What suitcase should I get?
November 19, 2009 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Is luggage one of those things where spending more money buys real quality? And if so, what should I spend it on?

I have owned a series of basic, mid-sized (22-25 inches) suitcases that I've use for almost all of my trips, but almost invariably after I've used one 3 or 4 times, the whole frame ends up cracked and misshapen. It'll still be vaguely usable, but it doesn't look like it's providing any protection anymore. These tend to be pretty basic suitcases of the nearly-always-on-sale-at-Bentley's type, where the individual suitcase is in the $60-80 range when it is on sale.

My question is, if I move up the line and buy more expensive luggage, does the quality improve to the point where I can count on it lasting for many more trips? If so, what price point or specific brands or bags should I be looking at? Hard or soft?

This isn't a 'money is no object' situation. If the price point of 'luggage that lasts' is too high, I'll just keep going with replacing my bag every year and a half, but if it's under $300 or so, then I'll consider moving up.
posted by jacquilynne to Shopping (25 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
A luggage buyer at Macy's told me that Pathfinder and TravelPro are the best values.
posted by jgirl at 5:31 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hartmann in belting leather, and Tumi, for the win.

That said, if you put a gun to my head and said, "Buy luggage right now," I'd just buy something from Samsonite. Hartmann and Tumi stuff is bomb-proof but expensive as all hell.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:41 PM on November 19, 2009

We have two pieces of Briggs & Riley luggage - one 21" carry-on rolling bag (11 years old) and one 27" expandable rolling suitcase (at least 8 years old). Both have been dragged on countless trips, all over the world; the smaller bag even went down the Amazon with my husband a few years ago. The ballistic fabric has stood up to every bit of abuse an airline can dish out. It's clearly been used, but is in remarkable shape for what we've put it through. By comparison, cheaper bags purchased and used alongside the Briggs & Riley suitcases have long ago given up the ghost.

The benefit of Briggs & Riley we most appreciate, though, is the warranty. If it's broken, they'll fix it. No charge. Last year, the internal expanding frame on the larger suitcase cracked in two places (gotta love baggage handlers). I took the bag to the luggage store where we'd bought it, paid $15 for shipping, and had a fully-repaired suitcase back in about two weeks.

You can definitely get a very good quality bag for around $300.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 5:41 PM on November 19, 2009

I would check out your local discount brand-name leftovers store. In the US TJ Maxx and Marshall's tend to have a reasonable selection of higher-quality luggage for reasonable prices. The internet leads me to believe that Winners is the likely Canadian equivalent.

My family has generally stuck with Samsonite luggage, although there have been some other collections used as well. We travel a lot, and I haven't had much in terms of luggage destruction. One of my favorite bags for a while was actually a small duffel bag (carry-on size), which lasted a good many trips. No frame means no frame to break, but some people don't like having to carry their luggage and prefer the wheeled kind.

I prefer the soft-sided kind to the hard type, they get dirty when handled by the baggage handlers, but they last pretty well and end up being lighter overall.
posted by that girl at 5:43 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think expensive luggage is worth it, but only if it includes a lifetime warranty. Our small bags come from Briggs & Riley. Held up for years, never needed a warranty repair. Our large bags are from Tumi, purchased when they also had a lifetime warranty. One of them has needed a replacement wheel every two years because of a design flaw, and Tumi's replaced it four times. OTOH Tumi now only has a 5 year warranty now so I can't imagine ever spending what they charge again.

I keep hearing that Victorinox makes good luggage. They offer a lifetime warranty for some bags.
posted by Nelson at 5:48 PM on November 19, 2009

Whatever you get make sure it's not black.
posted by 6550 at 5:50 PM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Samsonite recommendation. I have one that my brother gave me 3 Christmases ago and it is still in great shape despite the attempts of various baggage handlers to destroy it. It is dirty but not torn, unlike some of my other suitcases.

Also, seconding Winners as a good place to get name brand luggage at a discount.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:50 PM on November 19, 2009

Many of us in the adventure travel business who have and do tromp all over the 7 continents swear by Eagle Creek luggage. It's not unusual for me to be gone for several weeks and on just 1 trip, fly on 6 to 10 different legs, both internationally, domestically, and within a foreign country. Eagle Creek luggage is extremely durable, takes quite a beating and still looks very good. In just the last few months, I've been to Nicaragua, Ecuador & the Galapagos and Canada as well as a good few domestic flights, and my luggage barely looks used.

We're lucky because we get a ProDeal discount for being in the business, but even at full price, it's worth it.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:53 PM on November 19, 2009

Briggs and Riley offers a budget line (the name escapes me) that still comes with the awesome warranty, and is, even though it's supposedly their lower-end stuff, by far the best luggage I have ever owned (vs. Delsey, samsonite, and travelpro).
posted by somanyamys at 6:14 PM on November 19, 2009

I had similar cheap luggage, which fell apart at roughly the same rate yours did, jacquilynne. The frame cracked and one of the zippers fell off. I finally upgraded to a large Samsonite piece for $180, which has lasted five or six trips with only minor wear. Even the wheels have held up okay despite my abuse (cobbled streets and such). I do like that it has four wheels; makes it easier to maneuver. I don't know enough to compare Samsonite to other brands, but paying extra has proved worth it for me.
posted by serathen at 6:30 PM on November 19, 2009

Nth-ing Briggs and Riley. I have also owned a Tumi bag, but think they're waaaay overpriced given the quality and warranty. B&R makes absolutely bombproof stuff, and (as mentioned above) their warranty is unbeatable.

