/ Travel & Leisure

Luggage allowance – have you been caught out at check-in?

Woman sitting on overstuffed bag

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the sound of suitcases being packed as the summer exodus begins. But will travellers be stung for extra fees when they get to the airport and discover they’ve packed too much?

All across the land, people are heading to UK airports to catch flights abroad.

Fast forward a few hours to airport check in and we’ll be hearing more than a few grumbles from those who are forced to pay extra charges because they hadn’t realised their bags are either over size or over weight.

While airlines have to include all non-optional fees in their headline price, over the years, baggage has somehow become ‘optional’ and the costs and measurements allowed can stay firmly in the small print.

Different rules for different airlines

Without any statutory regulation on the minimum size or weight of bags, airlines all have their own policies. We’re getting used to the idea of paying for checking in bags, and the airlines are using their policies for competitive advantage – a cheaper headline price may work out far dearer if you need to take luggage.

Working out what you can take on board with you also needs consideration. Ryanair, for example, only allows one item on board and it must be no bigger than 55x40x20cm and weigh no more than 10kg. If you get a carrier bag with purchases in the departure lounge, that would count as two items and make you liable for a £40 charge.

EasyJet and BA allow 56x45x25cm and, as long as you can lift it above your head in the overhead bin, any weight is allowed (start weight training now!). If you have more than your allocation, however, expect to pay. Other airlines are even more miserly – both Thomson and Thomas Cook only allow 5kg hand luggage.

In theory, if the airlines wanted to, they could do away with any free hand luggage at all, making us stuff our pockets with everything dear to us for the flight.

If this was the case, there would be bound to be uproar – if not from the airline’s insurers who would be forced to pay out more for damaged items in the hold, then at least from the fashion conscious – have you seen how unflattering those travel jackets are?!

How do you beat the system?

Stuffing a travel jacket’s multiple pockets full of your belongings is only way to beat the system. We put it to our Twitter followers this morning and we received some amusing responses.

‘I sneak my extra items into hubby’s case,’ said Heather (@fevsb). Phil (@BCC_SmartMeters) goes one step further, though: ‘I find not taking the wife or children helps with the luggage allowance,’ he jested.

Peter (@JunkkMale) saves on weight thanks to his two sons who pack light. ‘Last holiday they packed an iPod, swim cozzy & one pair of extra undies each. Seemed fine.’

What are your top tips for getting more onto the plane? Do you find the weight allowances generous enough, or have you been caught out by extra fees at the check-in desk?


Ryanair’s policy of only 1 bag of hand luggage does have the benefit of some logic unlike many other carriers where passengers take on board 1 item of hand luggage + enormous handbag + carrier bags of duty-free.

Having just flown Easyjet I was pleased to see that they allow all passengers on a booking to combine their hold luggage allowance – makes packing – especially on the return flight far easier.

blueGen says:
26 August 2012

Late joining in this ‘conversation’ but if it’s any use to anyone I can add 2 examples of GOOD surprises on luggage fees.

Firstly, booked a one-way flight to Italy with FlyBe several years ago, and read in the details that there would be a £20 charge per bag for checked-in luggage, but opted to pay at the airport rather than prepay with the ticket. On arrival at check-in we weren’t charged anything, and even when I queried it was told that it must have been already paid by the travel agent or waived by the company, because on their system it was showing nothing to pay.

And then on our return flight from the same holiday, this time with BA because we returned from a different city not served by FlyBe, firstly we were upgraded to the ‘extra-legroom’ exit row at no extra charge when the check-in clerk saw my husband’s height (and incidentally the ludicrous charges for extra legroom on economy flights, sometimes literally double the original seat price, are something that REALLY need investigating!), and then, when it turned out that my bag was slightly overweight, they waived any excess fees because my hubby’s was relatively light so the combined weight was below the limit for 2 people. I haven’t flown with BA since, because their ticket prices are fairly high for most destinations, but I was really impressed with their customer service on that occasion!

