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!
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 sites 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 the 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.
One thing most people forget is that you need to simulate your upcoming trip as closely as you can. Airlines can have very tough weight restrictions and measurements, so it’s best to be accurate.
This means packing your suitcase as you normally would so that it is as big and as heavy as it will be on the day. If you can’t do that, at and it is a soft side case or you plan on expanding it, at least fill it up with something.
There are a few things you need to do to measure luggage dimensions accurately
You need to pay extra attention if your suitcase has rounded edges, as 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. And always go to the extreme end – wheels to handle top etc. Don’t take shortcuts that might mean you don’t get on your flight.
Taking exact measurements is difficult, so put your suitcase against something flat to get the widget, and wheels on the floor to get the height. It might also help to put a big flat book on the top to get the exact measurement.
Another thing to bear in mind when you’re measuring your checked 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 from the outer edge of one wheel to the other.
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 weigh your luggage is to buy a digital 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.
They are usually really accurate. The not-so-great thing about them is that they’re not always durable, especially the cheap ones.
You can always use 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.
If you are really close to the airline luggage limit or even over it, then you should consider removing some less important items. Clothes can be heavier than you can imagine, and toiletries even more so.
Also, keep in mind that you may want to buy some souvenirs and you will need space for when you return.
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 be too short. A tape measure is too.
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.
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 checked bag, 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.
Here’s a quick recap of all the important things to keep in mind before, during and after measuring the size and weight of 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.