Flying With Alcohol – Don’t Break The Rules Or A Bottle

Visiting wineries, breweries, and distilleries is a fun part of travel, but how do you get your purchases home? I run wine tours in Italy and I regularly pack alcohol in my luggage. In this article, I cover what you can pack in checked luggage versus carry-on, duty-free restrictions, how to stay within your luggage allowance, how to pack your alcohol in checked luggage using your clothes (with pictures), and the best specialist travel accessories to help you get your alcohol home without spilling a drop.

Old suitcase filled with wine bottles and glasses.
Looks cute but not the best way to pack wine in luggage!

Flying with Alcohol – The Rules

The rules for taking alcohol on a flight can be complicated and depend on where you’re flying to and what alcohol you want to take. However, most of us just want to travel with a bottle or two of wine, beers, or spirits, or maybe transport a couple of cases of wine. If that’s you, and you’re flying to Europe or the USA, here are the rules.

Checked luggage

Infographic of rules for packing alcohol in checked luggage.

You can put alcohol in your checked luggage if you follow these rules:

  • wine, beers, and cider below 24% ABV (up to 48 proof) – no restrictions.
  • spirits over 24% ABV (+48 proof) – limited to 5 litres (1.3 gallons).
  • alcohol above 70% ABV (+140 proof) – not permitted. To quote the TSA blog about super hard liquor: “Leave your bathtub brew at home.”

Your alcohol must be in its original, unopened retail packaging. So, don’t swap your booze into a plastic bottle for travel. These rules relate to alcohol content and are for the safety of the aircraft. They are separate from the duty-free rules (below). For more info, go to the FAA regulations (USA) and CAA rules (UK).

Carry-on baggage

Infographic of rules for packing alcohol in carry-on luggage

You can generally take alcohol on a flight in carry-on bags provided:

It’s under 100 ml / 3.05 oz

  • you can take multiple 100 ml / 3.05 oz bottles (or mini bottles of alcohol).
  • they must fit in a single quart-sized bag (USA) or 1-litre clear plastic bag (UK and Europe).

You bought it at a duty-free store at the airport (after the security checkpoint)

  • it must be in the sealed plastic bag given to you by the duty-free shop.
  • you mustn’t open the bag.
  • keep your receipt as proof of purchase.
  • check the transit rules if you have a connecting flight or domestic flights later – the rules are stricter in Europe than in the USA. You may need to move your duty-free purchase to your hold luggage.

Your airline allows you to take alcohol on board

  • some airlines like Ryanair won’t let passengers take alcohol into the cabin on some popular ‘party’ routes (because passengers were getting drunk). The crew may take it off you and place it in the cargo hold.
  • you can’t drink your own alcoholic beverages on board any airline, even if it’s the best Prosecco and you sip it nicely.

Duty-Free Allowance

Infographic of alcohol duty free allowance in EU, UK and USA.

Duty-Free rules and customs regulations are in addition to airline safety rules. Your duty-free allowance is the amount of alcohol you can take into a country without having to pay taxes i.e. ‘duty’. Anything over that allowance must be declared at customs and taxes paid. The duty-free limits are:

Europe Union:

  • 90 litres of wine (60 litres for sparkling wine) – equivalent to 120 regular-sized bottles of wine
  • 110 litres of beer
  • 10 litres of spirits
  • 20 litres of fortified wine

UK

  • 18 litres of wine (still)
  • 42 litres of beer
  • 4 litres of spirits over 22% ABV
  • 9 litres below 22% ABV e.g. sparkling wine, fortified wine, and cider.

USA:

  • 1 American Liter / 35 oz per person; and
  • an unlimited additional quantity of alcohol if you pay a duty of $1-$2 per bottle of wine (the cost varies for other alcohol).
  • these are the federal rules. Each state will have its own rules, which may be stricter.

These allowances only apply for personal use.

Further resources:

Age restrictions

Don’t put alcohol in your 17-year-old’s suitcase. Remember, the person carrying the booze must be of legal drinking age in the destination country where you’re taking your alcohol. And remember that legal age limits change between countries. For example, a European traveller who is 20 and of legal drinking age in Italy will not be of legal drinking age in the USA and won’t be able to carry alcohol.

Carbonated alcohol (Champagne, Prosecco and beer)

It’s safe to take carbonated alcohol like Champagne, Prosecco, and beer on a plane in both carry-on and checked luggage. Just make sure it’s in its original, unopened packaging.


Managing Luggage Weight Limits

All of these rules are well and good (90 litres of wine sounds great), but you still have to comply with the hold luggage weight allowance. Here are my tips for navigating luggage with heavy bottles of alcohol inside.

Know your airline’s weight restrictions

Airline rules do differ, especially with low-cost airlines. As a general rule, the standard weight limit for an international flight with a non-budget airline is 23kg / 50 lb for checked luggage. Of course, you can take more but you’ll have to pay excess luggage fees and it may not be worth it. There are lots of articles online summarising airline baggage limits but these can get out of date quickly. The best way to check is directly on your airline’s website.

