How to Pack Only in a Spirit Airlines Free Carry On Bag

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I have a way I like to travel with my Rimowa carry-on and my personal sized bag/purse/diaper bag/stuff holder extraordinaire filled with the things I need and also the things I think I might need. When flying with kids, having a plan A and then some back-up Plan B items is really a good idea. However, I will deviate from my preferred way to travel when the price is right. Sometimes, Spirit Airlines makes their price too good to pass up so I’ll forgo my regular full-sized carry-on in favor of a Spirit Airlines approved carry-on that I can bring onboard for free.

When you fly Spirit Airlines you can bring on a personal item up to 18 x 14 x 8 onboard for free while a full-sized carry-on will cost you $35 – $65, depending on when and where you purchase the right to bring the bag on-board. If it’s just me for a short trip and I’m flying Spirit Airlines, I’m not paying for a bag if I can help it. Instead, I’m going to pack for a Spirit Airlines free personal carry-on.

First things first, you need the right bag. I use my much-loved Sole Society Tote, but a backpack can work, too, as long as it is within the set parameters. I’ve found that small traditional backpacks are pretty good about staying within those size guidelines while many of the fancier and larger backpacks are technically too large. Spirit doesn’t have a reputation for being too strict with staying exactly within the size guidelines, though if you stray too far outside the limits, be ready to pay the price.

Sole Society Tote perfect as the free Spirit carry-on

Now that you have your Spirit Airlines approved personal carry-on bag, you get to stuff it full with your absolute essentials. And I mean, the absolute essentials.

For me, this means a laptop, wallet, a tightly rolled change of clothes, and then several smaller bags that will each hold specific items. I have one bag for my computer cords, one for my smaller clothing items like pajama shorts, underwear, etc, a bag for make-up, and a final bag for toiletries. I really don’t want any of those items loose in my small personal carry-on item, nor do I want them mingling with each other.

How to pack for a free Spirit Carry-on

When you are packing for a free Spirit Airlines personal carry-on, you are likely either only bringing the pair of shoes you are wearing, or in my case, I also brought a very small additional pair of flats that I packed in a shoe cover bag as I didn’t want shoes loose in my bag. I carried my coat on-board the plane since there is no way it was going to fit in the bag.

If you are packing to fit everything in a free Spirit personal item, you need to be ruthless about what stays vs. what goes and you need to wear your largest clothing items onto the plane. Since a good portion of my bag is taken up my electronics, cords, make-up, and toiletries, I could probably only pack for a 1-2 night trip in a free Spirit carry-on. If I didn’t fly with as many electronics or makeup then perhaps I could fit in enough clothes for a slightly longer trip.

Only you know your budget, but I think when you are flying without little kids and for a 1-2 night trip it is realistic to avoid Spirit bag fees and aim to fit everything in a free Spirit carry-on. If you are flying with little kids or are heading on a longer trip, I think it is worth it to pay to bring a full-sized carry-on bag in addition to the free personal item. Just book the bag in advance online to pay the lowest rate. Remember that a couple people in your family could likely share one full-sized carry-on while still maxing out the free personal items. Kiddos get to bring a car seat and stroller along for free.

The one downside to be aware of when loading up your free Spirit personal item is that it might get really heavy. I was able to bring most everything I would have brought along if I packed in my regular roller carry-on, but the difference was I was carrying all of that weight on my arm instead of rolling it behind me. I would guess my bag ended up weighing close to 20 lbs, and after a while of carrying that on your arm, it starts to be uncomfortable. Factor the weight you will be carrying into the equation, especially if you have any physical limitations, are managing young children, or simply have to walk a very long distance before you get somewhere where you can unpack some of your items after the flight.

In many cases you don’t need to pay to bring bags onboard a Spirit Airlines flight, you just need to know how to pack for the Spirit Airlines free carry-on bag.

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  1. Interesting they are worried about the dimensions and not how heavy the bag is. It seems stupid since weight will cost them money and not volume. Well, coming from Spirit…..

  2. I’ve never flown Spirit but I’ve certainly packed carry-on only for long trips, and plenty of times I have saved old clothes that I don’t want anymore for a trip, and just pack those, and throw them away as I use them, so your personal item could be lighter on the return!

  3. One needs to be a little more creative when flying Allegiant Air. Personal item maximum dimension is 7 x 15 x 16. I’ve done it a few times using a small backpack and rolling my clothes. I am hoping to find cooler/lunch bag to use instead. I’ve been eyeing Ebags Crew Cooler II. It is very nice with compartments for electronics/make up/whatever but a little too big (15 X 10 X 8.5) and not sure if it’s squishable.

  4. Some times the smaller bags with cords or makeup can also be put in your zip up coat pockets making more room in your personal item.

  5. I am not flying Spirit, but we’re doing a 3 day weekend getaway in Ft. Lauderdale. We get in early, the hotel checkin isn’t until 4, and we don’t want to go all the way to the hotel and back to downtown twice. We did a test run last night of putting everything in 2 backpacks (including our down coats rolled up!) and it will all just barely fit. Worth it not to drag the rollaboard around for 6 hours.

  6. We use a rolling underseat carryon from Atlantic luggage and I have even carried an inflatable bed and electric pump in it, back in my son’s bedwetting days.
    We (3 people) actually went to Mexico for a month without paying anything extra, but my kids’ clothes were admittedly on the smaller size and we did do laundry while there.

  7. I was browsing “basic economy” tickets and noticed United’s personal item requirement is a lot smaller than AA & Spirit. Finding a wheeled bag 10″ wide for UA is next to impossible, so it is def. better for budget travelers who use backpacks/totes.

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