel with multiple pairs of shoes, different type of clothing, etc.
- You’re not restricted to just taking liquids in containers of under 100ml
- You don’t have to worry about boarding early, or about your bag possibly being gate checked; if you’re traveling outside the United States, you’ll often find that airlines have a weight limit of 15lbs for carry-ons, which is highly restrictive
- You don’t have to carry your bag as far, and don’t have to keep an eye on it throughout your journey
Hot take: checking bags isn’t that bad
Back in the day I’d never check bags. When I lived in hotels full-time for a couple of years, I just had a carry-on bag. However, over the past few years, I’ve warmed up to the concept of checking bags. 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’ve kind of started to not mind it.
To be clear, I still don’t check bags on a majority of my trips. However, if I’m taking a longer trip, typically internationally, I have no qualms checking a bag. So, why is checking bags not that bad?
- While I avoid checking bags with American Airlines domestically at almost all costs, both Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines have a 20-minute baggage guarantee, and I find that outside the United States (especially in Europe), bags regularly arrive even faster than that
- I really appreciate being able to check bags with larger liquids; for example, if traveling to a tropical destination, it’s great to be able to bring quality sunscreen with you, which can save you significant money and hassle compared to what you’d spend acquiring this at your destination
- Having your bags delayed is rare, but if it happens, you can take advantage of the credit card delayed baggage benefits with certain premium cards, and can go on a bit of a shopping spree
- Airlines have much better baggage tracking technology than in the past, so you can typically see throughout your journey when your bag was loaded and offloaded, etc.
- Statistically the risk of bags actually being lost is very small, and with technology like AirTags, we have even more assurance than ever before
- If I’m traveling only with carry-ons, I’m generally technically exceeding the limit outside the United States, since it’s so low (often 15lbs); it’s easier to just not worry about your bag possibly being rejected
- It’s kind of nice and liberating to just walk through the airport with a backpack
Again, I’m not advocating for always checking bags. I do everything I can to avoid checking bags if I think they’ll take a long time to arrive, or if I think there’s a significant risk of operational issues (due to a complicated itinerary, bad weather, because airlines are generally operating poorly, etc.).
But if I’m flying Alaska or Delta, or if I’m traveling with an airline where bags typically come out quickly, I’ve certainly warmed up to the idea.
While many experienced travelers swear by only traveling with carry-ons, I think there’s a case to be made for checking bags as well, at least in specific situations. If you’re traveling with an airline that reliably delivers bags quickly, if you have credit card insurance for delayed or lost bags, and if you value being able to travel with more stuff (including liquids), then there’s most definitely merit to checking bags.
At least that’s my two cents, but I know others will feel differently…
Where do you stand on carry-ons vs. checked bags? Do you swear by carry-ons, by checked bags, or does it depend on the situation?