Best Underseat Luggage to Avoid Carry-on Fees
Best Underseat Luggage to Avoid Carry-on Fees

When you think of luggage, there’s a good chance you picture a big, bulky suitcase you hand over to an airline attendant the second you step foot in the airport. But with the increase in baggage fees has come a decrease in the size of bags, and we're not just talking about travel backpacks. If you don’t want to carry your gear on your back, there are now options for rolling luggage that will fit under the seat in front of you, hopefully saving you from paying more to bring your clothing and travel accessories than you did for your ticket.

We say “hopefully” because you’ll need to pay close attention to the dimensions allowed by the airline that you’re flying. We haven't found anything that comes close to a one-size-fits-all solution to underseat luggage; to get that, you'd have to pack for an entire trip in a small sling. And maybe you are. We won’t judge, though you may want to toss a Scrubba Wash Bag inside because there's a good chance you'll be doing a lot of laundry.

If you’re unfamiliar with what's allowed, here’s a small sampling of airline restrictions as of the time of this guide.

Airlines Personal Item Size (IN) Personal Item Size (CM) Weight Limit Suggested Bag
Allegiant Air 18 x 14 x 8 45 x 35 x 20 None Take OFF Luggage Personal Item Suitcase 2.0
Delta Airlines 17 x 13 x 9 43 x 33 x 23 None TravelPro Crew VersaPack Rolling UnderSeat Carry-On
easyJet 17.7 x 14 x 7.8 45 x 36 x 20 33 lbs/15 kg KROSER Multi-function Carry On Underseat Luggage
Frontier Airlines 18 x 14 x 8 45 x 35 x 20 None Travel Ready Small Underseat 2 Wheel Carry On
Ryanair 15.7 x 9.8 x 7.8 40 x 25 x 20 None None
Spirit Airlines 18 x 14 x 8 45 x 35 x 20 None Briggs & Riley Rhapsody Widemouth Cabin Spinner
United Airlines 17 x 10 x 9 43 x 25 x 22 None None

However, rules change often, so we strongly encourage you to check the current regulations of the airline you plan to fly on your next trip before assuming that what made it on board last time will work again. As you read this guide, you’ll also notice that some of the airlines don’t match up with any of the bags we recommend; that’s because the allowable dimensions on some of the airlines (ahem, Ryanair, ahem) are so small that you’re better off looking for a bag without wheels. Luckily, our guide to the best personal item bags includes options that meet those requirements.

Why You Should Trust Us

After determining some of the most common dimensions allowed to fly free, we went shopping. We looked for bags that would hold at least a weekend’s worth of gear, including space for a laptop or tablet, if possible. Plenty of Pack Hacker team members have flown personal-item-only before and know that it’s certainly possible to do for a 2-3 day trip, or even longer if you’re rocking a travel capsule wardrobe and are willing to do a little laundry once you reach your destination.

Personal item roller bags
Best Underseat Luggage to Avoid Carry-on Fees | Personal item only, that's how we roll

Rolling and spinner luggage adds another layer to the packing puzzle, as wheels and extendable handles take up more space. However, our tester has experience flying Spirit Airlines packed in a tiny, hard-sided piece of underseat luggage (which is discontinued but continues to roll along nicely after years of use) to girls' trips and running race weekends. They find it satisfying when everything fits in a tiny box and are up to the challenge of finding the best personal item bag. We were happy to see that luggage manufacturers make more small bags nowadays and found plenty of bags that fit the requirements, so we got more than a dozen into HQ to see if they passed our tests.

How We Tested It

Test 1: We walked back and forth with the bags over cement, low carpet, a high-pile rug, and over cords to see how well they rolled. Do they bounce around or slow your roll when they hit resistance? Can you move them sideways to get down the aisle to your seat at the back of the plane? We wanted to find out.

Test 2: While most underseat luggage includes a carry handle you can use as a last resort, we wanted to check out the sturdiness and ease of extending and retracting each telescopic handle since if you're looking for the best rolling personal item bag you want to roll it, not carry it. The handle shouldn't be the weakest link in that equation.

