Is good luggage worth buying?
June 22, 2014 1:59 AM   Subscribe

Is "good" luggage worth purchasing?

I'm specifically on the hunt for a replacement medium-sized (26/28 inch) spinning suitcase that will be checked in.

I previously had a hybrid samsonite spinner that I quite liked, but my wife managed to break the zip somehow. They no longer seem to sell hybrid luggage, and it's all either soft or hard shell. I guess I could replace it with some kind other samsonite (like the 'hyperspace' or something), but was wondering if perhaps I should spend more. Or less, if the zipper's likely to break again?

So, what does AskMe recommend? Worth going up in price? If so, to what? Links to places that it can be purchased online would be great.
posted by modernnomad to Travel & Transportation (32 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
One thought is that, depending upon how much you care about aesthetics and upon the construction of the case, you might be able to just get a canvas needle and some carpet thread (or maybe a sailmaker's needle and thread? I haven't tried that) and a thimble and a new zipper and fix the old case. I've even repaired beloved old bags victimized by vicious soulless bag-handling machines using metal nuts, washers, and bolts, repairs which lasted for years.
posted by XMLicious at 2:50 AM on June 22, 2014

Response by poster: Sadly not an option as the zipper was broken while on a trip and was left there.
posted by modernnomad at 2:55 AM on June 22, 2014

Response by poster: Also 25inch luggage is probably fine size-wise too.
posted by modernnomad at 2:56 AM on June 22, 2014

If you buy something like Briggs and Riley it's great looking, very functional, and they have a zero questions asked amazing anything goes lifetime warranty. I always suggest that luggage is not something to be bought on a budget. This previous thread was a great discussion on the topic.
posted by chasles at 3:20 AM on June 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I've bought pieces from the low-end and higher-end lines of the same manufacturer (Victorinox). The bags on the surface looked pretty similar, but I found two big differences after about a year of use. First, the lower-end bag had picked up a lot more wear and tear (e.g. stitching breaking, abrasions to the plastic bumpers at the edge of the bag) vs. the more expensive piece. Second, the warranty service was much better for the higher-end bag. The internal plastic frame on the more expensive bag broke after around 4-5 years of heavy travel (came off a flight having been damaged by the handlers). Sent it back and it was replaced with a brand new bag, no questions asked.

I do a lot of travel for business (almost every week), so I get real value from the durability and warranty because I know I'll eventually damage something on the bag. If I was travelling only a few times a year, it would probably not be worth it because the higher end bag is 2x the price.
posted by techrep at 4:40 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had this for 7 years and it was amazing! It had backpack straps if I needed them, wheels, and handles on all sides so I could easily get it up, in, or out- of any space it needed to fit.

posted by misspony at 4:53 AM on June 22, 2014

The people at Wirecutter take this sort of question quite seriously - for example in recommending the best carry on luggage. My take is that any of the following are worth buying:

1. It is pretty expensive but it is supposed to last you a lifetime and the manufacturer is great to deal with if you have problems.
2. It is cheaper but has an attractive ratio of price to quality.
3. It's good stuff but it is currently heavily discounted because of some non-functionally important reason (last year's design, dubious colours...).
4. It is dirt cheap but that's OK because you don't travel much, don't want your luggage to look expensive and are not phased when the zip breaks as you about to dash for a flight.
posted by rongorongo at 5:33 AM on June 22, 2014

I would like to second chasles' endorsement of Briggs and Riley, as would my partner, who has put 300,000 miles (at least!) on his with no discernible damage.
posted by gone2croatan at 5:34 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah me too: chasles is right. I did hundreds of hours of research on places like FlyerTalk and Briggs and Riley is generally felt to be the best, with TravelPro as an okay cheaper backup. I've personally tried about five brands including both of those and Tumi, and I love my Briggs and Riley. After about 50 trips it shows no real signs of wear, everything works perfectly, and nothing about it annoys me.

There is a trend right now for wheel-less, unstructured shoulder carry bags, I think because they are light and flexible, but I don't really get it. I want wheels: I am not strong enough to want to lug all my stuff on my shoulder.
posted by Susan PG at 6:00 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I bought two pieces of Briggs and Riley based on AskMe's recommendation, and it's probably my smartest purchase of the past five years!
posted by whitewall at 6:00 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Just read the Wirecutter piece and FWIW I hated my Tumi. Its corners got abraded and crappy-looking really fast, and overall I found its construction kind of loose and sloppy, compared with the B&R which is tight and precise. I think Tumi's overrated and overpriced: they have just built a strong brand and are well-advertised.)
posted by Susan PG at 6:17 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had (and hated) Briggs spinners.

