Flying on a budget airline can be a great way to save money, but it’s crucial to know what you’re getting into. I’m here to shed some light on the specifics of personal items on budget airlines. 

We’ll dive deep into the policies, restrictions, and some savvy tips to make your journey smoother. We’ll also look at how different budget airlines handle personal items, so you’ll know what to expect next time you fly.

What’s budget airlines policy on personal items?

Budget airlines typically have specific policies regarding personal items that passengers are allowed to bring on board. A personal item is usually defined as a small bag like a laptop bag, purse, or backpack that fits under the seat in front of you. The policy details can vary from one airline to another, but here are some general points to note:

  •         Size Limitations: Most budget airlines specify maximum dimensions for personal items. These dimensions ensure that the personal item can fit under the seat in front of you. The allowed size can vary between airlines, but a common size range is about 18 x 14 x 8 inches.
  •         One Item Only: Budget airlines allow one personal item per passenger for free. This means you can bring either a purse, a small backpack, or a laptop bag as your personal item.
  •         Fees for Oversized Items: If your personal item exceeds the specified size limits, you may be subject to extra fees. In some cases, the item might need to be seen as your carry-on or checked in as hold luggage.
  •         Storage During Flight: Personal items must fit under the seat in front of you. This restriction is crucial for safety and comfort during the flight.

Remember, budget airlines are known for strict enforcement of their baggage policies. To avoid unexpected charges, always check the airline’s specific baggage policy before you pack for your trip.

Understanding personal item bags

Budget Airlines and Personal Items

A personal item is a type of luggage that’s smaller than your standard carry-on bag. These include items such as purses, laptops, duffel bags, briefcases, or small backpacks. This item must fit under the seat in front of you. 

Each airline has its size limitations for personal items, so it’s important to check each airline’s policy before flying. Generally, personal items should not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches.

As Christopher Elliott, a writer for The Washington Post, points out, “The discrepancies across air carriers partly arise from different aircraft types. Some have roomier under-seat spaces than others.” He also mentions that these varying definitions sometimes empower airlines to enforce baggage fees more rigorously.

Unlike carry-on bags, personal items aren’t subjected to fees unless they exceed the allowed size. Luggage that’s too large to be considered a personal item will be treated as a carry-on or checked bag and may incur a fee.

Personal item vs. carry-on: what’s the difference

As you dive deeper into the world of budget airlines, you’ll find that terms like ‘personal item’ and ‘carry-on’ are not interchangeable. Indeed, they denote two distinct types of luggage. While both may be brought on board, their differences in size and restrictions are worth noting.

Personal Item 

In essence, a personal item is any smaller bag that fits under the seat in front of you. Things like purses, small backpacks or laptop bags typically fall into this category. Smaller is key here: these items are meant to save space within the cabin, so their dimensions are quite limited, often not exceeding 18x14x8 inches.


On the other hand, a carry-on bag is larger and goes into the plane’s overhead bin. It’s designed for storing clothes for a short trip, shoes, toiletries, and other essentials. With dimensions often within 22 x 18 x 10 inches including handles and wheels, a carry-on bag certainly has more room than a personal item, but it’s still small enough to neatly fit inside the overhead bin.


Max. length (inches)

Max. width (inches)

Max. height (inches)

Personal item








This isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule, though. Always take time to review your airline’s carry-on and personal item policy as these sizes may vary. Some airlines may charge additional fees for carry-on items, and some others do not accept carry-on items at all.

Budget airlines and personal items policies

Budget Airlines and Personal Items

Budget airlines are a cost-effective option as long as you can fit your necessities in a personal item bag. However, their strict baggage policies can catch travelers off guard.

For instance, exceeding personal item limits can lead to significant fees.  Katherine Gillespie, a travel writer for the Strategist, agrees, noting that some airlines like Frontier even incentivize staff to charge extra luggage fees. She advises, “To avoid being pulled aside, ensure your bag’s dimensions don’t exceed the set limits.”

Christopher Elliott also highlights the financial aspect, mentioning, “American Airlines, for instance, generated a record $7.42 per passenger in baggage revenue in 2021.” This underscores the importance of adhering to size restrictions.

Examples of popular budget airlines and their regulations

Budget Airlines and Personal Items

As we dive deeper, let’s examine specifically how personal item policies differ amongst budget airlines. One thing you’ll note straightaway is that each airline sets its own rules, so there are no hard and fast guidelines applicable to all.

