After TSA screening, the big airport news we’ve heard about (and experienced first hand) is the crackdown on carry on luggage size restrictions. As flights continue to be sold fully booked, flight attendants are increasingly announcing compulsory gate-checks—even for carry-on baggage that’s within allowed parameters for standard overhead bins. (And don’t even get us started on how expensive checked luggage costs per bag.) A work-around to avoid this snarl of inconvenience and baggage fee upselling? Optimize the space you already paid for with the best underseat luggage.
The Top 17 Pieces of Underseat Luggage (Because Have You Seen Those Airline Baggage Fees?)
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What Are Underseat Luggage Limits?
First off, don’t book a bulkhead-facing seat (aka, one that's behind a wall), because then you will have to use the overhead luggage compartment, rather than having your in-flight treasure trove of magazines, earphones and gummy bears within arms’ reach. Secondly, there’s no across-the-board answer for underseat luggage size allowances. As with carry-on luggage rules, when it comes to underseat luggage (aka your “personal item”), each airline has its own limit. (Here’s an overview.) We’re using American Airlines’s underseat item limit—16 x 14 x 8 inches—as our rule of thumb, but it’s essential that you check with your airline before showing up at the airport.
Why Buy Luggage Specifically For Under-the-seat Instead Of, Say, Using An Old Tote?
Perhaps you’re one of those sleek women who breezes onto a flight with just a rolling bag and a purse…in which case stop reading right now, you don’t need these recommendations. If, however, you’re like me and everyone I’ve ever known personally, you’re racing to board your flight, stashing magazines, grab-and-go meals, toiletry items and an extra pair of shoes along with your computer and miscellaneous chargers into an overstuffed tote bag, and not feeling ultra-pulled together. Instead, a sophisticated-looking duffel with a sleeve that slides over your luggage trolley handle or has its own USB port might help organize you. A hard side mini spinner might cure your overpacking habit (it did mine). Or a hip backpack could free your hands while keeping your laptop secure. Browse our picks here, and elevate your everyday travel experience.
Underseat Luggage At A Glance
- Best Overall, Hard Side: Calpak Hue Mini Carry On
- Best Overall, Soft Case: Travelpro Maxlite 5 Rolling Carry-On
- Best Budget: Camtop Canvas Overnight Bag
- Best Luxury: Paravel Weekender
- Best with Wheels: Bric’s X-bag Pilot
- Best on Amazon: Amazon Basics Quilted Rolling Bag
- Best with USB Port: Samsonite With USB Port
- Best Backpack: Cotopaxi Backpack
- Best Leather: Away Everywhere Bag
- Best Design: Beis Mini-Weekender
- Best Two-Wheeled: Baggallini 2 Wheel Under Seater
- Most Lightweight: Longchamp Le Pliage Expandable Tote
- Best Trolley Pocket: Calpak Luka Duffel
- Best Accessory: Monos Metro Duffel
- Best Diaper Bag: Dagne Dover Large Wade Diaper Tote
- Best Foldable: WANDF Foldable Travel Duffel Bag
- Best Duffle: Briggs & Riley Duffle
Best Overall, Hard Sided
Why We Love It: TSA lock, strong all-polycarbonate shell
In eight colors that range from easily spotted orange to muted blue, this little spinner bag has all the style in a mini size. PureWow loved it, saying its surprisingly roomy interior and light weight made it the secret to easy travel.
Best Overall, Soft Case
Why We Love It: Removable toiletries carrier; Padded sleeve fits up to 14-inch device
Two inline wheels keep this little guy chuffing along, but he sits upright thanks to the two stoppers at the front of the case. From a maker developed by an aviation professional looking for a sturdy case on wheels, this bag has tough water- and stain-resistant fabric as well as super-sturdy zippers, so it's going to be your dependable new wing man.
Why We Love It: Brass hardware, Trolley sleeve
This cute canvas weekender has a pair of leather-look arm handles as well as a detachable shoulder strap, and the simple zip top opening lets you stash lots of snacks at the airport. Plus the black-and-white stripes look like something a French woman would pack for her St. Tropez weekend.
Why We Love It: Stain-resistant canvas, Optional monogram
It's roomy. It's classically styled. And it's made from 12 up-cycled water bottles. This vegan leather-trimmed case has a distinctive boxy shape that fits a little extra cargo in its top, and it has a detachable shoulder strap as well as a trolley sleeve to fit over your suitcase (we recommend the matching Paravel carryon for maximum chic). And the silicone-treated exterior wipes clean, so it can stay fresh-looking well into your frequent flyer miles.
Best with Wheels
Why We Love It: Double carry handle, curved top opening zippers
Italian luggage makers Bric's dates back to the early '60s, and it shows in the groovy throwback style of this underseat case. Leather carry handles attache to two top zippered compartments, one of which has a padded sleeve for your iPad. Two inline wheels keep it zipping along, and there's even a trolley sleeve on back, which makes this perfect for fastening atop your checked luggage until you turn it over to the airline, then enjoying wheeled ease when using this on the way to your gate. Bravo, Italian design!
