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How Much Does Carry-On Luggage Cost On Airlines? It Depends

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According to SmarterTravel.com, U.S. fliers spent nearly $6.5 billion last year — just on their baggage. It's not always clear how much carry on luggage costs on an airline, and the answer can vary big time. Be sure to do your research and plan wisely so you don't get saddled with surprise fees on your way home for the holidays.

If you haven't booked your flight yet, it's worth taking the time to look at what the baggage fees will be for different carriers, different flights, and different airports. There's nothing worse than having your cheap-flight-victory-dance fall to pieces when you realize you have to pay for seats, snacks, entertainment, and (practically) the clothes on your back.

If you have booked your flight, don't wait until the last minute to figure out what you'll be packing and what it'll cost. Plan ahead and save yourself the time, money, and stress.

Go small.

Most travel sites will tell you one of the easiest stress-reducer around holiday travel is simply to pack light. I wholeheartedly endorse that advice and highly recommend NOT taking a checked bag, unless you'd like to treat yourself to such pleasures as hauling your 45-pounder up the metro stairs, waiting in the world's longest line for bag drop-off, strong-arming your way to the front at the baggage claim carousel, and spending your crammed flight in fear that the airline might misplace your bag. (Take it from someone who has missed a holiday flight waiting in the drop-off line, downsize to the carry-on.)

But if you do opt for a checked bag, check out this amazingly convenient Holy Grail of guides on Kayak, laying out the checked bag and seat assignment fee (plus the meal situation!) for all pretty much every airline you'll probably ever fly.

Pro tip: Here's a list of the airlines that offer free checked bags. You're welcome.

Standard airlines often include free carry-on baggage.

Most standard airlines allow passengers to take on board one carry-on and one personal item for free. Carry-on dimensions vary by carrier, but it's usually in the neighborhood of 9" by 14" by 22". A personal item might be a small bag, a laptop, purse, or briefcase — something that will fit under the seat.

Pro tip: Some airlines tack on additional fees for carry-on luggage if you fly Basic Economy, so be sure to read the fine print.

The baggage policies for each of these major airlines follow the general complementary carry-on rule: American, United, Delta, JetBlue, Virgin, Hawaiian, Alaska, and Southwest.

Pro tip: Check out each airline's baggage policy to be sure your carry-on will fit. If not, you might end up being That Guy who gets called out on an oversized bag and has to pay enough for a week's worth of food at the departure gate. (Don't be that guy.)

But not all airlines follow the 1-plus-1 rule, so be advised.

Budget airlines often don't include the one free carry-on (sometimes they even make you pay for the seat—seriously) and you can add up quite a bit if you're not careful.

Here's how a few of them stack up:

  • Frontier: $30-$60, depending how you reserve your bags.
  • Allegiant: $10-75, depending on the flight.
  • Spirit: Definitely not free, but the price depends where and why you're flying. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $25.

How to avoid all that madness?

Pro tip: Save money by buying your carry-on luggage space at the time you book your flight. If you wait to pay for the bag when you check in, you'll probably end up paying more.

To save money on baggage, SmarterTravel also recommends shipping your bags (although if you're home just a few days, that kind of defeats the purpose). If you can ship your Christmas presents to the destination ahead of time, it might be worth the effort. Be sure to weigh your bags (overweight fees can be crazy expensive!) and consider using light-weight, non-bulky luggage to get the most out of your limited weight and size restrictions.

Whatever other savvy tricks you have to work around luggage fees, be my guest. But make sure you don't procrastinate on buying your bags so you don't arrive at home for Christmas like a Grinch.