Take Spirit Airlines for example. You’re allowed one personal item for free but be careful, it can’t exceed the dimensions of 18 x 14 x 8 inches. That’s somewhat different from United Airlines, where your personal item can slightly be smaller at 17 x 10 x 9 inches and must fit in the seat in front of you. 

Just to complicate things a little further, some airlines like Virgin Atlantic Airlines do not give specific dimensions for a personal item bag. Instead, they specify that it should fit under the seat in front of you.

Tips on How to Avoid Extra Fees on Budget Airlines

The hidden costs can pile up quickly when flying with budget airlines. It’s critically important to understand the restrictions of the airline you’re flying in order not to get hit with unexpected fees. Next, we’re going to review some strategies to stay ahead of the curve and avoid those charges.

First off, know the airline’s personal item policy like the back of your hand. Check their website or call customer service to clarify any gray areas. It’s important to be aware of the size and weight restrictions for personal items. Knowledge is power! Knowing the rules can help you avoid surprise fees at the airport.

Another way to save money is to travel light. If possible, only travel with a personal item that fits within the airline’s size and weight limitations. This tactic can save you the usual cost of a checked bag or even a carry-on in some instances.

Travel experts like Gillespie recommend packing light as the basic airfare often just covers your seat and a personal item. Catherine Smith from Business Insider echoes this, sharing her experience of flying budget airlines exclusively for eight years by packing lighter and skipping seat selection. “By packing a little lighter and forfeiting my option to select a seat, I’m able to travel the world for a fraction of the price” She shared.

Next, let’s talk about the art of packing smart. If you’re able to limit your travel items to a personal bag, aim to take advantage of every inch of space. Think about essentials, rather than trying to squeeze your whole wardrobe into a single bag. A selection of versatile items can go a long way in such instances. For example, a pair of jeans that can be used multiple times or a jacket that doubles as a blanket on chilly flights.

Additionally, consider investing in luggage that has been created specifically to fit within the size restrictions of most budget airlines. This kind of bag will ensure that you won’t find yourself in a situation where you have to check your luggage unexpectedly, thus avoiding additional charges. 

Also, Blane Bachelor of Condé Nast Traveler warns against trying to pass off larger bags as personal items. Airlines have obligations regarding the size of bags in the cabin and take these seriously. There are several affordable bags out there designed to fit in the under-seat space of most budget airlines. 

Finally, remember that budget airlines can have steep fees for in-flight snacks and beverages. Pack your snacks to enjoy during the flight. Remember, however, that liquid restrictions apply even to food brought on the plane. Essential advice is, do your homework: know the rules and follow them.


What size is a personal item on Budget airlines?

The size varies, but it typically ranges around 18 x 14 x 8 inches. Check with your specific airline for their limits.

What do airlines consider personal items?

Airlines usually consider personal items to be small bags like purses, laptop bags, tote bags, or compact backpacks that fit under the seat.

Do airlines charge for personal items?

Most budget airlines do not charge for personal items, provided they meet the size criteria. However, oversized items may incur fees.

Does a personal item count as hand luggage?

Yes, a personal item is considered a type of hand luggage, but it’s distinct from larger carry-ons that go in the overhead bin.

Can I bring a backpack as a personal item?

Yes, most airlines allow a backpack as a personal item as long as it fits under the seat and adheres to the size restrictions. For example, Southwest Airlines allows a personal item that can fit under the seat, which often includes small backpacks.

What happens if my personal item is too big?

If your personal item exceeds the airline’s size limits, you might be required to pay additional fees.

How to pack your personal item bag on Budget Airlines

How can I check my airline’s personal item policy?

The best way to check an airline’s personal item policy is to visit their official website or contact their customer service. Most airlines provide detailed baggage information online.

Final thought

Budget Airlines and Personal Items

So there you have it. Traveling light and packing smart is key when flying with budget airlines. It’s essential to be well-informed about the specific personal item policies of airlines. Staying within their size and weight limitations can save you from unexpected fees. It’s all about planning and sticking to the essentials. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be well on your way to a hassle-free, budget-friendly flight. 

Leave a Comment


Don't miss out on our periodic giveaways

Join our newsletter and stay up-to-date with the latest blogpost, travel tips and giveaways.


Don't miss out on our periodic giveaway

Join our newsletter and stay up-to-date with the latest blogpost, travel tips and giveaways.