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Traveling with Alcohol: The Ins and Outs of Bottles in Bags

Can you travel with alcohol? The short answer is “yes,” with some qualifications, and the main concerns are when you fly.

You can freely pack alcoholic beverage bottles in checked baggage. The only restrictions you face are on international flights: liquor import limitations in your flight’s destination country. Your main worry is breakage—a real possibility, given the way checked bags get handled.

The 3-1-1 Rule and Duty-Free Alcohol

Carry-on or cabin baggage is a different story. The TSA 3-1-1 rule requires that all liquids and gels in carry-on baggage be in containers of 3.4 fluid ounces (100 ml) or less each, the containers must be carried in a one-quart transparent zip-top plastic bag, and that each traveler can have only one such bag. In effect, you can’t take a full bottle of liquor in your carry-on baggage onto a domestic flight.

But TSA has recently relaxed its rules on “tax free” liquor. Now, if you buy a tax-free bottle on an inbound international flight, TSA says you can take the bottle into the cabin of a domestic flight that connects with your international flight if it is packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the retailer, the bag shows no signs of tampering when presented to TSA for screening, and you have the original receipts showing that the purchase was made within 48 hours.

Bringing Your Own Alcohol on a Cruise

The other situation limiting travel with alcohol is on a cruise. Most cruiselines say you can’t bring your own alcohol on board. This isn’t for security reasons; it’s because they want you to buy alcohol from them, at gouge prices much higher than you find at a typical cruiseport. In some cases, they allow you to take it on board if you check it into some form of storage and claim it only at the end of the cruise. Policies vary a bit line-by-line, so you need to check with your line before you embark.

On Trains or Buses

Trains, buses, and other forms of transport generally don’t have strict limitations. A carrier may, however, forbid your opening and drinking from your own bottle during a trip. Amtrak’s rule says you can carry it on without restriction, but you can’t drink your own alcohol in public areas of the train; you can drink it only in your sleeping car. Check with other carriers for specific policies.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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