4 reasons why you should check a bag instead of bringing a carry-on

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Bringing a carry-on bag instead of a checked bag means you won’t have to waste time at that annoying carousel after your flight. It means you can better guarantee that you won’t lose your stuff, instead of leaving it in the hands of the oft-incapable airline. It means you don’t have to wonder if the baggage handlers are playing shot put with your hardshell Samsonite.

Despite all that, I’ll argue that checking a bag is way better. I do it all the time; I’ll just pare down my packed items until I only need one checked bag. Even if I have only a carry-on, I still check it.

(Photo by Mongkol Chuewong/Getty Images)

Checked bags are free — might as well use them

The most important point first. If you’ve got an airline credit card, you almost certainly get free checked bags. Here’s an example from each of the major U.S. airlines.

AirlineCredit CardFree baggage benefitCard Review
American AirlinesCiti® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®Free first bag for the primary cardholder and up to four companions on the same reservation (domestic American Airlines flights only)Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Review
United AirliesUnited℠ Explorer CardFree first bag for the primary cardholder and one companion on the same reservation (must use card to pay for your ticket)Chase United Explorer Review
DeltaDelta SkyMiles® Gold American Express CardFree first bag for the primary cardholder and up to eight companions on the same reservationAmex Delta Gold Review
JetBlueJetBlue Plus World Elite MastercardFree first bag for the primary cardholder and up to three companions on the same reservation
Alaska AirlinesAlaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit cardFree first bag for the primary cardholder and up to 6 companions on the same reservationAlaska Airlines Visa Signature review
SouthwestN/AEveryone gets two free checked bags, with or without a credit card!

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, JetBlue Plus, and Alaska Airlines 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.

If you’re like us, you’ve got most of the cards on that list. I truly cannot remember the last time I paid for a checked bag. It’s been several years. Even if you book basic economy flights (the cheapest fares with oppressive policies like no carry-on bags, last boarding group, etc.), you’ll still get a free checked bag.

If you can get a checked bag for free, you might as well. We’ll build on that premise.

It’s a hands-free airport experience

For years I was a wreck of a traveler — dragging a squeaky-wheeled Antiques Roadshow steamer trunk through the airport, paper boarding pass between my pursed lips, hunched to the side as I try to keep my inflatable pillow from falling off my neck. If you’ve never before negotiated an airport hands-free, you do not know what you’re missing.

This is the biggest draw for me and a simple luxury that comes with free checked bags. I have both hands to use my phone or dig in my wallet. I never have to fret when I run to the water fountain 50 feet away, leaving my fortress of paraphernalia unattended. I don’t have to share an undersized bathroom stall with my carry-on.

In fact, traveling hands-free can be almost a necessity if you travel with kids or anyone who needs help through the airport.

No worrying about the overhead bin

Checking your carry-on means the overhead bin situation onboard is a nonissue. You won’t scramble to find space and proper orientation for your bag as the low muttering from the increasing line behind you grows raucous. And you won’t be hurried to exit the plane, either.

You’ll also avoid that massive queue on the jet bridge when those small regional jets check your bags under the plane anyway. I’d rather wait for my bag in the arrivals lobby instead of in a highly inefficient line of 30 people where nobody can see if their bag is at the front or not.

Airport security is even easier

At airport security checkpoints, you’ll need to remove your laptop and toiletries from your bags. By checking your carry-on, there’s less of that — unless you’re carrying your toiletries and laptop in your personal item (I’ve always got my laptop with me). But the fewer bags you’ve got with you, the less hassle it’ll be with the TSA.

If you’ve got TSA PreCheck, this isn’t as big of a time-saver for you. Those with membership to TSA PreCheck are allowed to keep toiletries and laptops inside their bags. They can also keep shoes, belts and light jackets on, too. I’ve been a member for years and absolutely adore it. You can read this post to learn how to get it for free.

If my bag gets lost, I’ve got coverage

This is not a good reason to check a bag, at all. But it helps in the decision-making.

If your checked bag gets delayed or lost, you’re covered and entitled to reimbursement when you use certain travel credit cards to pay for your flight. Or, in the case of award flights, just pay the taxes and fees with an eligible card and you’ll be covered. The last time my checked bag was lost, I received $500 in cash from Chase so that I could buy new clothes and toiletries.

Here are our top picks for credit cards with baggage insurance:

Card nameBaggage delay coverageWho’s covered?Sign-up bonusOur review
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardTriggered after 6+ hour delay, $100 per day for up to five daysPrimary cardholder and immediate family60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.Chase Sapphire Preferred review
Chase Sapphire Reserve®Triggered after 6+ hour delay, $100 per day for up to five daysPrimary cardholder and immediate familyEarn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.Chase Sapphire Reserve review
World of Hyatt Credit CardTriggered after 6+ hour delay, $100 per day for up to five daysPrimary cardholder and immediate familyUp to 60,000 bonus points:
– 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
– 2 Bonus Points per dollar spent on purchases that earn 1 bonus point up to $15,000 in the first six months of account opening (capped at 30,000 bonus points)
World of Hyatt Card review
Ink Business Preferred® Credit CardTriggered after 6+ hour delay, $100 per day for up to five daysPrimary cardholder and immediate family100,000 bonus Chase points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of account openingChase Ink Business Preferred review
United℠ Explorer CardTriggered after 6+ hour delay, $100 per day for up to three daysPrimary cardholder and immediate family Up to 70,000 miles. Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn an additional 10,000 miles after you spend $6,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open.
Chase United Explorer review

Anyone who has lost a bag knows what a tough spot you’re in when you don’t have any of your clothes. That’s why many travelers insist on bringing a carry-on. It’s a way to guarantee you’ll have at least a couple of outfits if something goes awry with your bags. That’s a totally valid (and wise!) thought process. But using a credit card that covers delayed baggage is the next best thing.

In fact, take a look at the above cards. You’re covered if your bag is delayed just six hours! I’ve been in the situation of staring at my watch, hoping for six hours to pass so I could comp $100 on clothing with Chase. Even if your bag shows up six hours and one minute late, you’re entitled to $100 in compensation.

Bottom line

Many travelers in the miles and points community own a credit card that offers free checked bags — make sure you use that perk to walk hands-free through the airport, speed through airport security, and distance yourself from overhead bins. It’s a liberating experience to not wheel around a carry-on.

Which route do you prefer: Checked bag or carry-on? Let me know in the comments. And subscribe to our newsletter for travel tips and news delivered to your inbox once per day.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

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! :)

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