A poorly constructed or poorly selected piece of luggage can take the fun out of traveling. A bad bag can be difficult to maneuver and even can break, leading to unnecessary hassles and costs. Six things to consider when shopping for luggage…
• Material. Hard-sided cases look sturdy, but most of them can easily crack or dent. Their rigid shells also make it difficult to squeeze them into crowded airplane overhead bins. Soft-sided bags made from a strong, modern material such as ballistic nylon, which is denser and harder than regular nylon, are the better choice.
Exception: Hard-sided luggage can be appropriate for transporting fragile items. Aluminum-sided luggage is heavier and pricier than plastic but won’t crack.
• Size. Of course, whenever possible, travel with luggage small enough to carry onto airplanes. Checking a bag can cost $25 to $50 per flight these days, sometimes more, and checked luggage can get lost or damaged. Carry-on restrictions vary from airline to airline, but in general if a bag’s height, width and depth add up to 45 inches or less, it usually will qualify. (Do not assume a bag meets airline carry-on requirements simply because its label identifies it as a carry-on bag.)
• Wheels. Choose rolling bags that have ball bearings in their wheel construction. Luggage wheels that lack these tend to roll poorly and break easily.
Two-wheeled bags generally are more stable and easier to maneuver than four-wheelers. But if you must travel with especially heavy or bulky luggage, a four-wheel bag that has “spinner” wheels capable of rotating a full 360 degrees will be easier on your arm.
Tip: Ask a salesperson if you can load merchandise from the store into rolling luggage and wheel it around the store for a few minutes to see how it handles before buying. Loaded luggage can handle very differently from empty luggage.
• Zipper. The zipper is the part of luggage most likely to fail, so zipper quality is crucial. Choose bags that have two sliders on their main zipper—these can remain usable even when one slider breaks. Also, look for the letters “YKK” on zipper pulls. YKK Group is the world’s leading zipper maker. A luggage maker that uses non-YKK zippers often is doing so to save money, and there’s a good chance that its zippers are of low quality.
• Handle. A bag’s telescoping handle should feel sturdy when fully extended. If the handle rattles around, it’s a sign that the bag is poorly made.
• Brand. If your goal is to purchase affordable luggage that will last a few years, virtually any name-brand product that meets the criteria discussed above should do the trick. But if you’re willing to pay a bit more for luggage that could last as long as you do, top options include Briggs & Riley (Briggs-Riley.com) and Tumi (Tumi.com). These companies make very durable luggage and back it with strong warranties. But expect to pay upward of $300 for a soft-sided, rolling carry-on bag.
Helpful: Briggs & Riley’s lifetime warranty is the best in the business. If anything beyond normal cosmetic wear ever goes wrong with your bag, the company will fix or replace it free of charge—even if you’ve owned it for decades. You pay only the cost of mailing the luggage to a repair center.
Top makers of aluminum-sided luggage include Rimowa (Rimowa.com) and Zero Halliburton (ZeroHalliburton.com).