Plan your alcohol purchases before you travel

If you know you’re going to buy alcohol on your trip – maybe you’re taking a Prosecco wine-tasting tour with us – you can plan ahead. I always think about how much I want to buy. I then calculate how much it will weigh, and how much space I’ll need in my case to bring it home. By pre-planning, you can manage your luggage allowance, take the right kind of suitcase, and pay any excess baggage fees in advance (often cheaper). You can also take the right accessories for safely packing alcohol in your checked luggage.

Here’s how much a bottle of alcohol weights

Infographic of the weight of different alcohol bottles.

Before you buy alcohol, it’s worth doing some quick maths. Here’s how much your average bottle of alcohol weighs.

Sparkling wine: I’ve just weighed the 4 bottles of Prosecco I bought back from my last trip to the Prosecco Region and they were pretty consistently 1.5kg / 3.30 lb each, give or take a few grams.

Wine bottles tend to weigh a little less, around 1.10kg – 1.20 kg / 2.43 lb – 2.65 lb.

Spirits – weights will vary a bit. As an example, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin weighs 1.32 kg / 2.9 lb and a bottle of Grey Goose Vodka weighs 1.28 kg / 2.82 lb.

Beer bottles – 0.53 kg – 0.56 kg / 1.17 lb – 1.23 lb.

Tip: check out the ‘Product specification’ section of any alcohol product on Amazon. It often lists the weight of the bottle.

Pack a set of travel scales

Holding your breath as you place your luggage on the check-in scale at the airport is no fun. Trust me, I used to fly this way and it involved more than one ‘please step aside’ moment. These days, I pack a set of travel luggage scales to know exactly how much my luggage weighs before I get to the airport. They’re cheap and light to pack in your case.

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Consider upgrading your cabin class

If you want to bring a lot of alcohol home, like wine, have a look at the price of upgrading your flight. With a better cabin class – premium economy, business or first – you get a larger luggage allowance. If the price is right, this can be a more enjoyable way of getting your alcohol home than just paying excess baggage fees. And it’s a great story to tell when you host your next wine tasting.

Share the weight and duty with your group

If you do want to take a few bottles in checked luggage, remember you can pool your group’s allowance. A few bottles in the luggage of each family member will help distribute the weight, risk of breakages, and taxes. However, remember age restrictions – don’t put booze in your 2-year-old’s Trunki.

Use your carry-on allowance for clothes

Use your entire luggage allowance. While there are restrictions on taking alcohol in your cabin bag, there’s nothing to stop you from filling your checked luggage with wine and taking your extra clothes onboard. You can wear your larger items too, like that thick jumper or those knee-high boots.

Use an expandable suitcase

I always travel on wine trips with an expandable suitcase and I’m forever surprised by how much extra packing space one zip can give. Hard shell luggage will give the best exterior protective layer. However, I have successfully packed alcohol in a soft-sided suitcase many times using just my clothes (tips below). I recommend choosing a medium-sized suitcase as your alcohol will quickly increase the luggage weight and packing it fully will make the bottles more secure. I also have a cabin-bag-sized Samsonite, which I take it as a carry-on outbound. On the way home, it expands and I put it in checked luggage.

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How to pack alcohol in checked luggage rolled in clothes

If you’re just packing a few bottles of alcohol like wine, spirits or beer, rolling the bottles in your clothes is the tried and tested method used by travellers all around the world. Here’s my step-by-step guide, with pictures.

Make sure the bottle is well-sealed

Before you get started, make sure your bottles of alcohol are unopened and well-sealed. Flight rules require this anyway.

Wrap your bottles and form a cushioned base

Suitcase showing base of clothing with wrapped wine on top.

Wrap each bottle separately using your most absorbent clothes – a jersey top offers more sopping-up potential than your quick-dry running vest if things go wrong.

Place a lining layer of clothes in the bottom of your suitcase. Make sure to especially pad the hard part where the luggage handles protrude into the base of the packing area.

Place the wrapped bottles inside the suitcase, on top of the base layer and in the centre of your luggage, away from the sides of your suitcase. Do not place bottles next to each other.

Place a soft layer around the bottles

Suitcase with soft clothing padding around edges of wrapped wine bottles.

Put more clothes around the bottles and between them to create a secure, packed space. I tend to use my thickest clothing like jumpers for this.

Suitcase with wine secured and a soft layer placed on top.

Add a soft layer over the top of the bottles. I usually have either a travel blanket or a travel scarf that does the job. More clothes will also work.

Then place your hardest items on top. This usually includes your toiletries and electric toothbrush. Where are my shoes in the picture above? I usually put mine into the small compartment on the other side of my suitcase. But you can place them on top here. Make sure your suitcase is fully packed. This won’t be a problem for most people. If you still have space, use the compression straps built into most modern luggage.

Next, time to test things. Zip up your luggage and give it a shake. Make sure the bottles don’t move around. You don’t want to hear and clinking of glass.

