With airlines constantly adjusting their compact carry-on size requirements and implementing higher fees for checked luggage, travelers have been forced to adjust and pack smarter.
Many U.S. airlines are following in the footsteps of ultra-low budget carriers like WOW and Spirit, introducing free “basic economy” fares that charge extra for carry-on bags. As a result, the most budget-conscious travelers have started taking packing light a step further and have managed to travel using only lightweight under seat luggage on their ultra-budget flights.
Even if not flying on
Whether you’re looking to avoid baggage fees or you’re just trying to make it home for the holidays without playing the terrifying game of dibs that is trying to nab space in a crowded overhead compartment, I’ve picked the best underseat luggage options for light-packing, savvy travelers who are tired of taking s(@* from airlines.
One important note on the dimensions of
While I’ve done my best to pick only bags that fit under airplane seats, it may not necessarily pass the requirements of the most intensely strict airlines (WOW and Spirit are notoriously more strict than other airlines). Compare the specs of the bag with what your airline allows before deciding on what to buy, as every airline’s
Winner: Samsonite Spinner Underseater with USB Port
The sleekest and most ergonomic of all the luggage on the list, this is the best under seat bag for the aesthetics-focused traveler who wants to travel comfortably and stylishly. Their colors are really rich and beautiful, especially the Majolica Blue, so if design and aesthetics are important to you, I think this is one of the nicest-looking options.
Another awesome perk is that it has a USB port… however, it doesn’t come with the battery, so you will have to buy an external battery pack such as this Lumina charger to actually take advantage of that functionality.
One of my favorite things about this bag, though, is that it is actually a spinner
Another plus is that the maximum extended height on the 3-height adjustable handle is designed to be longer for taller travelers, which is sometimes missing on other small
Finally, this is one of the few bags on this list that has both a highly organized interior as well as a separate laptop pocket. It seemed that most lightweight
One point to keep in mind is that Samsonite has a 10 year warranty period, so if anything malfunctions with this bag, you can rest assured that you’ll get your money back.
However, there are a few negatives to note. For one, while this is one of the few rolling laptop bags that fit under your seat, the laptop compartment is still rather small. Some people with a 15″ laptop have reported having trouble getting their computers to fit. If you have a
A big negative is that this bag won’t necessarily fit on every single airline – one reviewer noted that it didn’t pass Spirit Airlines’ new standards and they were forced to check it for $65 — yeow. It’s also one of the pricier options on this list due to its extra features (4 spinning wheels, USB port) so if you are on a tight budget this may not be your bag.
If you are buying a wheeled
Best for: tall travelers, aesthetics-focused travelers, techie travelers, business travelers
Worst for: some budget airlines (Spirit) as it won’t fit their tightened restrictions on under seat bags
Dimensions: 9 x 16.5 x 13.5 inches
Weight: 5 pounds
Runner Up: Delsey Luggage Cruise Lite Hardside 2 Wheel Underseater
If you’re looking for the best under seat carry on luggage with
This two-wheel rolling
The great thing about this
Inside, you’ll find a lined interior with tie-down straps that keep your clothes separate from your other odds and ends in your bag, keeping them in place and preventing wrinkling. This is another feature that makes it one of the better
Made of 100% polycarbonate, which is impact-resistant and scratch-resistant without adding too much weight, this bag is in it for the long haul (pun definitely intended – I can’t help myself).
A few downsides worth mentioning: it has two wheels, not four, so you will have to drag it behind you rather than having the ability to push it in front of you or to your
Another feature this bag is lacking is an organizer insert in the larger component, as all it has are the elastic straps that hold your clothing in place. More pockets would be welcome, or you could supplement it with travel organizers like an electronics organizer or toiletry hanging case.
