Baggage allowance guide: luggage limits, excess charges, and how to avoid them

Airline travel is cheap, but it comes with hidden charges unless you know exactly what you’re allowed to travel with

Budget airlines have long since whittled down 'full service' to 'basic economy', with everything now costing extra. That includes baggage, which used to be generous and free, and is now tightly controlled and expensive. 

It's the hidden cost to cheap air travel and it pays to know exactly what your airline's checked baggage fees are, and the exact dimensions it allows for carry-on luggage.

Luggage limits and excess charges on UK airlines

Easyjet baggage allowance

Every passenger on Easyjet can board with one item of hand luggage for free, which must measure 56 x 45 x 25 cm. There is no weight restriction, but that does include handles and wheels, so do check your bag carefully because staff at the gates levy a £47 charge on anyone with a bigger bag. 

Hold luggage up to 15 kg can be purchased online for between £8.99 and £29.99, and up to 23 kg from £13.99 and £33.99. 

If you arrive at the airport and decide you need to check in luggage while at the bag drop desk, expect to pay £37.

British Airways baggage allowance

British Airways' basic 'hand baggage only' fare. also allows 56 x 45 x 25 cm bags on board for free, though it does insist on a maximum weight of 23 kg. 

On its Euro Traveller, World Traveller and Eco tickets, passengers can check in one bag for free as long as it measures 90 x 75 x 43 cm, and weighs 23 kg maximum. 

However, before you fly anywhere with BA, do check the small print for both baggage allowance and extra charges for checked luggage, which vary enormously depending on your destination.

Ryanair baggage allowance

Europe’s most popular airline is definitely not its most generous when it comes to baggage allowance.

Sadly, the budget airline has clocked that some passengers love to travel with cabin bags only, and now insist that the free bag it used to allow on must be checked-in unless you pay a 'Priority & 2 Cabin Bags' charge (from €5), which also gets you priority boarding.

Rather awkwardly, your free checked luggage must measure 40 x 25 x 20cm in size, which is much smaller than both Easyjet and British Airways. Extra checked bags cost £25 online and £40 at the airport, so always check what you can bring on board before you fly; excess baggage costs £10 per kilo at the airport.

Jet2 baggage allowance

Unlike Ryanair, Jet2 keeps things really simple by allowing each passenger to take one piece of hand luggage that measures the industry standard 56 x 45 x 25 cm, and up to 10 kg in weight. 

It's then possible to pay extra fees for up to three 22 kg checked bags, which cost from £8 to £45 depending on your destination. It's 50% cheaper if you book online before you get to the airport.

Flybe baggage allowance

Like Ryanair, Flybe insists upon a unique size of cabin bag, demanding that passengers bring bags measuring 55 x 35 x 20 cm, including wheels and handles (there's a £50 charge at the departure gate if it's oversized). That's smaller than Ryanair's allowance. 

However, it does allow a second bag to be placed under the seat in front as long as both bags weigh less than 10 kg together. Checked baggage fees are 15kg for £18.50, 20kg for £19, 23kg for £24 and 40 kg split over two bags for £49, so the less you pack, the less you pay. 

All of this applies to its ‘Just Fly’ tickets; pricier ‘Get More’ or ‘All In’ tickets come with generous baggage allowances included.

Virgin Atlantic baggage allowance

Each passenger in Virgin Atlantic's Economy or Premium cabins is allowed a carry-on bag measuring 56 x 36 x 23 and weighing up to 10 kg, which is smaller than the industry standard. However, you can also take handbag or small backpack onboard for free.

Economy Light tickets allow hand baggage only, with checked luggage costing £45 for the first bag, and £65 for the second. Economy Classic and Delight tickets include one checked in bag. 

All checked luggage must measure a maximum of 90 x 75 x 43cm and weigh up to 23kg.

Qatar Airways baggage allowance

Now flying from Cardiff as well as Edinburgh,Birmingham, Manchester and London Heathrow, Qatar Airways allows all Economy Class passengers to carry one piece of baggage, not to exceed 7kg. 

Checked baggage allowance varies enormously depending on destination, but most flights allow economy ticket holders to check-in, for free, up to 30 kg in one bag with very generous dimensions.

Thomas Cook Airlines baggage allowance

Everyone traveling on Thomas Cook airlines can check in a bag for free as long as it weighs under 15 kg for short-haul flights and 20 kg for long haul flights, though travellers to the US get an extra 3 kg.

Additional baggage costs from £15 per 5kg, with charges depending on your destination. Carry-on luggage must measure 55 x 40 x 20 cm and weigh a maximum of just 6 kg.

Qantas baggage allowance

Australia's flagship airline offers each economy passenger one complimentary carry-on bag on every flight, as long as it weighs no more than 7 kg and measures 115cm. 

That's calculated by adding together the width, height and depth of the piece of baggage, so in practice the measurement is 56 x 36 x 23cm. You also get up to 30 kg of free checked luggage, with the proviso that it doesn't exceed 158 cm.

Emirates baggage allowance

Economy class customers on Emirates can check in up to 35kg for free, and in multiple bags. When it comes to carry-on bags, Emirates allows each passenger to carry one piece not exceeding 55 x 38 x 20cm in size and 7kg in weight.

How to pack light to avoid baggage allowance restrictions

The only way to make sure you're covered to fly on any UK airline without worrying is to find a carry-on bag that measures a rather disappointingly small 56 x 35 x 20cm (and as small as 35 x 20 x 20cm if you travel with Ryanair). 

However, there are other things you can do to swerve extra fees and unexpected charges.

Weigh-up your options

Find out your airline's exact baggage allowance and measurements, get a tape measure and some digital luggage scales, and do a practice pack a few days before you fly so you know exactly what your situation is. Then you can decide whether to streamline your packing (and possibly find another bag), or pay extra baggage charges online.

Share a suitcase

If you are travelling in a group or as a couple, purchase checked luggage for one of you, then share that bag. If you both also take home luggage, you should have plenty of room.

Choose your shoes

Travelling with a choice of shoes is the main reason why people travel with so much luggage. Go for a mid-size approach shoe, which resembles a tough trainer or shrunken hiking shoe, and which looks reasonably smart think. Having saved on space, flip-flops can then be your reserve footwear.

Wash and wear

If you're travelling for two weeks you pack 14 pairs of underwear, right? Whoa there! Instead, pack only for a long weekend, washing your underwear as you go. This one act drastically reduces your luggage.

Wear a backpack

Many budget airlines take carry-on luggage off passengers as they board. You can reduce the likelihood of that happening to you by wearing a backpack, which check-in staff rarely notice even it is the same size as most passengers wheeled cases.

Never pack a coat

Wear it on the plane instead, preferably with pockets stuffed with a warm layer, gloves and scarf if you're going somewhere chilly.

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance journalist, copywriter and author with 20 years' experience. He's written journalism for over 50 publications and websites and, when he's not writing, spending most of his time travelling – putting the latest travel tech through its paces.