Black suitcase with built-in TSA lock

The Ultimate Guide to Luggage Locks

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Luggage locks are an important accessory when traveling, as they can provide security and peace of mind when you’re checking your bags or leaving them in a hotel room. But with so many different types of luggage locks on the market, it can be tough to figure out which one is right for you.

In this post, we’ll explore the different types of luggage locks, highlighting each type’s benefits and drawbacks. Then we’ll give you some tips on how to choose the best lock for you.

Finally, we’ll conclude the post with a discussion on if you should use a luggage lock to lock your baggage when checking in.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

What is a Luggage Lock?

A luggage lock is a small lock that you use to secure a suitcase or other type of luggage. It typically consists of a small metal body with a locking mechanism and a shackle or cable that can be passed through your bag’s zippers and then locked in place. Luggage locks are typically small and lightweight, making them easy to carry and use while traveling. They’re used to prevent unauthorized access to the contents of your bag and to deter theft.

The way that the locking mechanism works can vary. Some luggage locks use a combination system, while others require a traditional key. There are also more advanced mechanisms, including electronic or biometric systems that can provide a higher level of security.

Some luggage locks are TSA-approved. This means that TSA agents can unlock your bag with a universal key to examine its contents, without damaging the lock.

Types of Luggage Locks

There are several types of luggage locks available on the market, each with its own set of features and benefits. Here’s a guide of the most common types of luggage locks, to help you choose the right lock for your needs:

Combination Locks

Combination locks are the most popular type of luggage lock, as they don’t require a key and can be easily opened with a combination of numbers.

Luggage combination locks typically consist of a small metal body with a combination dial on the front and a shackle on the back.

To use the lock, you pass the shackle through a pair of your bag’s zipper pulls and then secure the shackle to the lock body. Once locked, you randomly change the combination wheel numbers to prevent the lock from being opened.

How to Set Up a Combination Luggage Lock

To set the code on a luggage combination lock, you typically follow the following steps:

  1. Open the lock by pressing a button or pulling on a lever. This will release the shackle and allow it to be removed from the lock body. Usually, you set the combination to all zeros to open a new lock.
  2. Turn the wheels to set the desired combination. Each wheel has a series of numbers, and you can set the code by aligning the desired numbers with a marker or window on the lock body.
  3. Close the lock by pushing the shackle back into the lock body and releasing the button or lever.

Please note that the method of setting a combination lock may vary, depending on the specific model. You can refer to the instructions that came with your lock for more information.

To unlock the lock, you simply need to align the combination dials with the correct code and then press the button or pull the lever to release the shackle. Some luggage combination locks also have a key override, which allows you to open the lock with a key in case you forget the combination.

Pros of Using a Combination Luggage Lock

  • You don’t have to worry about losing a key: With a combination lock, you don’t have to worry about misplacing a key or having it copied by someone else. This can be especially convenient if you’re traveling and don’t want to have to keep track of a small key.
  • They’re generally easier to open: Combination locks can be easier to open than traditional keyed locks, especially if you’re in a hurry or under stress (e.g., running to catch a flight).
  • They are customizable: Combination locks allow you to set your own combination, which means you can choose a combination that is easy for you to remember.
  • Can be opened by anyone who knows the combination: If you’re traveling with someone else, they will be able to open the lock as well without having to carry a separate key.

Cons of Using a Combination Luggage Lock

  • You need to remember the combination: If you forget your combination, you won’t be able to open your luggage.
  • They may be less secure: The combination can potentially be discovered by someone seeing you entering it, or by someone trying different combinations until they find the right one.
  • They may be less durable: Combination locks may be more prone to wear and tear over time, as they rely on mechanical components that can break or become damaged. This can be a problem if you’re using the lock often or if you’re traveling to rough or challenging environments.
  • Complexity: Combination locks can be more difficult to use than key locks, especially for people who aren’t comfortable with manipulating the combination wheel or who have difficulty remembering numbers.

Keyed Locks

Keyed locks are another common type of luggage lock. These locks require a key to open, which means that only the person with the key can access the luggage.

Keyed luggage locks are the simplest type of lock to use. All you need to do is insert the key into the keyhole and turn it. You can then open the lock by pulling on the small metal latch or shackle.

To close the lock, you simply push the latch or shackle back into the lock and turn the key to lock it. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Pros of Using a Keyed Lock

  • Security: Keyed luggage locks can offer a higher level of security compared to combination locks, which can be opened by anyone who knows the combination. With a keyed lock, only the person who has access to the key can open the lock, which can help prevent theft.
  • Durability: Keyed luggage locks are often more durable than combination locks because they have fewer moving parts, which means they are less likely to break or malfunction.
  • Easy to use: Keyed luggage locks are easy to use – simply insert the key and turn to lock or unlock the suitcase.

