Best Suitcases

Updated February 2022
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Buying guide for best suitcases

When purchasing a suitcase, there is a lot more to consider than might first be apparent. You obviously want to buy a quality item that holds up through the years and serves you well, but there are a number of other factors that should influence which suitcase you purchase. This article will help guide you to the choice that is best for you.

You need a suitcase that is sized for your needs – carry-on or checked baggage – that has a TSA-approved lock. A telescoping handle, four wheels, and a variety of compartments are all desirable features. A hard-shell suitcase that is cut-resistant is best for theft protection, but a soft suitcase is better in instances where you need to squeeze it into a tight space.

Carry-on or check?

To check or not to check? One of the biggest questions facing airline travelers is whether to carry on their suitcase and cram it into the overhead bin or to check it at the start of their trip.

Each airline has its own set of rules for what constitutes a carry-on versus a checked piece of luggage. In addition, airlines may impose rules about the following:

  • The number of bags you can bring on a domestic, transatlantic, or transpacific flight.

  • The dimension and weight limits of your bags.

  • The amount of money it costs to check your first, second, and third bag (and so on).

"Are you looking to save money by carrying on your luggage? Newer carry-ons are expandable and built to hold more — especially with expert packing."
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The pros and cons of carry-ons

If you choose to carry on your luggage, your bag stays with you the entire trip and is less likely to get lost.

In addition, you enjoy the following perks:

  • You don’t have to wait for your suitcase at the baggage claim.

  • You save the checked baggage fee imposed by most airlines.

However, if you choose to carry on your luggage, you must be aware of the following:

  • Not all airlines use the same rules for carry-on sizes.

  • The rules are different for international and domestic travel.

  • If you have a flight connection, your carry-on can slow you down.

  • On smaller planes, you may have to check your carry-on due to limited overhead bin space (generally without a fee).

  • Because of TSA rules, you are limited in terms of what you can pack inside your carry-on.

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Did you know?
Travel regulations have affected the dimension and capacity of many suitcase models, but conscientious manufacturers have figured out ways to make the most of the limited space.

The pros and cons of checked bags

If you choose to check your baggage, you don’t have to worry about fitting everything you need into a small carry on.

  • You can generally pack up to 50 pounds in a checked bag. (Verify the limit with the airline first.)

  • There are fewer restrictions on what you can pack in a checked bag than what you can pack in a carry-on.

"Hard-sided luggage was popular decades ago, when people donned their best formalwear just to ride a plane. Today, with the advent of new lightweight composite materials, hard-sided luggage is making a comeback."

However, if you check your baggage, you should be aware of the following:

  • Unless you’re a designated frequent flyer or riding first class, you must pay for each checked bag on most airlines.

  • Checked bags are subject to size and weight limits.

  • Although actual losses are relatively low, the airline could lose your luggage.

  • Baggage handlers could mistreat and even steal from your luggage, so it's always best to keep anything precious with you in a carry-on bag.

Desirable suitcase features


How many wheels do you want your suitcase to have? Consider the characteristics of a two-wheeler vs. a spinner.

  • A two-wheeler is dragged by its handle. Generally speaking, the only downside is the difficulty you might have finagling it through narrow passageways or crowded areas.

  • A four-wheeled suitcase, otherwise known as a spinner, can turn in any direction. This makes it easier to navigate through obstacles such as curbs and crowds.

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Did you know?
In 2004, Samsonite added two additional wheels to the two-wheeler, and the spinner was born.

Compartments and expandability

Smaller suitcases generally have just one compartment for the bulk of your clothes, toiletries, and other items. There may be a mesh or plastic section within that compartment to hold delicates or items that could leak. Some suitcases also include an elastic belt to help secure items.

Common to suitcases large and small is a feature that allows the bag to expand. Depending on the model, expansion mode is set by opening a zipper compartment or, in higher-end luggage, a plastic bar that facilitates expansion or contraction.