Packing cubes and shoes
Best Underseat Luggage to Avoid Carry-on Fees | All packed for a weekend

Test 3: Is there enough space to make the best underseat bag worth buying? We filled a packing cube with two days’ worth of clothing (two T-shirts, a pair of leggings, a pair of shorts, a swimsuit, underwear, and socks), then grabbed a pair of travel shoes and a full toiletry bag to simulate what we’d need for a weekend getaway. Then, we checked if it fit. For bags that include a laptop sleeve, we added a 13-inch MacBook Air and a small Aer Split Kit with its cord and wall charger since, if you're bringing a laptop, you'll also need the associated tech.

1. Briggs & Riley Rhapsody Widemouth Cabin Spinner
Briggs & Riley Rhapsody Widemouth Cabin Spinner

Best For: Business Travelers

If you’re an organized traveler looking for the best underseat luggage, this may be the bag for you. The Rhapsody Widemouth Cabin Spinner includes a padded pocket for your laptop and a front pocket that acts as an admin panel, with slots for your phone, cards, a pen, and an RFID-protected one for your passport or wallet. There’s an open side pocket for slim gear or a small water bottle, though the gusseted opening is not that wide. We also used two internal side pockets for shoes, but they lay flat if you don’t have gear that fits well inside. We had no issue fitting all of our gear inside, including the laptop and tech pouch, though not much space remains for anything extra, so you’ll have to pack lightly in this personal item bag. However, it has a unique system that allows another Briggs & Riley handle to interlock with the bag instead of a simple luggage pass-through, so you can pair it with a larger piece of checked luggage if you want since that's often cheaper than carrying on if you need to pack more.

This isn’t a budget buy, but you get what you pay for. The four wheels spin like a dream and are super quiet, too. It rolls easily over thick carpeting and cords, or you can drag it behind you for a smoother experience on rough surfaces. There’s absolutely no wiggle in the handle and no shimmy in the bag, though the handle sometimes sticks when you push it back down.

Top Compatible Airlines: Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines

Why We Like It
  • Briggs & Riley stands behind its lifetime warranty, so this is an investment piece that should last
  • The nylon exterior and leather accents look premium
What You Should Know
  • Monogramming is free, though there’s a restocking fee if you return a personalized item
  • There’s a lot of Briggs & Riley branding on the bag
See Details & Buying Options
2. Samsonite Spinner Underseater with USB Port
Samsonite Spinner Underseater with USB Port

Best For: Fitting footwear

If you’re flying on a more permissible airline, like Delta Airlines in the U.S., you can squeeze a bigger bag under the seat in front of you. The dimensions we list for Delta are only a guide based on the underseat dimensions of 20 in X 15 in X 11 in (55 cm X 38 cm X 28 cm) on most Delta aircraft. The airline doesn’t publish its allowable dimensions but says that personal items can include briefcases and laptop bags. The Samsonite Spinner Underseater is about the size of a large rolling case, but you can fit so much more than just your laptop and tech pouch inside. We had no issue fitting our packing cube full of clothing inside, and we really like having internal side pockets because they are a perfect fit for our shoes (with the soles facing the bag, not your clothing, of course). Even after putting our weekend’s worth of gear inside, we had an extra 5 inches of height and 12 inches of width left at the top of the bag, which is enough space to add another outfit or two or a hoodie and pants if you’re traveling from a warm place to a colder destination.

The telescopic handle is pretty wiggly, yet we think where it stops at two height adjustments should work for most travelers. The spinner has four wheels that roll sideways down the aisle and excels over concrete, though we find it best to drag it behind you on two wheels when walking on thick carpeting or bumpy surfaces. If you want to pick it up, the extendable handle tucks away in a zippered pocket so you can use the carry handles instead.

Top Compatible Airlines: Delta Airlines

Why We Like It
  • It has so much space to fill
  • There’s a side pocket to hold a battery bank and a built-in cord that runs to an outlet for your device
What You Should Know
  • It bounces when hitting rougher surfaces due to the wiggly handle
  • The padded laptop sleeve isn’t removable for use elsewhere
See Details & Buying Options
3. TRAVEL READY Small 15″ Underseat 2 Wheel Carry On
TRAVEL READY Small 15″ Underseat 2 Wheel Carry On

Best For: Airlines with weight limits

If you’re short on storage space, you’ll be happy that we’ve found the easiest underseat luggage to store after your trip. Travel Ready’s Underseat 2-Wheel Carry-On collapses to be nearly flat when empty, so you can easily tuck it under your bed or in the back of your closet when you get home. To pack, just open up the main compartment and pull the front out for plenty of space for a weekend’s worth of gear and then some. We put our phone and wallet in the front pocket for easy access without dislodging the rest of our gear. After packing our cube of clothing, shoes, and toiletry bag, there were about 13 inches of width and 6 inches of height remaining in the main compartment. There’s no laptop sleeve in here, and with the soft sides, we wouldn’t recommend traveling with any but the toughest case to protect it if you need to bring it along.

