Have an important flight coming up and you’re not sure how to measure your luggage? That’s okay – we made this step-by-step guide just for you! It will take you through all the things you need to do when taking luggage measurements, so you never have to pay an overweight baggage fee again!
I will also show you which tools are best for taking different measurements, but also some unconventional items you can use to measure luggage if you’re pressed for time and don’t have any measuring tools at home.
So, let’s get into the details of how and why you should measure luggage!
It is important that you measure luggage before every flight, to ensure that your bags don’t exceed any airline size restrictions.
By knowing the exact dimensions and weights of your luggage, you can prepare yourself for a smooth boarding process. You will know in advance if your suitcase is too heavy, and you will be able to take something out of it, so that you don’t have to pay any extra fees.
Additionally, sometimes the measurements you read online about a particular bag are not 100% true, and that’s something you want to find out before you arrive at the airport with an oversized suitcase. In some cases, companies will list just body dimensions of a wheeled bag, which don’t include the height of the wheels and the handles.
In this section, I will take you through measuring the size of your luggage. I’ll walk you through taking accurate measurements of the dimensions of a bag, as well as tools you will find useful when doing that.
The first thing you should do is go to the website of the airline you’re flying with, and check their luggage size guidelines. Do this before you take measurements of your luggage, and you will immediately know whether or not your suitcase is going to be accepted as a carry on.
There are various site online that have a list of the dimensions allowed for each airline, but these are not always up to date. If you want to be 100% sure, just visit the airline’s website.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some airlines will have size guidelines in linear inches/centimeters. That is just the total sum of the dimensions of a suitcase – if an airline states that their maximum carry on size is 40 inches, that means that the sum of width, length and height of a bag needs to be under 40 inches. A bag that measures 20” x 10” x 9” is actually 39 linear inches, and would be accepted as a carry on.
You need to pay extra attention if your suitcase has rounded edges, like mine does. Because it is so round you can’t really get an exact measurement without having an extra tool that will help you level the edges. Does that make any sense?
Anyway, it is easiest to measure your suitcase when it is standing upright. This will allow you to measure its exact height with wheels, from the bottom of the floor to the top of the handles. Yes, you need to take those into consideration too, as well as the measurements of anything protrudes on the sides – zippers, handles, TSA locks etc. Why? Because all of those are important when calculating the linear measurements of your luggage.
Forget about the body of a suitcase – the only instance when those measurements are important is when you’re buying a new suitcase, and you want to know how large the packing compartment is. But when you’re measuring the actual dimensions, every single component counts.
Take a look at my suitcase – do you see how much the grab handles protrudes from the body of the bag? That’s two more centimetres when calculating the linear dimensions of this suitcase – and those 2cm could be the difference between a checked bag and a carry on.
When measuring the length of a suitcase, you want to prop it on its side. Suitcases usually have a grab handle on one side and luggage feet on this other – you want to place it on the feet, and measure from the floor to the top of the grab handle.
With my suitcase, the body length was some 35 cm. But the overall length was 40 cm, when I properly measured the height, including the feet and the handle.
Another thing to bear in mind when you’re measuring luggage is to always measure from the outside of the edges. You can’t measure the depth if you measure the space between the wheels – instead, you should measure form the outer edge of one wheel to the other.
When measuring an expandable suitcase, think about how you’re going to be traveling with it. Will you leave it expanded, or zip it up before you get to the airport? If it’s the first option, then you need to measure your suitcase while it is expanded – the width of a non-expanded suitcase means absolutely nothing if you’re going to the airport with an expanded bag. And even if you don’t, this is an important measurement to know – what if you go a little crazy while you’re away and buy too much stuff? Yes, you can expand the suitcase to fit the extra stuff, but will it still be accepted as a carry on when it’s expanded? The only way to know is to have the exact measurements beforehand.
If you are measuring a duffel bag, I recommend you stand it on its end, end then measure the length from one end to the other. And if it’s a backpack, measure from the bottom of the bag to the top of the highest point of the bag.
Additionally, I recommend measuring softshell bags when they are full. There’s no point in measuring them empty – the material often collapses, and you won’t get any real measurements of the depth/width.
Measuring your carry-on with wheels is very similar to any other piece of luggage. Always measure the furthest point on any side including handles and wheels, because the airlines will often check the luggage in a carry-on-sized rack. So, the luggage has to fit in the rack they place it in – meaning the widest and deepest parts are the biggest problem.