Use plastic bags and bubble wrap for extra protection

Still worried? Add some plastic bags and a layer of bubble wrap to your packing. The best kind of bag is a zip-lock freezer bag that will probably hold the liquid if the bottle breaks. However, glass can easily pierce plastic so don’t use a plastic bag on its own. Add a layer of bubble wrap before you place it in the bag. (Just save some bubble wrap next time you get an Amazon delivery and pack it with you). Otherwise, wineries and liquor shops will usually bubble-wrap your bottles for you. Failing that, buy a padded, bubble-lined large envelope at a local stationery shop, or take one with you. Then wrap the bottles in your clothes for extra padding.

Don’t check alcohol in a backpack without a protective sleeve

The riskiest way to transport alcohol in checked luggage is in very soft-sided luggage. Backpacks are the strongest example. With just a cloth layer between the floor and your alcohol, the risk of breakage is high. I have managed it and got lucky. A friend of mine wasn’t so lucky – she inadvertently dyed all of her clothing a lovely burgundy wine colour.


Travel accessories for more protection

The roll-it-in-your-clothes method is nice and simple. But, it’s not foolproof. If you don’t want to risk shattered glass, ruined clothes, and bathed electronics, consider buying one of the many specialist travel protectors for bottles. It’s worth investing in these accessories if you often bring bottles home. Here are my favourite options if you’re packing just a few bottles.

Wine Angel Wine Sleeve

Wine sleeves like these by Wine Angel offer good peace of mind. With a bubble-packaging interior and vinyl exterior, wine sleeves are secure, easy to use, and leak-resistant in case of an (unlikely) accident. They also add minimal bulk.

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Inflatable Bottle Protector

Inflatable wine travel protectors travel flat packed. Then, when you’re ready to use them, use the pump to inflate. This will give you a thick layer of padding for your bottle. They are a great option if you’re packing expensive alcohol or have clothing that you really don’t want to ruin. But they do take up space, and remember to pack the pump.

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Built Wine Tote

A wine tote is a small sturdy bag that usually fits one or two bottles of wine with a carry handle at the top. I love the totes by Built. They’re cute with protective neoprene. While a wine tote will give decent cushioning in your checked luggage, it won’t be as robust or sealed as a wine sleeve. However, I’ve recommended it as you can use it between trips – pack wine in your car, take it to a picnic, or use it when you’re exploring the vineyards and wineries during your trip.

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VinArmour Wine Tote

If you want a tote that is truly puncture-proof as well as incredibly stylish, buy from VinArmour. They’re not cheap, at just under $300, but they are incredibly elegant and well-engineered. This is a wine tote for life.


Packing 6 bottles or more

Most wineries sell wine by the half case (6 bottles) or full case (12 bottles). Before you know it, you have a lot of wine to get home. Don’t let the restrictions put you off savouring your favourite drink long after your trip. Here’s how to get larger quantities of alcohol home.

Buy a wine suitcase

Wine suitcases are specialist suitcases specifically designed for packing wine bottles for air travel. They are not always cheap but can be cheaper than local shipping, especially if you regularly buy wine overseas.

Fly With Wine is the best wine suitcase on the market. Created by VinGardeValise, you can pack up to 12 bottles very securely. It’s not just for wine – the inserts have been shaped to hold differently shaped bottles. As a bonus feature, you can remove the inserts, letting you pack half wine and half clothing.

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Use an international shipping company

Wine shipping can be a convenient and economical way to transport larger quantities of wine across borders.

I recommend using a specialist wine shipping company. If you’re on one of our Prosecco tours, you can sigh with relief. We work with a great shipping company and they have specialist packaging, handle any customs duties, and offer full insurance against breakages. If you’re not on one of our tours, ask at your winery – many offer shipping and can arrange it for you.

UPS and FedEx – If you want to use a recognisable brand like UPS and FedEx, do your research first. You will probably find that they won’t ship wine unless you have a license. It’s also important to check your country or state’s regulations on shipping alcohol. For example, The United States Postal Service does not allow wine to be shipped through its services.

Don’t rely on the vineyard crate

Lazenne Wine Travel Bag flying with wine

Tempting as it might be, the well-packaged cardboard crate given by some vineyards probably won’t be protective enough. Even if the box is packed tightly with dividers in between each bottle, I wouldn’t check it into the hold. Unless the crate has proper protection and padding, you run a very real risk of your wine bottles getting smashed before they make it home.

As an alternative to a full wine suitcase, the Lazenne Wine Travel Bag (pictured above) has a heavy-duty polystyrene insert that holds up to 12 bottles of wine. As well as being lightweight, the design is good for transporting other bottles such as spirits, beer, and olive oil. It’s compliant with TSA guidelines and guarantees zero breakage.

Flying with wine can be a challenge but only if you don’t think ahead or have the right luggage. I hope this guide will help you get your alcohol purchases home in one piece. Leave any questions below.

2 thoughts on “Flying With Alcohol – Don’t Break The Rules Or A Bottle”

  1. Hypothetically speaking, if one were moving back to the US and was shipping boxes with house stuff (but mainly clothing) via FedEx and wanted to include wine in a box, do you think it would make it home or be intercepted?

    Reply
    • Hi Sharika, I’m afraid I’ve no idea. If FedEx says don’t ship wine, it is a risk. Good luck with the move!

      Reply

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