It also doesn’t have a trolley strap, so that if you were trying to travel with this in
Best for: business travelers, weekend trips
Worst for: travelers looking for lots of organization, longer trips
Dimensions: 12.2 x 14.8 x 9.2 inches
Weight: 5.25 pounds
Runner Up: Samsonite Wheeled Underseater Small
Made of a combination of polyester and nylon, this Samsonite wheeled
With superior pockets, organizers, and compartments to any other
Some other positives are that the wheels glide easily and if you have a larger suitcase that you are bringing as well, it fits on top using the trolley sleeve, giving you a free hand. Reviewers have said this bag fits even on budget airlines like Spirit, so it’s wonderful to use as your only bag as well if you are traveling light and want to avoid baggage fees entirely.
For a bag of its size, there is a good amount of interior organization, including WetPak lined pockets for toiletries and mesh pockets for loose items. Still, packing cubes would be ideal for maximizing your packing abilities in the main internal packing compartment. Using packing cubes plus picking lightweight clothing materials means that you can fit up to a week’s worth of clothes as well as travel-sized toiletries and more in this sleek
However, there is no separate laptop compartment, which is a downside for many travelers. For me, I use a simple neoprene laptop sleeve like this one, so it is not a dealbreaker, but others may prefer a separate laptop compartment, especially if they are traveling with a lot of liquid toiletries.
Another downside is that this is probably not the best under seat luggage option for tall people, as the bag is quite small and the handle height doesn’t extend that far. However, it does have handles, which means you can easily lift it up to carry it if you don’t want to lug it behind you.
Also, some people have complained about the fabric fraying, as even the sturdiest nylon can’t compete with polycarbonate that you’ll find in hard-side luggage. It does come with the standard Samsonite 10-year warranty against defects, though, so you can rest easy knowing that your bag will last or be replaced. Additionally, a benefit of the soft-side nylon is that you have a little more flexibility in making it fit in a tight spot versus hard-side luggage. One final con is that it’s also slightly on the heavy side, weighing in at over 6 pounds, mostly due to the organizational features.
Best for: female travelers with lots of toiletries, longer trips, highly organized people
Worst for: business travelers, taller travelers
Dimensions: 6.5 x 13 x 13 inches
Weight: 6.25 pounds
Runner Up: Travelon Wheeled Underseat Carry-On with Back-Up Bag
Another highly organized bag better for longer trips, this bag from Travelon is thoughtfully designed
The bag has a large main compartment which you can maximize using packing cubes and the elasticized pockets, as well as a front organizer compartment that’s part of the main compartment. There’s also a separate zippered front pocket. The front pockets are well-organized and a great place to put things you need quick access to like plane tickets, identification, chapstick and toiletries, etc. There’s also a handy side pocket for a water bottle, a touch that I always appreciate but is often missing from
In case you need to pack a little more than expected, there is a large “back-up bag” that takes up very little room but is rather roomy when it needs to be. You can easily strap the back-up bag to the main wheeled mini suitcase to make it easier to travel through the airport with both bags.
There is also a strap on the main mini
Note though that on airlines which require you to only have one bag or pay baggage fees, like Spirit, this will likely not work as they would be considered two separate bags.
If you pack smartly with lightweight materials, you could use this as your primary bag for a trip of up to one week, though you’d be more comfortable using it for shorter trips. Packing cubes would definitely come in handy if you are traveling for more than a few days with this bag, enabling you to compress. Hint: get the smaller packing cubes so you can better Tetris-cram them into your luggage.
One great thing about the design is that the sloped top makes the main compartment very accessible when placed under the seat, so you can get out what you need without too much trouble.
However, there is no separate laptop compartment, and the handlebars inside the bag are not padded, meaning that it could potentially scrape against a tablet or laptop if not contained in a protective neoprene sleeve like this one. This is one major con for me that keeps me from being able to name it as the best under seat rolling carry on.