Cons of Using a Keyed Lock

  • You need to look after the key: One of the main disadvantages of keyed luggage locks is that they require you to keep track of a key. If the key is lost, the lock can’t be opened, which can be very inconvenient, to say the least. However, many keyed locks do come with two keys: if you are traveling with others, you can give the other key to a companion to carry. If you happen to misplace your key, you can use the spare to unlock your bag.
  • Cost: Keyed luggage locks can be more expensive than combination locks, depending on its quality.
  • Limited access: If someone else needs to access your luggage – for example, if you are traveling with a group and one person needs to access everyone’s luggage – it can be inconvenient to have to use a key. Although a spare key can minimize this issue, it can become problematic if several members of a traveling party require access to the bag. This is where a combination lock comes into its own. The combination can be shared across the group.
  • Can be difficult to use: Keyed locks may be more difficult to open if you have limited mobility or dexterity.

TSA Approved Locks

TSA-approved locks are locks that are approved by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for use on luggage when traveling by air in the United States.

These locks have a special feature that allows TSA agents to open them and inspect the contents of the luggage using a universal key without damaging the lock.

Pros of Using a TSA Approved Lock

There are several advantages to using TSA-approved locks:

  • Security: TSA-approved locks offer an extra layer of security for your luggage, as they are designed to deter theft and tampering.
  • Convenience: TSA agents can open and inspect your luggage without damaging the lock, which means you won’t have to worry about replacing a damaged lock or carrying extra locks with you.
  • Peace of mind: Knowing that your luggage is secure and can be easily inspected by TSA agents can provide peace of mind when traveling.
  • Although designed with the TSA in mind, many other countries use the Travel Sentry system, meaning that you can use your TSA-approved lock internationally.
What is Travel Sentry?

Travel Sentry is the name of a company that developed a standard for luggage locks. This standard allows security agencies, such as TSA, to open the lock using a master key, without damaging the lock. It is denoted on luggage with the red diamond logo.

Cons of Using a TSA Approved Lock

There are also a few potential disadvantages to consider:

  • Cost: TSA-approved locks may be more expensive than traditional locks.
  • False sense of security: Some people may mistakenly believe that a TSA-approved lock provides additional security beyond what is necessary for the TSA to inspect their luggage. It is important to remember that the primary purpose of a TSA-approved lock is to allow the TSA to access your luggage if necessary, and not to provide additional security beyond that.
  • Not as useful when traveling internationally: Not all countries use the Travel Sentry system, meaning that they don’t have access to master keys to unlock your TSA-approved lock. Overseas security services may have to break your lock to access the contents of your bag.

Smart Locks

Smart luggage locks are a type of lock that can be controlled and opened using a smartphone app, rather than a physical key or combination code. These locks offer a number of advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional luggage locks.

Pros of Using a Smart Lock

  • Convenience: Smart luggage locks can be opened and locked using a smartphone app, so you don’t have to worry about remembering a combination or carrying a physical key.
  • Security: Many smart locks use advanced encryption techniques to protect against hacking and other security threats. Some smart locks also have built-in security features such as tamper alarms and automatic lock-out after a certain number of incorrect passcode attempts. Additionally, some smart locks have GPS tracking that allows you to locate your luggage if it is lost or stolen.

Cons of Using a Smart Lock

  • Cost: Smart locks tend to be far more expensive than traditional locks.
  • Dependence on technology: If your phone dies or you lose it, you may not be able to unlock your luggage. Alternatively, if the lock’s battery dies or the lock experiences technical issues, you may not be able to access your luggage.
  • Security concerns: While smart locks can provide enhanced security, there is always the risk of them being hacked or compromised.
  • Limited compatibility: Some smart luggage locks may only be compatible with certain types of luggage or smartphones.

Biometric Locks

Biometric locks, also known as fingerprint locks, are a newer type of luggage lock that uses advanced technology to unlock.

These locks use biometric features such as fingerprints or facial recognition to unlock, providing a secure and convenient way to access your luggage.

Pros of Using a Biometric Lock

  • Very secure: Since every person’s fingerprint is unique, it is nearly impossible for someone to unlock your luggage without your permission. This makes biometric locks more secure than traditional locks, which can be picked or opened with a copied key.
  • Convenience: With a biometric lock, you don’t have to worry about remembering a combination or carrying around a key. All you need is your finger to unlock the luggage.
  • Quick to use: You can unlock your luggage with just a single touch or scan of your finger. There’s no fumbling around with a key or spending time fiddling with the wheels on a combination lock.

