How to pack the perfect cabin bag and avoid airport charges
No one likes to be stung by excess baggage fees at the airport, so we’ve put together our guide on how to pack your cabin bags and save money and space when travelling.
If you’re travelling for a business trip, a short weekend, or just don’t want to pay extra for holdall luggage, you’ll usually be bringing a cabin bag. But, with every airline seemingly having different weight and size allowances, cabin bag restrictions can cause unwanted stress.
And, if you fail to stick to their unbending baggage rules, you risk getting charged a hefty sum before your trip away has even begun. So how do we lower this stress and stop oversized cabin bags from putting your holiday spending money at risk? Knowledge.
As the old saying goes, knowledge is power, so understanding different airline sizes and weight restrictions can help prepare you for your next trip away. That’s why The Recommended has created this handy guide to cabin bags.
Here we explain how to pack cabin bags, different airline restrictions, the charges you might face, and how to overcome airport stress. By the end of the guide, no stone will be left unturned in the search for a stress-free, charge-free cabin bag experience.
How to pack your cabin bag: six tips to save space
You’ve got your trip booked, you’ve chosen to only bring a cabin bag rather than a full-sized suitcase, and now you’re wondering if you can fit everything into the limited dimensions your airline restricts you to. If you want to avoid the risk of being charged extra or the embarrassment of having to rearrange your cabin bag in front of fellow passengers, then saving space is key.
There are lots of crafty ways you can make the most out of your available space and fit more items into your bag than you first thought. We’ve drafted some helpful tips to assist you in doing this. If you’re unsure what your airline cabin bag restrictions will be and what size you need to keep your bag, then check out our cabin bag size guide section before you travel.
1. Make a packing list
Saving space inside your cabin bag starts with preparation. Before you start looking at how to save space, you should make a packing list of all the items you need to pack. Once this list is done, scan it and take off anything that isn't necessary - remember, saving space is key here.
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2. Roll your clothes
Rolling your clothes is a good method for saving space in your bag as it compresses your clothes and makes them easier to stack and pack into smaller sections of your bag. For items like shirts and tops, you generally want to fold the body in half vertically, fold in the sleeves, and then roll tight. For items like pants and jeans, you will want to fold them in half and then roll them up. This technique also prevents creases.
3. Use packing cubes
Another way to save space in your bag is to use packing cubes. These small zip-closed cubes are designed to organise and compartmentalise clothes. Using packing cubes can help you squish clothes and items into certain parts of the bag and allow you to fit in your items tetris-style. Check out our guide to the best packing cubes to help with maximising your space.
4. Wear your bulky items
This is usually a technique for when you arrive at the airport and find that your cabin bag is too big, so have to take drastic measures to reduce it. However, if you start off by wearing your bulky items, you can lower your bag size and open up space for more items to fit in your luggage. For example, wearing your big coat, boots, jeans, or even double-layer t-shirts and jumpers will save some extra space in your cabin bag.
5. Consider a compression bag
If you do need to pack bulky items and are already starting to look like a human coathanger, consider using a compression bag. They allow you to squeeze the air out of a load of clothes and then trap them in a vacuum before placing them in your bag. Air takes up a lot of space in bags, so removing this will open up space for more items to be slotted in.
6. Use every inch of space and avoid overpacking
It might seem super obvious, but really try to use every inch of space in your bag. For example, think about putting your socks and underwear inside your shoes to maximise your load. Also, only pack what you really need, and don't pack items ‘just in case’ - remember to stick to your earlier made packing list.
How to pack your cabin bag to reduce weight
Cabin bags typically have a high weight limit in relation to their size restrictions, but if you’ve followed our tips for saving space, you might find that once you've packed you're back, you could be struggling to keep within the weight restriction – this is one of the main reasons it's a good idea to invest in a luggage scale.
To help you keep within the weight limits, we’ve again got some tips for reducing your cabin bag weight.