Best on Amazon
Why We Love It: Cute quilted fabric, Easy-access front zip
At 14 inches tall, this little rolling bag is the carry on helper that's tops for versatility. It functions as an extra bag, since it has a rear trolley sleeve that fits onto the telescoping handle of your larger checked or carry on luggage. It also acts as case of its own, since you can roll up a weekend's worth of clothes, with your toiletries organized neatly in the attached zippered mesh pockets. All this in your choice of colors including red, navy and black quilted high-density polyester.
Best USB Port
Why We Love It: Laptop compartment fits up to 13.3 inch device, built-in USB port
A side zippered compartment holds your portable power source, headphones and any other electronic doodads in one easy-to access place. This means you get most of the case capacity—a roomy 15 by 13 by 8 inches—for your folded clothes and toiletries. And it all still fits under the seat in front of you.
Why We Love It: High density polyester and ballistic nylon fabric, Hip styling
Sure, close to two bills sounds like a lot for a mere backpack. But think of this as a highly engineered travel device, and it's well worth the money. The low-profile clamshell opening, in which both sides of the pack open like a suitcase and hold contents in place with zippered mesh, is designed to be ultra-comfortable even when stuffed full. And with hidden pockets for padded laptop storage, document/money stashing and tucking away those padded chest straps when not in use, this surpasses the utility of any other backpack we've seen—and looks great doing it.
Why We Love It: Pebbled leather resists scuffs, Zippered waterproof bottom compartment
Away aced the assignment with this versatile tote that has a 15-inch laptop pocket, pockets for notebooks and a waterproof bottom to hold a wet umbrella (or a still-damp swimsuit). Plus the boxy shape really fits a lot of changes of clothes and toiletries, while keeping its classic and elegant lines. There's even a trolley sleeve.
Why We Love It: Separate shoe compartment, 15-inch laptop sleeve
Editor Sarah Stiefvater favorably reviewed the larger version of this bag, citing its "zipper that allows you to slip the bag over the handle of a suitcase. This feature in particular was a godsend when I was struggling to navigate cobblestone streets in Killarney and shimmying down narrow train aisles in Naples." This mini iteration also fits over suitcase handles, and at 16 inches tall and wide, and 8 inches deep, it fits under the seat in front of you. There's also an external zip compartment for your card case, and both rolled top handles and a wide shoulder strap. All this in minimalist styling in grey, beige, blue and black.
Why We Love It: Less than two pounds, Folds into a tiny parcel
The classic French brand carried by Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle is also a PureWow reader favorite, and this innovative foldable bag shows why. A central zippered area can be unzipped horizontally to released extra storage capacity, or zipped back up to make this the size of the beloved classic Le Pliage tote. A small zippered compartment at the top keeps small items handy, and the leather handles stay strong and handsome.
Best Trolley Pocket
Why We Love It: Baffled polyester design, Sturdy trolley pocket
At 12 x 16 inches and only seven inches deep, this bag is surprisingly spacious. It has a separate shoe compartment that's great for sneakers (and sweaty clothes) when we're using this as a gym bag, and an exterior pocket we deploy for easy access to our phone, ID and ticketing when we're using this to travel. And weighing in at 1.9 pounds, this polyester workhorse adds practically no extra heft when we're balancing it atop our roller bag sprinting to our gate.
Why We Love It: Snap-off toiletry kit, 15-inch laptop sleeve
Water-repellent nylon twill and vegan leather accents make this bag durable as well as smart-looking, and an external pocket holds toiletries in an easily detached zip pouch—so convenient. The square styling of the bag, plus the trolley sleeve and laptop protection, means this is business-appropriate as well as vacay-ready.
Best Diaper Bag
Why We Love It: Lots of extra pouches, straps and a mat; Insulated bottle holder
This diaper bag is one less item to tote over your shoulder when you're traveling with kids, thanks to the stroller handle straps that keep it hanging handy, and then after you gate-check the stroller, a trolley sleeve that enables you to balance it atop your wheeled luggage. Somehow the drawstring bag, wipes carrier and folding mat leave lots of central packing room for a blanket, snacks and extra binkies. You'll never be without one of those last, because the bag has two internal leashes that let you keep your keys and a spare pacifier safely attached.
Why We Love It: Folds into a small pouch, Dozens of colors
This simple-yet-strong bag gets our vote as the extra bag you need to throw in your suitcase every time you travel. It does double duty as your pool and shopping tote when you're on vacation, and can be stuffed with those extra treasures you collected on your trip that won't fit in your checked luggage on the way home. And we appreciate that the trolley sleeve has a small zippered pocket to stash your ID and ticket on your way through security.
Why We Love it: Handy pockets, Leather trim and monogram
We like the classic lines of a duffel, but they're often just a simple zip-top design. And truth is, we have become dependent on having compartments and pockets to keep us organized when we're traveling. This duffel rises to the occasion with side pockets that keep bottles upright, a front pocket to hold papers and wallet and a roomy zippered central area for clothes and shoes. Thoughtful touches like the leather top touch point and the detachable padded shoulder strap signal quality.
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