Can I Bring 3 Bags as Carry-On?: two suitcases and a backpack

Everyone loves a good bargain, and travelers are no exception. So, when people travel, it’s totally normal for them to want to maximize their space smartly to cram in as much as possible, all without forking over extra money for checked luggage. Now, this brings us to a pretty common question: Can I bring 3 bags as carry-on?  

Well, find out the answer below!

Can I bring 3 bags as carry-on?

You’re not allowed to bring three bags as carry-on items on most flights. Instead, most airlines let you bring two bags. One is a personal item that must fit underneath your seat, and the other is a carry-on bag that goes in the overhead bin.

If you try to bring a third bag, TSA officers or airline staff might ask you to check it in. So, while you can travel as many bags as you like, only two can be taken with you onto the plane.

Read on for more details…   

Understanding airline carry-on policies

Airlines set rules for the size, weight, and quantity of travel items passengers are allowed onboard a plane. These rules vary across airlines and classes, but usually, passengers are allowed either 1 or 2 carry-on bags, depending on the airline and type of travel.

Here’s the main idea: your small personal item should fit under the seat in front of you, and your bigger carry-on bag should go in the overhead bin.

If you’re uncertain about the size, remember that a typical personal item is around 18 x 14 x 8 inches, while carry-on luggage is about 22 x 14 x 8 inches. I advise you to familiarize yourself with your specific airline’s policies before heading to the airport. This way, you can avoid any surprises at the last minute. 

Why you can’t bring 3 bags as carry-on luggage

Can I Bring 3 Bags as Carry-On?: bags in the overhead bin

When you’re traveling, it’s important to know that you can indeed bring three bags with you, but they can’t all be carried onto the plane as hand luggage. The number of bags you can carry-on depends on your ticket type and the airline’s baggage policy.

Typically, you’re allowed one or two bags as carry-ons, while the third, usually the largest one, needs to be checked in at the gate. Sometimes, there might be a small extra fee for this, but usually, you’ll only need to pay if checked baggage isn’t included in your ticket.

Anne Whitacre on Quora also agreed with me on this point saying you can bring only “one carry-on and one personal item.” rather than 3 bags. In their words “You have three items? Unless one of them can fit in the other two, or its clearly disposable like a packed lunch, two is the limit. The airlines are actually pretty clear about this. You can bring as many bags as you want but anything after two will be checked.”

Now, you might wonder why airlines won’t let you have three carry-on bags. The big reason is the baggage policies set by most airlines. They generally allow passengers to bring two bags – one carry-on and one personal item – at no extra cost. Any additional bags, especially larger ones, need to be checked as part of your checked luggage. They want to make sure that everyone has enough space for their essentials and that the plane’s overhead bins don’t get too crowded. This rule is followed by many US and international flights.

Let’s look at some domestic flights examples. Airlines such as Southwest, American, Delta, Alaska, Jetblue, Hawaiian allow one carry-on and one personal item for free. However, not all airlines are the same. Airlines like Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, and United Airlines’ Basic Economy tickets permit one free personal item and no free carry-on. So you see, if an airline only allows one personal item or a maximum of two free bags, your chances of bringing three bags as carry-on luggage are greatly reduced.

But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you can’t travel with more bags. You certainly can bring as many bags as you want, but anything beyond two carry-ons will need to be checked. So, if you really do not want to incur additional fees for checked bag fees, just stick to the airline’s specific rules and limit yourself to a maximum of two bags. 

Why do airlines limit you to 2 carry-on bags

Can I Bring 3 Bags as Carry-On?: a woman with a suitcase and a backpack

Airline baggage policies set rules about how many bags you can bring into the airplane cabin and why this matters. Here’s why these rules are in place:

1.     Limited cabin space

One key reason for these policies is the limited space available in the plane’s cabin. Following the limits for carry-ons ensures there’s enough room for everyone’s stuff. Imagine if everyone brought three bags on board – the overhead compartments would quickly fill up, leaving no space for others. Even if airline staff doesn’t tell you to check your bags, there might not be enough space for them. And I can tell you for free, Trying to fit in more than one bag under the seat isn’t comfy either.

A Quora contributor, Brian Craig, who is a crew member on airplanes, agrees about planes having limited space, so everyone must follow the guidelines.

He explains that travelers expecting unlimited room isn’t realistic. He said “I work on 777s all the time and we often quickly run out of locker space in economy, because everyone thinks they can bring on more bags. Some will complain when we have to move their bags forward or back a couple of rows or leave it in the closet up front. Sorry, airplanes are not built with unlimited space. It is not your ‘right’ as a customer to defy the laws of physics: math wins every time.”  

For the convenience of your fellow passengers

The convenience of your fellow passengers is another reason why airlines limit passenger bags. If you bring three bags, you might inconvenience others. A person on Reddit shared how they missed their flight because another passenger had too many bags, causing delays.

In reply to the question ‘Can I bring 3 bags as a carry-on?, they stated: “Please don’t. I once missed a connection flight because a woman and her teen son had 8 carry on items between them, and the airline just let it go. They were scanning everything while my plane was boarding. I watched my Lufthansa flight pull away. Why was I late for my connection? Because a woman in Zagreb refused to board without her 3 oversized carry on items, making the flight late. She refused to check them.