I've been most happy long-term with my TravelPro Platinum Magna expandable spinner (unlike the Briggs, I don't throw out my wrist trying to keep it going straight and unlike the Briggs, it doesn't have wheels "catch" and flip the entire bag over, sometimes resulting in you falling OVER the bag). Very good warranty but not a "no matter what" warranty.

Of all the "no matter what" warranties out there (and there aren't many, other than Briggs and a few others) I have to say the best hands down is Eagle Creek. They've recently changed their offerings so you can buy bags with their "no matter what" warranty (and they literally mean this - if you drag your bag for four miles down a dirt road and destroy the wheels and lining they will replace it without a word of complaint) or buy one with a slightly less comprehensive warranty. My husband has their spinner and loves it.
posted by arnicae at 6:40 AM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you check your bags most of the time, go for middle of the line bags. The cheap ones will fall to pieces and the really expensive stuff will break your heart when it gets beaten up. If you are looking for on carry on, get the best that you can afford. It does make a difference.
posted by myselfasme at 6:47 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just bought Travel Pro luggage, and I LOVE it! I traveled a lot for business, and I made do with deal at Target and stuff. It was okay, but flying in and out of Hartsfield made me realize that the easier the luggage is to handle, the better my life is.

Nothing lasts forever, I expect that I'll get at least a decade of use out of this new set.

FWIW, I bought it on sale at Macy's for $200. More than that is a waste I think.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:53 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I travel pretty much every week and have different advice: treat luggage as disposable. All luggage eventually suffers a fatal injury: zippers break, wheels fall off, pens left in clothing break or it suffers some other tragic internal spill. There's a fifty percent chance your bag will suffer catastrophic failure when you're away from home. Buy a $500 Tumi or Briggs and Riley and you have to get it home (along with your stuff) and then deal with sending it in and living without it while you wait. My way: swing into a TJ Maxx or Marshalls, drop $100 for a $200 bag, ditch the old one and never look back. Easy peasy.

Also, I felt terrible when my gorgeous Hartmann luggage got wrecked by baggage handlers. Now I just don't care.
posted by carmicha at 7:20 AM on June 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

I agree with Myselfasme, if you are going to buy carry-on luggage, spend away, you can control the damage incurred on your luggage. But checked luggage, all bets are off. You cannot control how the airline handles your luggage.

A word about Travelpro, watch out for third-party branded luggage, I almost bought some TravelPro luggage recently, only to discover it was a cheap luggage brand that may have paid to use their name. You have to watch out on other name brands for the same thing.(Before buying, go to TravelPro's website and make sure that the name of the luggage that you are buying is the same as what they officially carry).
posted by nanook at 7:32 AM on June 22, 2014

Back when I was in consulting and traveling a lot, I saw colleagues adopting one of two approaches: buy the best bag money can buy, or treat luggage as disposable and just buy whatever cheap bag works and replace when it breaks.

Having seen over the years how changing security regulations and luggage size allowances have made some of my luggage unusable for current air travel, I am leaning towards the latter camp.

(As for the trend towards wheel-less, unstructured shoulder carry bags, on a recent trip in the U.S. I was on a plane with small overhead compartments, and everybody who had those types of bags got to carry them on to the plane, while conventional rolling carry-on bags all had to be gate-checked.)
posted by needled at 7:35 AM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I bought a very expensive unstructured shoulder bag with three zippered compartments over 25 years ago. I swallowed hard at the time and reasoned that it would be a good investment for my extensive travel lifestyle. It turns out that I was right. The bag now shows some wear (character), but is as sound as the day I bought it. It is small enough to carry on if not stuffed too full and tough enough to check when stuffed tight for longer trips. It has survived travel on 5 continents and every mode of transportation you can imagine. I can live out of this bag indefinitely. It is an old friend at this of the best purchases I can remember. Ymmv
posted by txmon at 7:48 AM on June 22, 2014

Depending on your destination and how much stuff you have to carry, buying an expensive bag might pay for itself after a few trips. I picked up a couple of pricey Victorinox and Samsonite bags in the UK for a return trip after a year living overseas, one to replace a bag that failed and one to bring home stuff my wife and I had acquired. They were both about 5 lb. lighter than the equivalent-sized cheaper bags, which meant we could bring home an extra 10 lb. of stuff without paying the overweight baggage fee.

I know you're specifically asking about spinners, but in case you need smaller bags, too: For my carry-ons, I buy bags from Tom Bihn. They're handmade in the US, and very durable. I might have to replace my 8-year-old Aeronaut, but only because I had to check it due to dumb security restrictions (the collapsible hiking staff that the TSA let me carry on a flight from Boston to Amsterdam apparently didn't pass TSA restrictions for flights from Amsterdam to Boston…) and it came back with a big patch of grease on it that is tough to wash out.