For those who travel frequently on business, the garment section of the suitcase is important. This is the part of the case where you would place a suit or other workwear. The garment compartment can be as simple as a removable section that accommodates hanging clothing or as fancy as a suitcase that serves primarily as a garment bag.

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If you get a suitcase with a lock, make sure it is TSA-compliant. Otherwise, airport inspectors may have to damage your suitcase in order to get inside.

Telescoping handles

Not all suitcase handles are the same, as some are not adjustable. The best handles are the ones that telescope to various heights. The ability to adjust the handle to suit your arm length provides an extra bit of “pull power” that makes traveling that much more comfortable.

Outside pockets

Primarily found on soft-sided luggage, outside zippered pockets are convenient for travelers who like to add things at the last minute or store items that must be easily be retrieved. Outside pockets are especially useful for carry-ons; owners appreciate not having to open their main suitcase simply to find a book, snack, or travel itinerary.

Hard-sided vs. soft-sided luggage

Soft-sided luggage

Generally made of a nylon variant such as cordura, ballistic, or ripstop, soft-sided luggage is noted for its light weight and relative durability. The nylon material is measured in denier counts, which indicate its weight.

One of the biggest advantages of soft-sided luggage is its ability to squeeze into a tight spot on a plane, namely the overhead compartment.

On the downside, soft luggage is often made of lower-quality materials that could rip or tear.

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Soft-sided luggage is more flexible than hard-sided luggage, but the material may be less durable and more prone to rips and tears.

Hard-sided luggage

Much of today’s hard-sided luggage is made from ABS or polycarbonate. However, some suitcases are made of aluminum, which was also popular decades ago. The current crop of these sturdy suitcases is remarkably lightweight and sturdy.

Hard-sided suitcases are beneficial if you’re packing breakable items and want extra security for your luggage.

Unlike their soft-sided counterparts, the hard shell of these suitcases cannot be easily slashed and opened.

We tested soft and hard case luggage to see which stands up better on the street.

Suitcase prices

Under $50

In this budget-friendly price range, there are some good suitcases, most of which are made of a lower-quality fabric like polyester.

These suitcases will likely not last more than a few years, and they may incur a few rips and tears along the way.

You can expect to find such goodies as expandability and a telescoping handle for under $50. However, most of the suitcases in this price range only have two wheels.

Under $150

With an increase in price comes an increase in quality and number of features provided. Over the $50 mark, your choices expand to include hard-sided and soft-sided suitcases made of premium materials and, in some cases, TSA-approved locks for greater security.

Under $500

Interested in buying the last suitcase you’ll ever need? Luggage from top brands use top-of-the-line materials, and their price tags reflect as much. In most cases, these high-end suitcases include manufacturer protection against all potential damage, including airline mishaps and broken zippers.

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High-end suitcases tend to offer more in terms of security and construction, but exceptional capacity and baggage size compliance can be found at all retail levels.


  • To minimize arm discomfort, look for a suitcase with a telescoping handle that can be adjusted to your arm length. Make sure the handle locks in place.

  • A suitcase is only as secure as its weakest point. Because of this, conscientious manufacturers pay close attention to security features such as on-board combination locks, external security locks, and latches.

  • If you’re having trouble organizing multiple items in your suitcase, consider investing in a set of packing cubes. These softboxes help compartmentalize items that might otherwise jumble together.

  • For under $50, you can find a budget-priced suitcase made of polyester. The durability of these models isn’t quite as good as pricier bags, but for the rare traveler, a budget suitcase would probably suffice.

  • Garment bag suitcases are designed for suits, dresses, and other work apparel that must stay as wrinkle-free as possible during travel. These bags fold over and zip shut for easy transport.

  • Be sure to weigh your suitcases before you leave for the airport to ensure they are within the weight limit.

  • If you’ll be flying, the size of your suitcase matters. Airlines impose strict limits on luggage sizes, and if your bag exceeds the limit, you must pay an extra fee.

  • An airline may charge you an increasingly higher fee for each additional piece of checked luggage.

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