Choose a lightweight cabin bag
One way to reduce weight is by using a lightweight cabin bag. Materials such as nylon or polyester are typically light and can be good for cabin bag travel. We have a section below on the five best cabin bags, and the Aerolite Lightweight Suitcase is one of the best for lightweight travel. Duffell bags are also a good lightweight option if you don’t mind carrying your cabin bag instead of wheeling it.
Use a luggage scale
Again, back to the age-old saying, knowledge is power. Knowing how much your bag weighs can be really useful in helping you balance out your bag in relation to the airline's limits. You can vary your load, unpack, and also fill up your bag so it meets the weight restrictions. It can also help reduce the stress of wondering whether your bad is going to exceed luggage limits. Check out our guide to the best luggage scales for more information.
Pack light clothing
If you want to save even more weight, then packing lightweight clothing can drastically reduce cabin bag weight. It might be a little harder if you’re off to a cooler destination, but clothing made from material like cotton or linen is typically light. Materials to avoid include heavy fabrics such as denim or wool.
Choose travel-sized toiletries
Using smaller toiletries will help reduce the weight of cabin bags, as liquids are heavy. By bringing along smaller bottles, the weight differences will add up. If you wanted to save even more weight, you could opt to buy your toiletries at your destination.
Cabin bag size guide: Ryanair, Easyjet, Wizz Air, TUI, Jet2 and British Airways luggage restrictions
There isn’t any point in trying to adapt your cabin bag’s weight or size if you don’t know what your restrictions are. Knowing these could be the difference between bringing your favourite shoes, perfume, or books away with you.
When it comes to most low-cost, short-haul carriers, they usually allow one small ‘personal’ bag on board for free - this is often a backpack-style bag. An additional fee will then have to be paid for a cabin bag that can be stored in overhead lockers. If you don’t pay for a larger cabin bag and your bag is over the restrictions of the free bag, then you will be charged - this is usually higher than the original fee for bringing a larger bag, so is more like paying a fine.
How strict airlines are when enforcing their baggage allowance rules is unpredictable. While you might get away with taking a slightly larger bag on board than an airline’s baggage policy allows, there is never any guarantee that you will not be charged additional fees at the boarding gate for doing so.
We’ve listed some of the main airlines flying out of the UK and what their restrictions are. If you can’t see the airline you’re travelling with, then their cabin bag restrictions can usually be found on their website.
- Ryanair’s bag policy states that each customer can take on board one small personal bag – included in their ticket price – so long as it is no bigger than 40 x 20 x 25cm. You can purchase an additional 10kg cabin bag to take on board and store in the overhead lockers. This must be no bigger than 55 x 40 x 20cm and can weigh a maximum of 10kg.
- Easyjet’s cabin bag policy allows all customers to bring on board one small cabin bag free of charge that must be no bigger than 45 x 36 x 20cm. This bag must also fit underneath the seat in front and weigh no more than 15kg. Customers can choose to purchase an additional large cabin bag no bigger than 56 x 45 x 26 cm. It must fit in an overhead locker and weigh no more than 15kg. An additional perk of purchasing a large cabin bag is that it includes a speedy boarding pass.
- Wizz Air’s baggage policy states that passengers can take on board one carry-on bag free of charge that weighs no more than 10kg. The bag must fit underneath the seat in front and be no bigger than 40 x 30 x 20cm. An additional bag can be brought on board, subject to extra charges. This must also weigh no more than 10kg and be no bigger than 50 x 40 x 23 cm.
The following airlines allow one large cabin bag on board free of charge. Be mindful that large cabin bags may sometimes be put on hold on busy flights, so ensure that you remove your essential travel documents, valuables, and other essentials if you are asked to do so.
- TUI allows passengers to take one piece of hand luggage on board that weighs no more than 10kg at no extra fee. The maximum dimensions must be no larger than 55 x 40 x 20 cm.
- Jet2 has a similar policy. Passengers can carry on board one piece of hand luggage for free, so long as it weighs no more than 10k and is no larger than 56 x 45 x 25cm. You are also allowed to bring one small personal item on board that must be able to fit underneath the seat in front of you.