Having travelled in the USA several times, I know that American Airlines, and possibly Delta and some other airlines, now have NO free baggage allowance, you have to pay for all checked bags, per bag – this is supposedly because they are used mainly for domestic flights where people are travelling for short trips and not carrying much, so hand-luggage is sufficient. But although there are supposed to be limits on size and weight for hand-luggage, they are hardly ever checked except on the very smallest planes, so people just end up taking huge suitcases on the plane with them and trying to jam them in the overhead lockers – also, as well as your ‘one’ hand-luggage case, you are usually ALSO allowed a briefcase or laptop bag, PLUS a handbag, PLUS any shopping bags of stuff you’ve bought in the airport… of course there is never room in the overhead bins, and I can’t understand why the airlines prefer this state of affairs to actually making people check their luggage in.

One last thing – invested about a fiver in a pair of luggage scales, best idea ever, so much less stressful than wondering… 🙂

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Julie head says:
31 May 2013

There are 12 of us flying with Thomas cook to Spain can two people use one suitcase therefore doubling the weight to save on luggage or will we be charged extra

Chris Fowlds says:
2 June 2013

It is true that airlines are getting much stricter with your baggage allowance. I am a frequent traveller, long haul especially. I could tell you numerous tales of check in staff being difficult to say the least. But in all my years of travel, I have never been thanked for having less than my baggage allowance. Nor given a discount on the price of my ticket when this happens!

Scott hughes says:
24 April 2015

Can anybody help I might be sounding stupid here but the price I pay for hold luggage is outbound and inbound isn’t it or is there any hidden charges.

Hi Scott, you can choose to pay an extra charge (when buying your flights) if you wish to put your luggage away. You can also decide on the day (though costing more usually) – all you need to do is visit your flight desk at the airport.

This isn’t the same as your hand luggage. 🙂

…Oh, and with reference to this post – you may incur further fees if your hold luggage is overweight…typically around 20-25kg.

Scott – it’s best to check your airline’s website. They usually contain lots of essential information about what constitutes your permitted hold-baggage allowance and what is chargeable as extra, and also what can be taken on board the aeroplane. BA, for example, allow you to take two small luggage items [determined by size but not weight] on the plane, one to go in the overhead locker and the other to go under the seat in front of you. By carefully packing your luggage and distributing the weight across the three included items surcharges for extra weight can be avoided or at least minimised. You have to remember to put any larger liquid containers in the hold luggage; that’s what often gives rise to a weight problem [things you buy airside in the airport shops are permitted on the plane but you still have to fit them inside your cabin bag(s)]. So far as I am aware any overweight surcharge is per flight, inbound or outbound, because people often carry more one way than the other. Again, best check beforehand with your airline because, as Andrew says, it’s cheaper to buy your excess in advance.

Paul Fisher says:
28 April 2015

It is quite simple, the baggage allowance is on the ticket. As has been said before, you can pay for your baggage when you get your ticket. Why does everyone moan so much. if you were going to be chaged say £200 then don’t take stuff and buy new when you get there. Alternatively fly decent airlines like Emirates, Gulf, Qatar and get 30kg allowance, which is ample for any trip. if you fly cheap airlines then expect cheap service and facilities

KAS says:
5 June 2015

If airlines started to weigh people and charge. they would go out of business , Why do you think they invented Jumbo jets anyway. ?

Caroline Whetstone says:
18 July 2015

We flew to Kefalonia on Norwegian airline and were allowed 10kg hand luggage. The return flight I was given was a Thomas Cook flight which only allows 5kg hand luggage. So when we came to check in for our flight home we were 10kg overweight as we would be as we flew out with a 10kg allowance and we’re charged €18 per kilogram so had to pay €90 . I think this is wrong

Sean B says:
1 January 2017

When I travel with the family, we have three different size suitcases. I pack the heaviest items that fit into the smallest case and weigh it. The smaller size limits the amount of stuff, so it generally won’t go over the limit. I then pack the medium size one, and finish with the largest. Usually the smallest one weighs more then the largest, which taxi drivers never expect.

Before I started doing this, I had an airline reject a suitcase for being overweight. I was forced to empty it and overstuff my carryon because they had already sent the lighter case off down the conveyor belt.