So you see, following the rules is not just about you—it’s about everyone having a good experience. 

3. Passenger safety

Even though it might feel a bit inconvenient at times, these policies are incredibly important for keeping everyone safe during travel, especially in emergencies. 

Rosie Spinks, who wrote an article for Quartzy, explains that flight attendants are genuinely concerned about overstuffed carry-on bags as a safety issue. The reason is that if there’s turbulence or sudden movements, bags that aren’t secured could turn into dangerous projectiles, putting both passengers and the cabin crew at risk. They point out, “Most frequent fliers can probably attest to witnessing or being involved in a near miss or two over the years.” 

4. Option for checked bags

And here’s the best part: You can still travel with three or more bags, just not as carry-on luggage. Instead, you can check your bigger bags, either for free or by paying a fee, depending on your flight type. For example, Airlines like American Airlines and Delta Air Lines allow you to check a lot of bags, even up to 10 per person! This is handy if you’re traveling with family or a lot of stuff.

In the end, the number of bags you can bring depends on your airline, ticket type, and their specific baggage rules. To be a good passenger and ensure everyone’s comfort, it’s best to stick to the airline’s guidelines. 

Exceptions: When you can have more than two bags

Normally, you’re supposed to stick to the rule of having only two carry-on bags. But there are times when you might be allowed to bring more. Sometimes, airlines might let you bring extra bags for medical reasons or when you’re traveling with a baby.

For instance, with United Airlines, certain things like a jacket, umbrellas, cameras, mobility aids (like wheelchairs, canes, and crutches), car seats, child safety harnesses, a stroller, diaper bags, or breast pumps are often considered separate from the regular carry-on limit.

But you should always check what the airline’s rules are in these cases. Just remember, some airlines might make you pay an extra charge if you want to bring more bags. 

How to smartly travel with just a carry-on and personal item

Most travelers, including myself, tend to travel with two pieces of luggage, to avoid paying for checked baggage fees. To maximize space, my go-to setup is a carry-on suitcase and a backpack or duffel bag. Just remember to stay within the airline’s size limits for both your carry-on and personal items.

Smart packing can save you from having to check in luggage. Here’s how to fit everything you need into your carry-on bag and personal item bag:

  1. Use packing guides and plan ahead: Use a packing checklist to decide what to bring and leave behind items you won’t need to prevent overpacking. 
  2. Mix and match clothes: Pack versatile clothes that can be easily combined. Stick to a color scheme for coordination.
  3. Roll, don’t fold: Rolling clothes saves space and minimizes wrinkles. Put heavier items at the bottom for balance.
  4. Use packing cubes: These help keep your stuff organized and maximize space.
  5. Limit shoes: Shoes take up space. Wear the bulkier pair and bring one or two more pairs for different occasions.
  6. Travel-size toiletries: Transfer liquids to smaller containers to save space and follow security rules.
  7. Layering and bulky items: Wear your bulkiest items, like jackets or boots, while traveling to save space.
  8. Utilize empty spaces: Fill shoes with socks or small items, and use corners and gaps for smaller things.
  9. Go Digital: Instead of carrying physical books or papers, use e-readers and digital files.
  10. Make the most of your personal item bag: Pack essentials like meds, snacks, and a change of clothes in your personal item that goes under the seat.


Can I carry 3 bags in an international flight?

Yes, you can, but you’ll need to check them in as luggage. For international flights, airlines typically permit you to carry one carry-on bag and one or possibly two checked bags. If you want to bring more than that, you’ll likely have to pay extra charges for checked bags or pay for exceeding the weight limit for oversized or overweight bags.

What airline allows 3 bags?

Many airlines such as American, Spirit, and Delta Air Lines, allow passengers to carry 3 bags or even more as checked luggage. And of course, you should directly contact the airline you intend to fly with to verify their current rules for baggage allowance.

How many bags can you bring on a plane as carry-on?

The limit for carry-on bags depends on the airline, but generally, you’re allowed one main carry-on bag and personal items like a purse, laptop bag, or small backpack.

Can I check more than two bags?

Yes, you can check in more than two bags when flying. Just note that bringing extra bags beyond the usual limit might lead to additional charges for excess baggage.

How many bags can you take on a plane for free?

The quantity of bags you’re allowed to bring without extra charges depends on the airline and your ticket type. Airlines have different baggage rules, but generally, you can usually have one carry-on bag and one personal item without having to pay extra fees.

How can I avoid paying for extra baggage?

So, can I bring 3 bags on a plane?

Can I Bring 3 Bags as Carry-On?: many bags are the airport

You’re allowed to bring two bags on board, but having three as carry-ons isn’t usually allowed. If you’re caught with a third bag, the airline might request you to check it in.

It’s smart to stick to the airline’s baggage rules to avoid extra charges for checked bags. By packing wisely, following guidelines, and understanding your airline’s rules on sizes and restricted items, you’ll make your travel experience hassle-free from check-in to arrival. 

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.