- British Airways allows passengers to take on board two free cabin bags. Small ‘handbags’ that weigh no more than 23kg and are no larger than 40 x 30 x 15 cm are guaranteed to travel in the cabin as hand baggage. A second free cabin bag can also be taken on board for free, but on busy flights, this may be put in the hold at no extra cost. This must be no larger than 56 x 45 x 25 cm and no heavier than 23kg.
Five of the best cabin bags
In need of a new cabin bag? Look no further. We’ve listed our five best cabin bag options for your next flight, and whether you need a stylish, roller, or lightweight option, we have you covered.
- Cabin Max Metz 30L Cabin Luggage: This lightweight 30-litre rucksack from Cabin Max is a great choice if you’re looking for a backpack that meets the majority of airline cabin restrictions. Available in a choice of six stylish colours, this rucksack measures 45 x 36 x 20 cm.
- Eastpak Tranverz S Suitcase: Available in a choice of 21 colours and designs, this suitcase from Eastpak is practical as well as stylish, with a 42-litre capacity, easy wheeling system and integrated TSA lock. Measuring 51 x 32.5 x 24 cm, this suitcase has compression straps to control the volume of the case, as well as belt straps designed to keep your items in place.
- Cabin Max Manhattan Travel Bag: The perfect addition to a trolley case, this small travel bag meets most airlines’ free baggage allowances. It has a spacious, 20-litre interior, padded laptop sleeve and quick-stash ticket pocket. It measures 40 x 25 x 20cm.
- Aerolite Lightweight Suitcase: This minimal trolley suitcase weighs just 2.6kg when empty but boasts an impressive 34-litre capacity. Measuring 55 x 35 x 20cm, it also meets the majority of airlines’ carry-on restrictions.
- Gonex Expandable Canvas Holdall Bag: Measuring 60 x 28 x 31 cm, this duffle bag has an extendable capacity ranging from 50 to 60 litres. It is made from a high-quality canvas material and features a water-resistant rubber bottom.
If you’d like a more comprehensive look at cabin bags and more options for your next trip away, you can check out our guide to the best carry-on luggage here.
Why do airlines have cabin bag restrictions?
Before thinking about how to pack our cabin bags, it’s important to understand why we actually have to stick to baggage guidelines. Most of us would agree that air travel would be easier if our bags didn’t have to stick to stringent centimetre-guided limitations. So why are airlines so uncompromising when it comes to our cabin bag size?
The main reason that airlines have size and weight limits for your cabin bags is money. Huge amounts of extra cash can be made by charging people to bring on bags and handing out extra fines to people who bring bags that are over a certain size. To illustrate how big a deal these baggage costs are to airlines, travel experts from Upgrade Points revealed that in 2021 some American Airlines made almost 20% of their revenue from baggage charges alone.
And, it’s not just the cost for passengers that draws in money but also the reduction of expenses for airlines themselves. Charging people for bags limits the amount of luggage people want to bring on board, so it saves fuel costs by making the aeroplanes lighter.
Money is probably the main motivator for airlines, but putting a restriction on cabin bag sizes also makes planes safer to travel on. This is because the overhead bins, where most luggage is kept, have both size and weight limits. If these are breached, there can be a risk of luggage falling during the flight or exits blocked when people have to resort to having their cabin bag under the chair.
The final reason that cabin baggage is restricted is to make travel more free-flowing and convenient for everyone flying. Less time will be spent with people trying to fit their bags into different areas of the plane, and there are limits to the amount of overhead cabin space available. Basically, the boarding and disembarking processes will be smoother and more efficient, with people bringing smaller, lighter, and fewer cabin bags.
If you want to see more 'how to' guides, then head over to The Recommended website. Here you can also see product roundups which can help you in the airport and on your travels. Check out our guide to our best carry on luggage, the best luggage straps and the best luggage scales.
Finn Byrne is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media. He works across several brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeforMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. Finn has previously written for publications including MyLondon, The Mirror, The Express, and The Star. When not writing Finn enjoys spending time on the football pitch and getting stuck into a book.