I have no connection to Tom Bihn other than as a satisfied customer, even if my bag storage area looks like a Bihn advertising display!
posted by brianogilvie at 8:08 AM on June 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like the eBags motherload series.

I bought one after having craopy luggage, and it's impressive. Very highly reviewed, made with quality materials, nerdish video (see for their obsessiveness) with all features/strength, long handle (KEY) so you can loop a case over it.
posted by lalochezia at 9:27 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tumi used to be good (I am sitting at the airport right now with mine, with which I have flown some stupid number of miles in the last decade ). But now I think they are no longer offering a lifetime warranty, and are grumbly/unwilling to fix old bags too.
This Tumi was my first "good" luggage, and I really got a load of use out of it. It made travel more pleasant.

I likely won't buy another Tumi, but I have a new B&R (for shorter trips) and I like it quite a lot so far, but can't say much about its longevity.
posted by nat at 10:07 AM on June 22, 2014

I have been very happy with all of my Travelpro Crew line purchases (going on roughly 10 years of moderate use with my oldest one), but they do have a couple lower quality collections that I wouldn't bother with. No experience with spinners, though.

I know you asked about places to shop online, but if you're going to spend a lot on luggage, it's absolutely worth it to stop into a Macy's or similar to really try things out.
posted by ktkt at 10:16 AM on June 22, 2014

I adore my Eagle Creek luggage, especially the lifetime warranty. I spent years buying cheap, crappy luggage and replacing them every other trip when something inevitably broke. My Eagle Creek has been all over the world I the last 6 years and still looks brand new. Worth every penny!
posted by platinum at 10:20 AM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm a big fan of LLBean because their guarantee is really, really solid. Zippers wear out, and they'll replace it as many times as that happens.
posted by theora55 at 11:02 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

FWIW personally I think super-cheap bags are a false economy from the perspective of both time and money --- I've traveled with friends who have cheap bags for the reasons cited above, and I don't know how they stand it. One friend's bag came off the luggage carousel at CDG split open with half her stuff missing, which caused us a ton of hassle. She then babied the replacement all through Europe, worried that it wouldn't survive the battering on trains and planes and subways. A different trip, I lost a whole morning in Hong Kong with a friend who needed to replace her bag after it suffered a zipper fail. Plus cheap bags IMO get ugly fast: they fray and buckle and bleach/stain in weird ways.

I am a fuss-pot though, and you may not be :)
posted by Susan PG at 12:55 PM on June 22, 2014

I have the High Sierra bag that Misspony mentions (actually I have that size and the larger one that has a small backpack that can be attached to the front) and have used it for trips for at least 10 years, possibly longer. I like the ability to wear as a backpack or roll on wheels, I also find the small one to be a good carry-on size.
posted by dawg-proud at 3:39 PM on June 22, 2014

I have four pieces of Briggs & Riley that I've been using moderately for 18 years. They still look good.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 3:51 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I travel several times a year, but we've had the same cheap ($150 for a set of three) pieces for a several years now. They're flexible polycarbonate, bought at Costco and Target. It's true that zippers will eventually fail, but they can be tested before purchase. Large, heavy-duty zippers last well.
posted by wnissen at 9:11 PM on June 22, 2014

I have had two Briggs & Riley luggage pieces since the 1990's, and they still look good (soft-sided nylon fabric). They have been all over the world on many, many adventures. Eventually (and understandably) their zippers failed. The rest of the suitcases are in excellent condition. We took them to a local luggage store who repaired both of them, no charge, in one week. Were they worth it? Absolutely!
posted by apennington at 6:50 AM on June 23, 2014

FWIW, I went the "buy a cheap bag and don't worry when it breaks" route six or seven years ago and am still using my eBags Weekender for most trips. Multiple continents, road trips, boat trips, train trips...
posted by mskyle at 9:48 AM on June 23, 2014

For those mentioning Eagle Creek, it seems like the company's trying to walk away from their "Lifetime Warranty" promise that a lot of people bought their backpacks for. Sad, and more than a bit weasally in my opinion.
posted by blueberry at 8:13 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

With luggage I think you have a choice between Light, Rugged and Cheap - pick any two.

So if you need a rugged case you can either look for a cheap but heavy hard shell or spend the money for something more upmarket that will be lighter.

The guarantees you get with some luggage only work for replacing the luggage itself, they won't compensate you for losing half your clothes because the zip broke somewhere inside Madrid airport. If you tend to pack a lot of expensive stuff then it makes sense to invest in a more expensive/rugged case.

Also in my experience zips always break, sooner or later.
posted by Lanark at 11:05 AM on June 24, 2014

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