The Basics

Working With Carry-Ons

Written by Charlie

As of March 1st, United Airlines has officially been stepping up their enforcement of carry-on policy. While different agents are meeting that enforcement in with varied degrees of seriousness, many travelers are heading to the airport now not knowing whether their “carry-on” bag will be allowed on the plane with them or if they are going to have to check it – at their expense.

The enforcement of carry-on size/weight is nothing new – the rest of the world, particularly Europe, has been fairly strict with carry-on luggage for a while. In fact, in Europe, you are only allowed one item to carry-on the plane (I still see people carrying a roller bag, laptop bag, and shopping bag, but there are times the one item is enforced). At least with United, you still get one carry-on item and one personal item.

Carry-On Policy For United Airlines

Here is the policy that United Airlines has begun to enforce for carry-ons:


Carry-on bag

The maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels.

Personal item

The maximum dimensions for your personal item, such as a shoulder bag, backpack, laptop bag or other small item, are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm).


The part that makes it confusing is that the policy for US airlines was 45 linear inches (h+w+d) for your carry-on. That meant that you could, technically, bring something on that was quite a bit longer than the normal carry-on as long as the total dimensions stayed under the 45 inch mark (even though they did not fit the sizer – most agents would not have a problem with it). With United’s stricter carry-on policy, that allowance will most certainly gone. It must fit under each of the dimensions listed for the various aspects of the bag. That makes some bags that used to be considered “OK” to carry-on now the wrong size. What to do now?

Working With Carry-Ons

As a runner, it is essential to have your race gear with you in your carry-on. If you were to check your race gear and the bag gets delayed/lost, it is not so much about the money for the gear as it is trying to run a marathon in brand-new running shoes. Even if you choose your normal model, it is never a good idea to run a long distance in brand new shoes because of the different ways that shoes wear over time. In addition, there are other items that runners travel with for races that they do not want to have to find just before a race – trying something new the morning of a race is never a good idea!

For all other travelers, carry-ons are also very important. No one checks a laptop into their checked luggage – and for good reason! Also, it is important to keep items of value in your carry-on, in addition to medicine, etc. The last thing most travelers want is to have to empty their carry-on of the valuables (in front of the people at the gate) so they can check their bag that is just too big.

Is your bag currently too big for the new requirements? Do you have upcoming travel to Europe where you will face more stringent carry-on rules? Here are some different bags to consider for carry-on purposes.

Disclosure: The Amazon links below are affiliate links and I do receive a commission if you purchase through those links. Thank you very much!

Big Tip: When shopping at Amazon for luggage, make sure you sign-up for their clothing special deals subscription – you will receive a code for 20% off items in their Clothing and Accessories (for which luggage is in in). That can really help! Here is the link. This 20% off only applies to products sold by but can be a huge help in cutting the price down on some of the high-end bags below.

Duffel Bags

Duffel bags are great gear for runners in case you are unfortunate enough to board with no overhead bin space left. Duffel bags can be crammed under seats if you really need to since there is no frame to it. You can always take a duffel that is larger than allowed and bring a carabiner along with you to clip the ends together and make it fit. It can be stuffed wherever you need it to go and also be used as a pillow for those long layovers/flight delays! 🙂

Endurance Bags

This is my personal bag for races. It is built of very durable material and was built for the runners. It has a pocket for shoes, race bib, water bottle pockets, plenty of room in the main portion of the bag for race clothes, and a pocket on the bottom with vents for your sweaty clothes :). This is a great bag that I have used for just about every race I have ever traveled for (even for local ultras as it is perfect for running gear). I consider the bag a great value at $49.99. It comes in Black, Midnight Blue, Royal Blue, and Red. Here is their website – endurance bagsNote: The measurements for this bag come in at 22″ (length) x 10.5″ (width) x 12.25″ (height)The width dimension is 1.5″ more than the United policy, but duffels can easily be reformed with a strap, if necessary. 

Carry-on Gear for the Runner

Under Armour

Under Armour has several duffel bags that would be good fits for the runner. The one I use is an older model but I am sure the newer ones are even better than my model! The reason I have an older model and not a newer one is that the bag continues to serve me and is in excellent shape – Under Armour quality at its finest! One of the things I like about my duffel is that there is another pocket on the bottom that doubles as a pocket for dirty clothes and has a pad that rolls out that makes it easy for you to sit in the mud/rain/etc to change shoes/socks during an ultra. Again, this is something that I have used a few times and a nice feature of the bag. The Under Armour bags also have side pockets that can be used for shoes. These duffels come in 3 size ranges – small, medium, and large – so there are a lot of options available to you. Should you decide to buy an Under Armour bag, make sure you use a shopping portal first for optimum point earning (Ultimate Rewards gives 7 points per dollar). Prices range from $34.99 – $84.99. Website – under armour.