The handle includes two height adjustments and takes a little effort to push in, as it seems to catch on the way down. However, we found it surprisingly stable, considering the floppiness of the rest of the bag, and the two wheels roll very nicely beside you as you make your way through the airport. It’s easy to push, too, so we have no issue getting out of tight spaces or traveling over different surfaces.

Top Compatible Airlines: Allegiant Air, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines

Why We Like It
  • The ripstop polyester material is durable, yet lightweight
  • It includes a shoulder strap if you don’t want to roll it, and it’s surprisingly comfortable
What You Should Know
  • You can see and reach your gear with the handle extended, which means the elements can get inside, too
  • Depending on how you pack it, it can be a little tippy
See Details & Buying Options
4. Travelpro Crew VersaPack Rolling UnderSeat Carry-On
Travelpro Crew VersaPack Rolling UnderSeat Carry-On

Best For: Organized packing

If you’re part of the crew (or aspire to be), you’ll appreciate the thoughtful features in the TravelPro Crew VersaPack. We can tell it was designed with airline staff members in mind because there’s a ton of useful organization to help you make the most of a small space. The front pocket has a spot for your phone and a leash for your keys, and the main compartment includes a quilted laptop sleeve. There’s also a removable hanging toiletry bag with several compartments to better organize your gear and plenty of space for everything we packed, with an additional 12 inches of width and 4 inches of height remaining to fill with souvenirs or a hoodie.

It’s easy to make your way through the airport, as the super beefy telescoping handle has a nice grip and moves easily up and down as long as you’re holding the button. There are plenty of places to stop along the way, but it clicked consistently into two height settings, which should work for most users. It’s easy to maneuver and rolls smoothly over every surface we tested, including thick carpeting. And if you need to pick it up, there are thickly padded carry handles wrapped in a leather-like grip that’s comfortable to carry for some time.

Top Compatible Airlines: Delta Airlines

Why We Like It
  • The included water-resistant toiletry bag is removable to hang at your destination
  • You can slide a water bottle in one side pocket
What You Should Know
  • It’s designed as an underseat bag for major U.S. airlines, yet it’s still a quarter inch too deep for budget brands
  • The toiletry bag is near your laptop yet doesn’t include waterproof zippers
See Details & Buying Options
5. Take OFF Luggage Personal Item Suitcase 2.0
Take OFF Luggage Personal Item Suitcase 2.0

Best For: Adaptability

Handles and wheels are often the parts of a personal item bag that don’t fit in the sizer, so you may sometimes wish you could take them off your favorite bag to stash it under the seat in front of you. With the Personal Item Suitcase 2.0 from Take OFF Luggage, you can! Simply press a yellow tab to pop the wheels off when you arrive at the gate, and you’ll have no issue fitting in the sizers of major budget airlines. They come off easily, although they pick up a lot of dirt, so you’ll want to pack wet wipes to clean them first or remove them with enough time left to dash to the restroom to wash your hands before boarding. Then, you’ll also have to open the bag to stash them inside. We’d recommend carrying a sling to hold them instead, but if you’re using this as a personal item, you won’t be able to bring another bag. Once you arrive, popping them back on is even faster than taking them off.

This hard-sided personal item bag had plenty of space for all the gear we wanted to bring on a trip, though it lacks a laptop sleeve, so we left tech behind. Still, there’s enough remaining space for a laptop in a protective case and a tech pouch, or another packing cube if you want to bring more clothing. We had no issue pulling out the handle, which lays flush with the top of the bag when retracted. It’s slightly flexible as we walked over different surfaces, but not too wiggly, and has two height adjustments. We liked to pull it behind us over thick carpet and other rough surfaces, though the wheels roll sideways easily and work well on smooth surfaces.

