On Luggage Tests and Reviews
What sort of bag should you buy?
These days you can
choose from a
wide range of different sizes, styles, and prices of carry
Use the information in this series of articles to help you
choose the type of luggage best suited for your needs.
Part 1 of a 3 part series - click for Parts
Wheeled carry-on bags range in
price from a low of about $30 up to a high of about $750, and in
size from uselessly small to illegally large.
Weight can also be a factor -
some carryon bags weigh more, empty, than the total weight which
some airlines allow you to take onboard with you.
The information below will help you
shop more carefully for luggage and reassure you that you're
making the right choice, whether it be for the $30 item or the
Wheeled Carry On Luggage - A
It seems that almost
everyone has some sort of wheeled suitcase these days, and the
airplane overheads quickly fill up with all different shapes,
sizes, and colors of wheeled carry ons, with plenty more to be
seen on luggage carousels the world over.
Surprising as it may seem,
the wheeled carry-on bag was invented only 15 years ago,
in 1989, by a Northwest Airlines pilot, Bob Plath. The
carry-on he built in his garage for himself was greeted with
enthusiasm by his fellow pilots and flight attendants, who kept
asking if he'd make them one too, and so
the Travelpro Rollaboard suitcase came into being.
You might remember in the
early 1990s looking enviously at flight crew as they marched
effortlessly through airline terminals, every one of them with a
Rollaboard in tow. You could always tell an airline
employee, whether in uniform or not, because they had one of
these marvelous devices which we ordinary travelers seemed
unable to obtain.
How times have changed.
Today, Bob Plath's company - Travelpro - offers an extensive range
of different sized carry-on luggage to the public through a wide
range of retail outlets. Travelpro estimate they have
almost half a million airline employee users around the world,
plus a vast number of members of the public, too.
Although Travelpro holds
fifteen different patents on various aspects of their luggage,
other companies have been quick to copy and extend the theme
first pioneered by Travelpro, and you'll now find wheeled carry
on luggage available in a broad range of stores, and at a huge
range of different prices.
The Travelpro concept of two
wheels and an extendable handle has now extended to every
imaginable type of luggage piece, both big and small.
The rest of this article
discusses the differences between roll-on suitcases, future
articles in the series will contain reviews of specific
Cost - and Value
Perhaps the easiest
attribute to measure of any suitcase is its cost, and as already
mentioned, there is an enormous spread in cost with carry-on
It goes without saying that
cheaper bags don't last as long as more expensive bags.
But is it better to buy three bags, each costing $100, and
replace them as needed, compared to a single $300 bag which
lasts as long as the three $100 bags combined?
If you use your carry-on
only rarely (once or twice a year), then a poorly constructed
inexpensive bag might still give you three or even more years of
life and might be adequate for your needs. But if you use
your luggage regularly, you'll probably prefer something that
will reliably last for a good number of journeys.
Value - Reliability and less
We suggest that buying a
longer lived bag is always better than buying several, cheaper
and shorter lived bags. Bags rarely fail at home between
journeys. Instead, they invariably fail at the least
convenient moment, somewhere on your travels. Worse still,
whereas a robustly made bag might give some warning of pending
problems, cheaper bags are more likely to suddenly fail without
Put it another way - how
much would you pay to reduce by at least two thirds the hassles
associated with unexpected bag failures? When you factor
this into the cost equation, buying cheap no longer seems such a
Warranty and Repair
A related issue is that of
warranty coverage. Almost without exception, all bag
manufacturers exclude any type of airline related damage from
their warranty coverage. Which means that if your bag
fails while sitting untouched in your closet, and it is within
the bag's warranty period, then the manufacturer will probably
repair your bag for you. But start actually using your bag
as it is intended to be used, and all of a sudden, most
suppliers refuse to help if your bag suffers any damage.
There is one shining
exception to this - Briggs & Riley. They offer a no
questions asked lifetime warranty, and will repair or replace
your bag, no matter what the cause of the problem, or how old it
This is a very positive
feature to keep in mind when considering their products.
Because of this, a Briggs & Riley bag can be considered to have
a substantially greater life (and with less maintenance cost)
than most of their competitors.
On the other hand, if you
never check your bag, but always hand carry it yourself, maybe
it will never suffer from 'airline' damage.
If you need to have a bag
repaired under a manufacturer's warranty, do you need to send
the bag back to their warehouse or do they have contracts with
luggage repair stores around the country? You might find
it more convenient to simply drop off or send your bag to a
local repair store than to ship it across the country. On
the other hand, of course, there is surely nothing simpler to
ship than a suitcase - simply put a label on it, with no need to
worry about protective packaging or anything else!
Beware of diminishing returns
There seem to be three
general types of pricing levels for most bags. The first
level is the under $100 level, which is where you'll find
discount store and no-name bags priced. In general, we
tend to avoid these bags.
The second pricing level is
in an approximate price range between perhaps the low $200s and
the mid $300s. These bags tend to be robustly made and
fully featured, with no compromises in quality or functionality.
The third pricing level is
anything over $500, where you're paying a premium for what
appears to be little more than the brand name.
Is a $600 bag twice as good
as a $300 bag? Is a $750 bag three times as good as a $250
bag - and 25 times better than a $30 bag?