Carry-on gear for the runner


Backpacks can be useful for carrying your gear as you make your way through the streets. In addition, many backpacks have laptop sleeves so you can carry your laptop with you on your trip (I cannot seem to ever leave mine at home!).

Killspencer Special Ops Backpack

Carry-on gear for the runnerThis is an unconventional backpack to single out for runners and flyers, but since it is the one I used all the time, I had to include it here. Plus, I think it is the best made bag I have ever used (what do you expect from a bag made in America?). Sure, there is no pocket in the bag for dirty clothes, but the amount of volume in the bag and what it will hold given its size clearly makes up for it. This bag was the only bag I took with me on my dubai marathon trip (gone 4 1/2 days) – all my clothes, race gear, and Macbook.

I like to travel light and really like finding great travel gear. When I found a great deal on this backpack, I couldn’t resist. Granted, it is on the higher side (I have their older model which didn’t cost this much) at$475, but if you want one bag to do it all and never have to replace again, this is the bag to get. It has one main compartment and some small zippered compartments as well. The laptop part is a separate, zippered compartment behind the main area. This bag is very small but can hold a lot! Website – killspencer.

Tortuga Backpack

Carry-onA backpack that I find very intriguing and would consider getting at some point in the future (they are currently looking ship dates of May!) is the Tortuga Backpack. This backpack was designed by travelers to meet the needs of those who like to have a fully-functional bag that is easy to carry and suitable for any type of travel. The dimensions of this bag fit perfectly within United’s carry-on rule and should be a perfect fit for airlines around the world.

This bag really seems to have everything, or at least room for everything. It was definitely designed with great thought for the traveler. I love the idea of the pocket in the waistband for the passport and other small items and also love the pocket for the water bottle (since I carry one with me anytime I travel). As far as price, it seems quite inexpensive for what you are getting at a cost of $199. Website – Tortuga Backpacks

Carry-on Roller Bags

Carry-on roller bags are excellent bags for runner as well. They have wheels to help move your luggage through the airports/hotels/city streets so you do not throw your back out the day before the race. There are a lot of options in this department. I cannot cover them all, especially since I have not had to own a lot. People do not like to spend a lot of money on luggage, but if they travel much, they will find that their luggage breaks down pretty quickly in direct proportion to the price they paid. You can definitely buy a carry-on bag for around $40 (retail price), but do not expect to get many trips out of that bag (though there are the occasional surprises!). However, if you are not going to be doing a lot of travel, you really do not need to spend hundreds of dollars on high-end bags either. Check the reviews to see how well the various bags you are looking at have held up for travelers with similar travel patterns to you.

American Tourister

I have not owned an American Tourister in many, many years. For me, they never seemed to hold up long enough for the trips I was doing. Since I have not owned one in so long, I cannot comment on the current crop of American Tourister bags, but if you are looking for an inexpensive bag to get you through a couple of trips a year, I am sure you will find great value with these.
The American Tourister Splash 21″ is a bag that has some incredible reviews and can be purchased for as little as $45 (don’t forget the 20% off coupon!). For a bag that will get the job done and cheaply, this could be your best bet. It is 1/2 inch wider than the requirements but will easily fit into the sizer. You can find it here – Amazon.


Briggs & Riley


Briggs & Riley make many great bags and have the best warranty around – lifetime warranty! That works very well to put your mind at ease that the bag you buy from them may be the last carry-on bag you ever need! I currently have a Briggs & Riley bag that I love, but it is 2 inches wider than the carry-on rules allow (while still being under the 45″ mark all-around). I will soon be selling it for a different bag because I am traveling more in Europe now and do not want to have to check it due to size.
One of the great Briggs & Riley bags to consider is the Briggs & Riley Luggage International Carry-On Spinner. It is a hard shell bag and will fit with the United sizer enforcements (it is actually 1/3 of an inch too much but it will fit in the sizer). I have not owned this bag, but it looks fantastic and reports on it are very good. Here is the link at Amazon for it – Amazon. The cost for this bag is high – $479.

Ricardo Carry-ons

I have a Ricardo bag I bought at Bon-Ton on clearance about 10 years ago. I still use it today! I bought it for $40 – down from $300! It has a suiter, dirty clothes section, plenty of pockets, great wheels, etc. The only problem I have had with it was the zipper has begin to tear. Not bad for years of usage! I personally do not find the current line-up of Ricardo bags to be on the same level of quality as the one I have, but they are still pretty nice. To get the best feel for the deals available, I would check your local Macys or Amazon. Amazon has the Ricardo Beverly Hills Luggage Valencia Lite 21-Inch for $69. Here is the website for it – amazon. To see more Ricardo Beverly Hills bags that may work for your needs, check here at Amazon.