Top Compatible Airlines: Allegiant Air, easyJet, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines

Why We Like It
  • You can leave the wheels on to use it as a carry on or take them off to fit the personal item dimensions of U.S. budget airlines
  • Take OFF sells accessories like vacuum compression bags and a travel vacuum if you need to bring more gear
What You Should Know
  • The lower height adjustment is really short
  • You must unzip the entire bag to get inside, whether you need to pull out toiletries or stash away the wheels
See Details & Buying Options
6. Amazon Basics Underseat Carry-On
Amazon Basics Underseat Carry-On

Best For: Budget travelers

Rolling underseat luggage is a niche product, so you may not want to spend much on gear you rarely use. If you’re just shopping for one or two trips, you may want to check out the Amazon Basics Underseat Carry-On. It includes two side pockets and a small front pocket with spots for your phone, wallet, and small accessories. There’s a nice amount of padding on the wrap holding the carry handles together if you have to pick it up, which you may do to avoid using the wiggly telescoping handle. It’s easy to pull out and retracts quite easily, though it’s hard to get the handle to lock into the lower adjustment point.

There’s no laptop sleeve, but we had no issue fitting all the rest of our gear inside, with 12 inches of width and 4.5 inches of height remaining to fill. It’s pretty easy to pull the two rollerblade-style wheels behind you, even over thick carpeting and rough surfaces. However, it’s not as maneuverable as some rolling underseater bags; the wiggly handle makes it harder to push for quicker turnarounds.

Top Compatible Airlines: Delta Airlines

Why We Like It
  • It costs less than $50 at the time of writing
  • The wheels remind us of roller blades and roll just as smoothly
What You Should Know
  • If you don’t fill the available space, the top can cave in
  • It’s too deep for budget airlines
See Details & Buying Options
7. KROSER Multi-function Carry On Underseat Luggage
KROSER Multi-function Carry On Underseat Luggage

Best For: External pockets

A lot of luggage lacks the sheer number of pockets we find on travel backpacks, but if they make you happy, the KROSER Carry On is for you. There are six exterior pockets, including two side pockets with gussets to hold a water bottle or umbrella, a front pocket with RFID protection for your passport or wallet, and different size pockets for quick access to other gear. There’s a separate laptop compartment that includes a sleeve for a tablet and a pocket for your tech pouch, and there’s plenty of room for the rest of our gear in the main compartment, though it fills up quickly.

When you unzip the cover to the handle, you can see the foam padding on the backside of the bag but not your gear. The handle itself is a little shaky, but it is super easy to extend, though it sometimes sticks at a potential third height adjustment on the way down. The two wheels roll easily over various surfaces, and the bag lacks the bounce we see in some other rolling personal item bags, even as it travels over cords. It’s super easy to maneuver and turn when walking quickly and easy to push out of tight spaces, though you’ll have to carry it sideways down the aisle of the plane.

Top Compatible Airlines: Allegiant Air, Delta Airlines, easyJet, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines

Why We Like It
  • There’s a well-organized admin panel in the laptop compartment, which you can secure with an included combination lock
  • The carry handle wrap snaps together magnetically
What You Should Know
  • The tapered shape isn’t as easy to pack, especially toward the top
  • It’s easy to overpack, so measure the depth after you fill it to ensure you don’t exceed the restrictions
See Details & Buying Options
8. Hanke 14 Inch Underseat Carry On Luggage
Hanke 14 Inch Underseat Carry On Luggage

Best For: Colorful choices

You don’t have to blend in with the crowd or risk losing your luggage when choosing one of the fun colorways from Hanke. We don’t judge this book by its bright cover; there is plenty more to recommend this underseat bag. To begin with, its squat, square shape fits the personal-item dimensions of many budget airlines, yet it still has a nice capacity for gear. There’s no laptop sleeve, so it’s best for travelers who will be leaving a device behind, but when you open it like the book in our analogy (sideways instead of from the top), you’ll find that there’s a zipper panel against the front side to hold your gear in place. It had no issue fitting our shoes, and we slot the toiletry bag in the zipper pocket on that panel, as it has a water-resistant lining. That leaves only our packing cube for the back half, where compression straps hold it in place. Truthfully, we can fit everything on one side or the other, so there's plenty of space to pack for a longer trip.

The plastic exterior is cute, but static builds up along the bottom as you roll through the airport, attracting dirt and lint to the wheels and the bottom of the bag. However, the YKK zippers and silent wheels seem like they belong on a much more expensive bag, so we’ll forgive the build-up or use a protective cover. The handle retracts so easily that it almost falls in after slipping from your fingers, and there are three height adjustment points. The wheels work well on multiple surfaces, though we prefer to drag it along rougher floors and thick carpeting, rolling it beside us when things smooth out.