My one mild caveat about B&R is that they put some stuff (like the "sheath" for the handle on a roll-aboard bag) on the outside of the bag -- which gives you more space in the main luggage compartment, but makes the bag take up a little more room than the stated measurements would otherwise suggest. (E.g., I don't think their 22-inch rollaboard would fit in some overhead bins that my other 22-inch bags would.) Not a big deal, though. I have the 21-inch expandable upright, and it is holding up well (after ~200K miles). I don't remember what I paid for mine, but right now it looks like you can get that bag for less than $300 (and it is totally worth that, if you travel a lot).
posted by chalkbored at 6:31 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not convinced. I spent $30 on a crappy Chinese knock-off bag I found at a crappy luggage store in NYC and used it for 10 years and at least 50 trips before it finally started falling apart.
posted by camworld at 7:04 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is not particularly expensive, but has been very durable for me: The eBags MotherLode. I bought one, then my husband bought one, then several more as gifts. And then my brother bought one. Seriously, they are awesome bags.
posted by wyzewoman at 7:09 PM on November 19, 2009

I bought a used Travelpro carry-on from Goodwill a good seven years ago. In that time I've taken upward of 100 trips covering more than 250k miles. That bag is still in fantastic condition. I've bought larger bags and another carry on with four wheels to alleviate stress on a bad arm - none of them hold up to the Travelpro.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:29 PM on November 19, 2009

...but it doesn't look like it's providing any protection anymore.

What kind of protection are you looking for? I usually don't have anything beyond clothes and shoes in my luggage. I have some Lands' End duffel bags that are 20 years old, have been around the world and are still bulletproof. I don't think they make these anymore.

Perhaps you should consider buying luggage from REI, LL Bean or another retailer with a reputable return policy.

Personally, I would rather spend less money on luggage and replace it more often. Airlines are just as adept at damaging expensive luggage as they are at damaging cheap luggage.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 7:29 PM on November 19, 2009

If you do decide to buy "good" luggage, make sure you weird it up so that no one will steal it. The uglier the better.

I painted a giant watermelon on mine and covered it in green and silver stripes. You bet I can always find it on the luggage carousel. And no one would ever want to wander off with that.
posted by snailparade at 8:11 PM on November 19, 2009

I have Swiss Gear luggage and I love it. Like this. They were cheap, like $130 USD, for two pieces from Ross (mentioned above, U.S. discount clothes, etc. store). When I saw shopping for luggage I looked for a tougher zipper--If I remember correctly the better zippers were XXY or something and tougher nylon material ( for soft luggage) of a higher number denier - like denier 1000 vs. 400. Also, good quality wheels like inline skate wheels. These are all things to look for.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:42 PM on November 19, 2009

I've paid the price for a few pieces of Tumi and every single piece has had to be repaired. About a year ago I started buying the Heys Eco-line (made from recycled plastic) and it's been great. You / they can be really mean to it and it will stand up to the abuse. The last piece I got came from The Bay at 25% off.
posted by lunaazul at 9:29 PM on November 19, 2009

I went through a number of pieces of cheap luggage (which all disintegrated to various degrees) before getting a Travelpro rolling suitcase. It's tough, made well, works well, and has survived almost ten years at this point. It has a broken zipper pull (replaced with a cable tie) and some cracked plastic, both of which are replaceable (you can buy parts!).

I bought additional Travelpro suitcase for the wife and kid which have also held up well.

I initially bought Travelpro after looking at what the airline personnel were using in some airport or other. Travelpro was the most common. I was later told that they get a special discount, but it's good gear in any case.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 10:58 PM on November 19, 2009

My suitcase is the usual "overhead compartment" size. I bought it for $20 a target eight years ago. It has been on about 30 flights and barely has a scratch on it.
posted by MillMan at 12:42 AM on November 20, 2009

You could buy a Filson bag and pass it on to your children/grandchildren.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:01 AM on November 20, 2009

Locally to you, Mountain Equipment Coop makes some very nice duffel-bag type luggage that's quite reasonably priced, if you're ok with the look. We just took this piece on the road for two weeks and across several continents and it came back looking like new. It looks very comparable to the Eagle Creek line mentioned above.

I've also used the Red Oxx Air Boss for many years and many business trips. It's also stood up very well and has been on dozens of airline trips. Red Oxx doesn't make rolly bags however, and the MEC gear is comparably well made though and I expect it to last as well.

I'd take a serious look at your local coop.
posted by bonehead at 9:20 AM on November 20, 2009

Don't buy the Hays hardshell ones. The handles die on a regular basis.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:11 PM on November 20, 2009

Thanks, everyone. I kind of like the idea of those hybrid cases with hard bottoms and soft tops, they seem like they'd be less likely to have the frame break, plus they often seem to come in hideous colours, which I consider a selling point in luggage (my current bag is eye-searing pink and boy howdy, can I see that when it comes down a luggage carousel). No decisions yet, but I've passed the thread along to my mother who may buy me a new suitcase for Christmas.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:51 AM on November 22, 2009

Not one of the suggestions in this thread, but my mother went with this bag: Ricardo Beverly Hills 26" Expandable Upright.

She's not certain this is really a quality step up, she thought I should try it and see how it went. If this one breaks down, I'm likely to go with Briggs & Riley for the next.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:38 PM on January 1, 2010

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