Carry-onSamsonite has some very good bags that can be obtained at great prices right now. You can find Samsonite bags at any department store (and always remember to check the clearance racks in the corners of Macys and JC Penneys) as well as great deals online. Here are a couple of the Samsonite bags that fit the United size requirements.

Samsonite Aspire Sport Spinner 21″ is actually available right now from BuyDig for $59 after a coupon. It is available in red from them. If you can handle yellow, it is also available from Amazon, but for $61 (after 20% coupon). Otherwise, the normal price at Amazon for the red is $80. This looks like an excellent bag and one that should suit the average traveler quite well. It gets good reviews and you really cannot go wrong at this price point.

To purchase it from BuyDig, go here to their product page, add it to your cart, and then use promo code MKLUXTRAV to bring the price down to $59. If you would rather go through Amazon and pay more for a different color, you can go here. Remember, the price at Amazon is without using the 20% off code that I mentioned above, so if you are not going to use that code or have used it already, it is much better to go with BuyDig.


Travelpro continues to be one of the most popular bags and one that you will see a majority of airline crews using. I personally prefer the build quality of some of the older models, but they do continue to make a very good bag and one used by many travelers.

Travelpro Luggage Maxlite 2 20” is a bag that will fit perfectly with the United size requirements, coming in at 20″x 14″ x 9″. This is probably the best bag to get for the money, costing only $88 from Amazon. Reviews on it are very good and it should give you more than a couple/few years of use. It can be purchased here – Amazon.



One of the most widely-used bags by frequent flyers is the Tumi brand of luggage. They have a great reputation for being solidly built and have a great 5 year warranty. I have a Tumi bag that is a roller-bag/backpack hybrid and it is a great bag! They have a number of model lines that can go from a couple hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars for the same size bag! If you want choice within a brand, Tumi can give it to you!

One bag that is currently on clearance at Wal-Mart right now is the Tumi T-Tech Cargo International. It is a great deal at $149 (regularly $300) and uses every inch of the carry-on policy. It is a 4-wheeled, hard-shell bag that will serve you incredibly well for some years! You can find it here at – walmart.


Another bag that is extremely popular from Tumi is the Tumi Alpha International Carry-on. Right now, this bag probably presents the best deal for quality and value around. It is regularly $595 but is on sale at Amazon for $357. If you use the 20% coupon from above, that will bring your total down to $285. That is over 50% off of regular price! This particular bag is excellent and gets a lot of praise. It does have a cousin – the Tumi Alpha Cotinental – which is also a fine bag but it is almost 2″ wider than the United rules. So, make sure you are looking at the Tumi Alpha International. You can find it here – Amazon.


These are bags from brands that I currently have or have used in the past. There are many, many more brands available – Hartmann, Rimowa, Delsey, to name a few. What bag do you currently use and does it fit within the size requirements of United’s enforcement? Do you go with rollerbags or are you a backpack/duffel traveler? For me, it all depends on the length and purpose of the trip as to which bag I grab.

Some of the links on Running with Miles are affiliate links that pay a commission if a purchase is made. Running with Miles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • Have you ever taken a foreign flight where they weighed your carry-on item? It seems that a number of overseas carriers have weight limitations for carry-on items listed on their websites. I have been lucky so far in that they have never been enforced with me. I like the Tumi international carry-on but it weighs much more than the travelpro luggage maxlite 2 20”. If I never had to worry about carry-on bag weight, I would certainly get it but……

    • Thanks, Craig, for mentioning that! I actually had a part in the post about weight but I lost internet for a bit and I guess I lost that on my autosave. I will rewrite that part to include it since it is a good point!

  • A picky are they on dimensions? I’ve got a bag (hard sided) that goes about 10x15x22. Would that get by?

    • Apparently, for right now, UA employees are announcing the stricter policy but not all are enforcing it. With only an inch more on two sides, I would like to think you would be ok (especially since it will fit in the sizer), but make sure that size includes the handle and wheels! As for Europe, it would depend on airport and employees again. I either hang in the lounge until the last minute or at least away from the gate area :).

  • Thanks for including the Tortuga, Charles. You’re exactly right: we designed it with our fellow world travelers in mind. I’m glad to hear that my excessive water drinking led to a feature that’s also beneficial for marathoners.