Top Compatible Airlines: Allegiant Air, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines

Why We Like It
  • It includes a built-in TSA combination lock for security
  • A PVC cover is included if you’re concerned about scratches and dirt, and you can still roll the bag and extend the handle with it on
What You Should Know
  • Compressing your gear inside leaves a loop of extra strap
  • The handle channels eat up a lot of space along the back
See Details & Buying Options
9. TUMI Voyageur Oxford Compact Carry-On
TUMI Voyageur Oxford Compact Carry-On

Best For: Premium features

If you prefer a lot of organization and a premium aesthetic, there’s a good chance you’ve considered TUMI. The Voyageur Oxford Compact Carry-On has a front dump pocket for quick access to small gear, a separate space to slide your laptop, and a large front compartment. It includes admin-panel style organization and a zipper pocket for a battery bank. A built-in cord leads to an external USB port subtly built into the TUMI luggage tag on the side for on-the-go charging. You don’t have to go old-school with your information; TUMI also includes a barcode tracer for the bag in case you accidentally leave it behind. You’ll probably have to pack more than just tech in this section, though, as it takes up nearly half the bag’s capacity. We tossed our toiletry bag and tech kit inside instead of wasting open space.

We consistently got the Voyageur to stop at two spots on the handle, although TUMI claims it has five adjustment points. While it pulls out and retracts pretty easily, we occasionally had to depress the button again as we pushed the handle in, as it can catch on the way down. The four wheels work well, though they’re a little louder than other premium options. We found it best to pull it over thick carpeting and cords and push it along smoother surfaces. The handle is slightly wiggly, which isn’t a big deal except that it makes the bag slightly sway as you roll it sideways down the airplane aisle to your seat.

Top Compatible Airlines: Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines

Why We Like It
  • There’s separate access to the laptop compartment, so you can take it out easily on the plane
  • You can bring a lot of tech in the admin compartment
What You Should Know
  • There’s a built-in USB port and a built-in cord, but you have to provide your own battery bank
  • It feels quite heavy
See Details & Buying Options
10. American Tourister 4 Kix Expandable Softside Luggage
American Tourister 4 Kix Expandable Softside Luggage

Best For: Fitting a lot into a small bag

The best personal item bag fits a lot into a small space. If that’s what’s on your wishlist, you’ll appreciate the open space of the American Tourister 4 Kix. What it lacks in internal organization, it makes up for in capacity while still meeting the requirements of budget airlines—and isn't saving money the point when searching for the best underseat luggage? After filling it with all our travel gear, we had tons of space remaining, though if you don’t overpack it, the bag itself is only 7 inches deep. That may help you fit on airlines with tighter restrictions. We’ve noticed that depth is the tightest dimension of many sizers, and we appreciate that American Tourister accounts for the fact that you may actually pack the bag full when listing its dimensions. There isn’t a laptop sleeve or compartment, so this is best for vacation travelers who want to leave a device at home.

The handle is easy to pull out, but when you do, check that the liner is zipped all the way to the top. We found the fastener partially undone when our brand sample arrived, leaving our gear open to the elements. However, it was an easy fix, and we had no issue finding the most comfortable height with the two adjustments. The two wheels roll extremely well over a variety of surfaces, and the bag pivots to change direction faster than you can yell, “PIVOT”!

Top Compatible Airlines: Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines

Why We Like It
  • Its full clamshell opening is easy to pack
  • The carry handles are thick and comfortable to hold
What You Should Know
  • It doesn’t have a lot of internal organization
  • There’s no laptop sleeve, yet the front pocket is large and cushioned enough for a tablet in a protective case
See Details & Buying Options

We Also Considered

The Wrangler 15″ Underseat Spinner Carry-On is as sturdy as you’d expect from the brand, and it has a removable laptop sleeve. However, it’s an extremely tight fit to wedge even a 13-inch device inside, and the bag shimmies as you roll it. It didn’t wow us, and we found better options.

Whether you’re looking to lighten your load or save a few bucks on baggage, you’ll find it easy to pack for short trips in one of the best rolling personal item bags. Just don’t overstuff them, or even the smallest underseat luggage can cost you if it swells larger than the sizer at the gate.

June 28, 2024

Pack Hacker