So, lay the suitcase on its side and use some long straight items to push against the wheels – this marks the bottom of the wheels. Do the same at the top on the handles. Then measure the distance between these two edges.
A classic tape measure is obviously going to be your best friend here. Alternatively, you could also use a really large ruler (woks well with carry ons), or a body tape measure – but the latter two are not going to be as convenient to use as a classic tape measure.
And the reason for that is very simple – you have more control with a classic tape measure. A ruler will sometimes be too short, and might require you to mark up your luggage just to be able to get the exact measurements. A body tape measure is too flexible, and you won’t be able to properly measure the length or the height of your suitcase. It’s going to bend in some areas, which could make your luggage seem larger then it is. Or you might not be able to properly measure the height of side handles and luggage feet, which would give you measurements that are smaller than the actual ones.
A tape measure gives you the most control. Especially because you can lock the length, which is super helpful when trying to take into account all those annoying things that protrude from the sides of the bags.
Maybe you’re pressed for time and you don’t have any actual measuring tools at home. That’s fine – there are other tricks you can use to get approximate measurements of your luggage. Just keep in mind that these methods are not 100% accurate – they’re good for having an overall idea of the size of your luggage, but not what I would recommend if you’re actually trying to cross-reference dimensions of your luggage with the airline’s restrictions.
Did it cross your mind that you can use an A4 paper to measure luggage? The dimensions of every single sheet of A4 paper are exactly the same – 21 x 29.7 cm. You can use just a sheet of paper to get approximate measurements of your luggage. But the problems start to arise when you get to dimensions like three sheets and a quarter – it’s almost impossible to know the exact dimensions without an actual ruler.
You could also use an ID or a credit card. Their dimensions are 8.5 x 5.5 cm, and any credit card works for this. Yes it’s going to be tedious, but it will give you a pretty good idea of your luggage size.
There are all sorts of apps that you can use for measuring your luggage. But they’re not my first choice; they are rarely accurate, and there are just too many variables to consider.
I tested out Google’s Measure app for the purpose of this post, and I quickly saw why it had only a 3 star rating. According to the app, the length of my carry on is 57 cm, which is absolutely not true. I used a regular ruler to measure the actual length of the suitcase, and it’s only 35 cm – the app was 12 cm off!
And mind you, those are only measurements of the body. It’s very hard to measure the actual dimensions of luggage with a phone app, especially if you’re trying to get the handles and the side feet.
I tried a few more times, but the measurements the app was giving never came close to the actual ones. So, I would advise against using these apps, since they are not very reliable.
Always weigh your luggage before you head to the airport. That way you will know if your luggage is within the airline’s weight limit, and you can avoid paying overweight luggage fees.
The easiest way to measure the weight of your luggage is to buy a luggage scale. You attach it to the handle of your bag, and then pick it up while holding the scale. The weight of your luggage will show up on the display and that’s it.
The great thing about these scales is that they are usually really accurate. The not-so-great thing about them is that they’re not always durable, especially the cheap ones. They run on batteries, so you should always have a spare handy, in case the scale runs out of juice. And they’re known to stop working after 5-6 uses for no particular reason – especially the cheap scales.
Some fancy high-end suitcases actually have a built in scale – consider investing in such a piece of luggage if you travel very often, as it will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
And of course, there’s always the old-fashioned way of weighing luggage – just weigh it with the scale you use to weigh yourself. This is quick, easy and free, if you already have a scale at home.
If your suitcase won’t fit on your regular scale, you can always just weigh yourself while holding the suitcase. Then just subtract your own weight from the weight of you and your suitcase, and you will know how much your luggage weighs approximately. But this is the least accurate out of all the options, so bear that in mind.
The last piece of advice I’m going to give you is to never trust the scales 100%. The measurements you take at home will almost always differ from the ones the airline personnel takes – this is especially true for the weight. You don’t know how their scales are calibrated, or if your own scale is 100% accurate. So, if you weigh your luggage and see that it’s at 49.6 lbs and the airline’s max weight is 50 lbs, I would recommend taking out a couple of things. Just to be on the safe side – you don’t want to arrive at the airport confident, only to have to an overweight baggage fee because your scale at home was 1lb off.
Here’s a quick recap of all the important things to keep in mind before, during and after measuring your luggage:
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.