Personal Item Only – How to Pack for Budget Airlines

February 2020

Personal Item Only – How to Pack for Budget Airlines

Getting a good deal on a flight can be easily ruined by dreaded airline fees for baggage. The temporary fee that became permanent as soon as the airlines got the chance (thanks to the gas prices of 2007-2008). This fee has become very specific to the airline you are flying.

Some charge only for a checked bag and the carry on and personal item is included in the price of the ticket. In these cases, read my 5 Reasons to Pack in a Carry On.

The next tier is charging for checked bag and carry on bag (thanks for making this a thing, United) and only permitted a personal item to go under the seat in front of you at no additional cost. This is also the framework for budget airlines as well such as Frontier and Spirit. These budget airlines charge for both checked bag and carry on but charge more for the carry on bag than the checked bag (dumb). 

Budget airlines are one of the biggest way of getting a cheap flight… so long as you can stuff what you need in a personal item. Personal items are defined by the ability to fit entirely under the seat in front of you. While it is a tiny space, your tolerance of leg comfort will help determine how big your bag can be.

Typically, we are going away for a 3 day weekend with these budget airlines so packing not as big a challenge as you may think. I use my high school Northface backpack that has two front compartments and cords to compress the bag. A small duffle bag would work as well as a tote bag. Using packing cubes will also help condense your items into a compact way.

Here’s how to pack your bag up:

Fill a large packing cube with all clothing items. Lay the packing cube into the backpack so that it is flat on the back side of the bag, what would be against your back.


Fill a small packing cube with all toiletry items. Lay the packing cube in front of the large back cube in the large compartment of the backpack.



I throw in my liquid 3-1-1 bag on top before zipping everything up.

Pack the front compartment with miscellaneous items and extras, such as umbrella, chargers, etc.



Pack it all up and compress the bag to make it as small as possible.


There is not a weight limit for personal items that I have seen domestically, but for demonstration, typically weighs in around 10 pounds.


It is super light backing but you have the outfit for day of travel that can be used for one of the days and alternate tops and bottoms that all match in order to cut down on needed separate clothes for each day. All clothing items need to fit in the large packing cube or on your body for travel day. Committing to one pair of shoes is also helpful in packing light. I also find it interesting that regardless of the destination or length of travel, the small packing cube of toiletries remains virtually unchanged.

All this now snugly fits under the seat in front of you.



I hope this helps you grab a great flight deal and avoid paying for baggage fees!




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