Top 10 Checked Baggage Tips Everyone Should Know — How Many Do You Practice?
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
INSIDER SECRET: Many airlines don’t penalize you for bringing aboard items you’ve purchased at the airport. If you save those retail bags, you can pack them with extra personal items on your next trip.
It’s remarkable how much can go wrong during travel, isn’t it?
It’s true that many near-disastrous moments may become fond memories, like when you’re hopelessly lost and find a charming local pub. Or when you realize you left your wallet inside a taxi and hail another in a “follow that car” scenario.
But you’ll never happily recall complications with checked baggage. Here are a few checked-bag tips everyone should practice.
Top 10 Checked Baggage Tips Everyone Should Know
1. Make Your Bag Unmistakably Unique
The last time I was at the airport, I picked up a Samsonite bag from the carousel that was truly identical to my wife’s — like, indiscernible. Even the scuff marks looked the same. It wasn’t until I looked at the airline tag just for the heck of it that I realized it was the wrong bag.
It’s easy for someone to walk out the door with your belongings if they’re not diligent about examining the bag. Choose a bag with bright colors or tie something uncommon around the handle. Maybe even stick neon painter’s tape to the sides.
Pro Tip: If your bag is ugly as sin, the odds of it being stolen or grabbed by mistake will plummet. Go ape with a bedazzler, or adhere a large decal of your face on the side.
2. Cross-Pack Your Checked Bags
This tip can apply whether you’re traveling alone or with a partner.
I’ve had my bag lost at least three times. It’s hard to function with only the clothes on your back. If you’re alone, it’s smart to pack some of your clothes in a personal item or carry-on.
If you’re traveling with someone else, pack an outfit or two in their bag, and vice versa. Then if one bag is lost, you’ll at least have SOMETHING.
3. Leave Extra Room in Your Bag for Souvenirs
Anticipate what you might bring home from your travels. You don’t want to have to check an added bag just because you’ve procured a collection of two-dollar Sumatran trinkets.
My wife and I stayed a few days at an all-inclusive hotel in Mexico, and in the room were full-size bottles of alcohol. The staff replaced those bottles the same way they replaced the shampoo bottles. On the last day, we stuffed six full bottles of alcohol in our checked bag. Good thing we had room!
If you do leave room in your bag, it’s a good idea to fill that empty space with something, even if it’s packing paper. It will keep your clothes in place and fragile items won’t be clanking around during your travels.
4. Pack a Day Bag for Stopovers
If you’ve got a stopover, or if you will be spending a night at a hotel before you reach your destination, pack a day bag with everything you need so you don’t have to lug/unpack your elephantine suitcase in the hotel room.
It doesn’t have to be a separate suitcase. I usually just throw an entire outfit into a packing cube (like these) and then grab it out of my suitcase when I have a hotel stay en route.
5. Pack Toiletries Days In Advance
If you pack your toiletry bag a day or two before you depart, you’ll be forced to do your morning routine from that bag before you leave. You may be surprised at the things you forgot to pack.
6. Use a Credit Card That Offers Free Checked Bags
If you’re checking a bag with airlines like American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, or Delta, you’ll be charged at least $60 for a round-trip domestic flight. That’s so much money.
By holding the right airline card, you’ll get free checked bags every time you fly. If you and a partner book round-trip flights, you’ll have saved $120 on baggage fees by holding the following cards:
- Best Credit Card for Free American Airlines Bags: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
- Best Credit Card for Free United Airlines Bags: United℠ Explorer Card
- Best Credit Card for Free Delta Bags: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
- Best Credit Card for Free Alaska Airlines Bags: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
7. Save Plastic Bags You Receive When Buying Products at the Airport
If you want to bring more than a carry-on and personal item aboard the plane, here’s a way to get away with it.
You know those thick plastic bags you receive from airport outlets? You can stuff belongings in there and airlines are unlikely to say anything. Many airlines don’t count duty-free or airport purchases against your baggage limit, though some do, such as easyJet. Read your airline baggage policy before trying this one.
8. Pack the Heavy Stuff at the Bottom
Unless your surname is Flintstone, you probably own a checked bag with wheels. Pack your heaviest items near the wheels and the bag will roll easier and not topple over. This seems like common sense, but observe the number of unstable bags wheeling through the airport during your next trip.
9. Take a Picture of Your Checked-Bag Receipt
That little sticker receipt you’re meant to keep with you after you check your bags is the Houdini of airport documents. Immediately take a picture of it before you store it, so it won’t be a problem when you can’t find it.
10. Pay for Your Flight With a Credit Card That Offers Delayed-Baggage Insurance
Travel insurance is one of the biggest reasons to apply for a travel credit card. My Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has reimbursed me for $3,000+ of misfortune. For example, when my bag was lost during a trip to Ireland, Chase reimbursed me $500 to buy clothes and toiletries.
Here are our top card picks for delayed-baggage insurance:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – You and your immediate family are eligible to receive $100 per day, up to five days (for a maximum of $500). Coverage kicks in after your bags are delayed six hours.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – You and your immediate family are eligible to receive $100 per day, up to five days (for a maximum of $500). Coverage kicks in after your bags are delayed six hours.
- United℠ Explorer Card – You and your immediate family are eligible to receive $100 per day, up to three days (for a maximum of $300). Coverage kicks in after your bags are delayed six hours.
Let me know if you’ve got another tip that should be on this list. If it’s great, I’ll add it!
You can subscribe to our newsletter for more helpful tips and tricks to make your travel experience easier and cheaper.
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)