Cons of Using a Biometric Lock

  • Cost: Biometric locks are generally more expensive than traditional locks.
  • Limited usability: They may not work well for people with disabilities or those who have trouble using their hands or fingers.
  • Dependence on technology: Like any electronic device, biometric locks can malfunction or stop working. This could be due to a dead battery or other technical issue, which would prevent you from accessing your luggage.
  • Privacy concerns: Some people may be uncomfortable with the idea of a device that stores their personal biometric data (such as their fingerprint) on a device that could potentially be lost or stolen.

Luggage with Integrated TSA Locks

Some pieces of luggage come with locks that are built into the baggage itself.

Pros of Using an Integrated TSA Lock

  • Convenience: Built-in locks are already attached to your luggage, so you don’t have to worry about carrying an extra lock or remembering to bring one with you.
  • Security: Built-in locks are often more difficult to tamper with or pick than traditional locks, because they are less visible and integrated into the luggage itself. This makes the lock more difficult to break or remove.

Cons of Using an Integrated TSA Lock

  • Limited use: A built-in lock can only be used on the luggage it is installed on, so it cannot be used to lock other items.
  • Limited options: You are limited to the lock that came with your luggage. The lock may not meet your specific requirements, causing you to use another lock.
  • Replacement cost: If a built-in lock is damaged or fails, the entire luggage piece may need to be replaced, which can be more costly than using a separate lock.

Which is the Right Lock for You?

As you can see, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a luggage lock to protect your baggage.

So, which one do you choose? If you have no preference after reading about the distinct types of locks available, we recommend the following: Unless you have a compelling reason otherwise, we suggest that you either use a TSA-approved combination or keyed lock. Combination locks are more convenient to use, as they don’t require a key, but can be fiddly for those of us who aren’t as nimble with our fingers.

In my opinion, the other lock options are far too expensive to justify the moderate gain in security that they can provide. To be blunt, I think devices such as smart and biometric locks are solutions looking for a problem.

The main function of a luggage lock is to act as a deterrent rather than secure your luggage. For opportunistic thieves, they are more likely to target a bag without a lock before one that doesn’t. If someone is determined to break into your luggage though, a luggage lock will only slow them down. Sometimes all that’s required to open a locked bag is a ballpoint pen!

Also, luggage which has a lock attached can act as a flag (Pick me! Pick me!), suggesting that the luggage has something worth stealing inside.

Should You Use a Luggage Lock?

In my opinion, luggage locks do serve a purpose: to act as a deterrent against opportunistic thievery. If you are traveling by public transport to the airport, walking through the airport, or leaving your bag unaccompanied in your hotel then, by all means, I recommend locking your bag.

When you are checking your bag with your airline, we recommend that you keep your bag unlocked. Firstly, you shouldn’t pack anything in your checked bag that is of significant value – all your valuables and important items should be packed in your carry-on.

An unlocked bag makes it easier for TSA to search your bag quickly physically. Yes, they can use a universal key, but even this takes some time. As we have seen post-pandemic, airports have had challenges with processing checked baggage promptly.

I personally never lock my bag when checking it in. In my decades of air travel, I haven’t had anything stolen from my luggage while it’s been in the custody of an airline (knock on wood – *taps head*).

Final Thoughts

As can be seen, there are many options when it comes to luggage locks. Each type has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Towards the end of the post, we somewhat controversially suggested that it may not be worthwhile to lock your luggage when it’s being checked in. I think that locked luggage can give us a (false) sense of security. Locks aren’t impervious to being tampered with. If someone is determined to break into your bag, they will do it. Outside of check-in, luggage locks do serve a more valuable function.

What do you think? Do you use luggage locks to secure your luggage? If so, what type do you prefer to use?


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  1. In all of my domestic as well as international travel, I always put lock on my checked-in luggages. I know it won’t provide 100% security but for peace of mind, I do so especially that my luggage contents are important to me 😊.
    I have been using both keyed and combination locks but there were instances when combination locks are bit stressful to me when I forgot the number combinations. In my personal experience, traditional locks (keyed locks) are more convenient for me and works 100% most of the time (unless I lost its keys which so far didn’t happen to me during my travels.
    I have not yet tried the biometrics and TSA-approved lock but looking forward to try them in future.

    Use of luggage locks is a personal choice for each traveller.

  2. Use of luggage locks when traveling is a personal choice, depending on whether it may or may not provide security.
    In my personal experiences, I always travel with locked check in luggage, be it domestic or international. It offers me peace of mind knowing that my personal belongings are safe. I use either keyed or number-combinations lock and glad that I haven’t encountered any troubles throughout the duration of my travels.

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