Although we haven't reviewed any of the most
expensive bags in detail, it seems fair to say that the
mid-priced bags impress us as 'adequate for all ordinary
requirements' leaving only the doubtful added value of a brand
name for the highest priced items to claim as their own.
Cost/value sweet spot
It seems that the bags
presenting the best compromise between ridiculously high price
at one extreme, and poor quality at the other extreme, can be
generally found in the $200-400 price zone. That is not to
say that you won't sometimes find a good value sturdy bag available at
$150, but you'll rarely find good values (for
ordinary users with normal requirements) much above $400.
You'll sometimes see luggage
offered for sale that is described something like 'recommended
retail price $400, special sale price $200'.
This does not mean you're
getting a $400 piece of luggage at a great price. It
usually means you're getting a $200 piece of luggage that has a
pretend $400 price but which no-one ever pays.
For some strange reason,
luggage is often sold on the basis of setting a ridiculously
high original pretend selling price, then offering what seems to
be a huge discount off that. Concentrate on the final
price and use that to base your evaluation on, ignore any other
This might seem obvious -
you buy a rolling carry-on bag so you can carry it onto the
plane with you, right?
Maybe. Some people buy
these items for other purposes, and some people will frequently
choose to check their roll-on bag, even though they could in
theory carry it onto the plane with them.
Will you pack mainly light
items into your bag - ie mainly clothing - or will it have
heavier items, too, such as a computer and books?
If you're going to be
limiting your use to only carrying the bag onto the plane, then
you don't need quite as robust a bag as if you might sometimes
check it - you probably will look after your bag more carefully
than airline baggage handlers! And if the bag will only
hold a small weight of contents, it is again less stressed.
But if you're going to be
transporting bricks or other heavy objects, and if you may
occasionally check your bag, then you should give more attention
to the strength of the bag and its ability to withstand wear and
Perhaps the most visible
feature of a bag is its size. Surprisingly, bigger is not
If you're planning on
carrying the bag on board flights with you, you'll need to
ensure the bag does not exceed the maximum size that
airlines allow. Click on the links in the top right of
this page to see the size (and weight) restrictions imposed by
The most commonly accepted
maximum size is a bag measuring 22" x 14" x 9". This is
often referred to as a 22" bag by manufacturers. Anything
larger than this will be theoretically oversized and illegal on
just about every airline.
A bag measuring no more than
(or even slightly less than) the maximum size of 22" x 14" x 9"
is not without potential problems. Here are some potentially
nasty surprises :
Firstly, the maximum size of
carry-on that an airline will accept does not necessarily
guarantee you'll actually be able to get your bag into the
overhead above your seat.
The overhead might be full, or
you might be on a plane with smaller than standard overhead
bins (for example, the upper deck on a 747 almost always has
very shallow overheads that won't fit full sized carry-ons).
Secondly, you'll often find
that you can't fit a maximum sized bag under the seat in front
of you. This is perhaps the only situation where it pays
to have a middle seat - typically you have the most space
underneath a middle seat.
Even the middle seat space
might not be sufficient, especially if you're on a plane that
has added electronic boxes under the seats (these control the
seatback videos and other in-flight entertainment).
Thirdly, in a rare exception
to the often found situation where manufacturers exaggerate
their claims for their products, you'll often find that carry-on
suitcase measurements are less than the actual outside
measurements of the bag. The kindest way of explaining
this would be to say that the measurements relate to the net
usable space inside the bag, but often fail to allow for extra
external space used by wheels and handles.
If you have the rare bad
luck to find yourself forced to try and fit your bag into a
sizing template by an airline, you might find that the bag you
thought was legal won't actually fit into the sizing template!
Remember that if you fill an
external pocket with extra things, the overall bag size may
well increase by another two or three inches, making a bag
that was legally sized grow to over-sized.
These factors all
argue in favor of considering a bag that it perhaps a little
smaller than maximum sized.
This refers to how much of
the bag's size is actually available for you to use storing
A bag with rounded corners
will hold less than one with more squared corners.
A bag with an elegant
tapered profile will hold less than a boxy one.
A bag with an internal
handle mechanism will hold less than one with an external
mechanism. But in terms of overall maximum external
dimensions - which is, after all, the major limiting factor both
in an airline official sizing template and when trying to
squeeze a bag into a narrow space, the internal handle mechanism
represents more efficient use of total space - when on the outside,
there is a lot of empty space just exposed to air that is not
Wheel recesses can further
reduce internal space, but wheels that stand a long way outside of
the case still count toward the total dimensions of the bag and,
same as external handles,
take a lot of effective space away. Smaller diameter
wheels take up less overall space than larger ones.
Surprisingly, a bag with
many internal compartments can also end up with less net space
to store things than a bag that is just one big empty container.
Some internal compartments can help you in your packing, but too
many can take away from practical packing space, and the bulk
(and weight) of the internal packing aids can detract from their
On the positive side,
external pockets and or zip expanders can enable you to stuff
more into your bag in an 'emergency', although be aware of potential problems if you go over the maximum size limits.
Read more in Parts 2 & 3
Part 2 we detail many other
factors to consider when choosing carry-on luggage, including
weight, wheels, and overall construction.
Part 3 we feature a
range of comments from Travel Insider readers who report on
their own experiences with carry-on luggage.
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3 Sep 2004, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.