Also, the add-on bag seems like a nice idea, but since the whole point of the
Best for: traveling with another large suitcase, highly organized travelers, use with packing cubes
Worst for: business travel
Dimensions: 12 x 8.5 x 14 inches
Weight: 5.2 pounds
Runner Up: 5Cities Carry On Hand Luggage Flight Duffel Bags
So far, all the bags on this list have been wheeled suitcases, but perhaps you want something a little different, such as a duffel bag that you can carry through the airport. While not the most ergonomic option for long term travel, if you just want a simple bag that was specifically designed to fit personal item restrictions on American budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier, this may be a great choice.
The duffel bag has a trolley strap on the
The bag has a dual zip design and mini padlock so you can lock it together for extra security if needed. You can adjust the strap so that it is either a. shoulder strap like a traditional duffel or you can use the top tug handles, or place it on another piece of luggage so that you don’t have to carry it at all.
It’s very lightweight so if weight is an issue this bag will come to your rescue at only 1 pound. It meets the strictest size requirements so if you are traveling on an
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this is the cheapest option!
It has some fun colors and patterns as well if you are looking for a little bit of personality and flash to your luggage and don’t want just another boring old black suitcase.
One big flaw in the bag is that it is not at all organized or protected: it is literally just one big open space, no padding or protection for your belongings. As a result, it’s not a good bag if you are traveling with anything that could be damaged easily, like a laptop or camera.
It’s best for clothes (add packing cubes to make up for the lack of organizational features) if you are really trying to maximize your clothing options. But other than that, it has pretty minimal features, especially when compared to other
Reviewers have had trouble with the straps breaking and zippers coming undone, so the cheapness definitely can work against you. If you are looking for a long-term bag, this isn’t it. However, if you not a frequent traveler and are just looking for a cheap one-time solution to a problem, this should likely be the best
Best for: people who want a no-nonsense bag that will meet all airline requirements,
Worst for: people who need organizational features, people traveling with electronics, frequent travelers
Dimensions: 15 x 7.8 x 21 inches
Weight: 1 pound
Runner Up: Rustic Town Leather Travel Duffel Bag
If the idea of a duffel bag is appealing but you want something better constructed, more beautiful and more durable than the 5Cities duffel above, this may be the best
Made of genuine buffalo hide leather, it’s not a cheap option, but that’s because this bag is designed to last through the demands of air travel. The best part of leather is that it takes a beating quite well, getting softer and suppler with each use and gaining
The leather is handcrafted from buffalo hide by Indian artisans in accordance with Fair Trade practices. Buffalo hide produces a
Whereas most duffel bags lack on the organizational front, this one has packing efficiency at the forefront of thinking, with 2 exterior zipping pockets, 1 interior zipper pocket, 4 card slots, 2 pen loops, and a mobile pocket. There is no dedicated laptop pocket, but it should fit a laptop of up to 15″.
A few negative things to consider: the bag isn’t the most ergonomic, so if you get shoulder pain from having weight distributed unevenly, this is not a good fit for you. If that’s a concern, you will be better off with one of the wheeled underseat bags mentioned above.
It has some organizational features like zippered pockets and card holders, but you would probably want to supplement it with packing cubes or other travel organizers if using this as your main bag over a long period of time.
Finally, many people avoid leather for environmental or ethical purposes. While this bag is made from buffalo hide from animals who are used for food and is therefore made with sustainable and traditional leather-making practices in mind, I understand that many people find leather to be a no-go.
Best for: Aesthetically-minded travelers, frequent travelers, male and female travelers with a timeless sense of style, people who want to support Fair Trade practices
Worst for: Vegans and people who avoid leather, budget travelers, people with back or shoulder issues who need a rolling bag that fits under an
Dimensions: 20” x 11.5” x 8.25”
Weight: 3 pounds
Allison Green is a former educator turned travel blogger. She holds a Masters in Teaching and a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Her blog posts merge her educational background and her experience traveling to 60+ countries to encourage thoughtful travel experiences that both educate and entertain. She has been a speaker at the World Travel Writers Conference and her writing, photography, and podcasting work has appeared in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, CBC Canada, and Forbes, amongst others. Now based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she grew up, she has also lived in Prague, Sofia, and New York City.