Expert advice on choosing the best luggage: Full-size, carry-on, hardshell and more

Plus, more travel tips and tricks to streamline your upcoming trips.

June 14, 2024, 1:47 PM

Travel season is fast approaching and it might be time to replace your worn-out luggage.

Suitcases, carry-ons and other vital travel accessories are an investment, though, so we spoke with two experts who deal with these items every day to help you determine what to look for when shopping for your next vacation.

They have a wealth of knowledge on everything from which lock types are OK to what kind of luggage might help you avoid packing more than you can carry.

Read on to learn more about those experts and some of their top travel suggestions, then shop bags that could work best for you.

Our experts

First we spoke with Emmett Adames, a co-owner of Altman Luggage in New York City. Founded in 1920, the vendor not only sells top-quality luggage, they also offer some of the most trusted luggage repair services in the city.

Our second expert is Johnny Jones, the secretary treasurer of the 100 AFGE TSA Council and Treasurer of Local 1040, the former of which represents more than 45,000 Transportation Security Administration officers. With more than 20 years in the business, Jones was forthcoming on everything from getting to the airport (“Always take a taxi!”) to correctly packing liquids in your carry-on.

Common luggage problems

Adames was quick to point out his most common repairs: zippers and wheels. He sees these breaks happen most often in lesser-quality luggage and suggests avoiding any luggage closeouts where the price might seem nice at first, but the product won’t hold up over time.

Another less common but daunting problem is hard-shell luggage breaking at the corners, an “irreparable” issue, he said, but not a reason to avoid them entirely as long as you’re buying quality suitcases.

“The hard shells are fine depending on what quality you buy,” he explained. “Usually, that [breakage] happens on the lower end … with higher-quality bags, you rarely see that happen.”

Jones prefers hard-shell suitcases for his personal use, noting hard-shell cases can prevent over-packing like you might with a bag that has more forgiving sides. It’s a built-in way to ensure you don’t get slapped with extra charges at the gate or have to fork over even more cash to buy an additional bag at the airport.

Another common mistake is having the wrong lock on your bag. Adames suggested TSA-approved locks or none at all, as security may have to cut the lock if they can’t access the inside of your bag, which can potentially damage the zipper and/or its pulls.

Jones belabored this point as well, once again citing packing too much and how a broken zipper can quickly turn messy if security is unable to quickly re-pack your belongings.

“People don’t realize that someone might have to open that bag and reclose it,” he warned of routine examinations performed on checked bags, adding, “I’ve actually had to duct tape bags shut!”

Adames also suggests buying suitcases with four wheels.

“We recommend the four-wheel version. It’s easier to go down the aisle of the plane,” he explained, “and you can always use it on two wheels.”

Keeping these tips and suggestions in mind, we've selected several high-quality pieces we feel are worth every penny, as well as some handy add-ons to smooth the travel process. Keep scrolling to shop!

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Best carry-on luggage

Amazon

Briggs & Riley Baseline Spinners, Navy, 22-inch Essential Carry-On

This best-selling option from Briggs & Riley (Adames’ pick for the best overall luggage brand thanks to qualities such as “indestructible” wheels) is an investment for sure, but you’ll worry less about repair costs thanks to its lifetime warranty and impeccable construction. Available here in four colors and a variety of sizes to accommodate your travel needs, it also comes with interesting bells and whistles such as one-touch expansion to give you more packing room, a large front pocket for quick access to your essentials and a built-in tri fold garment folder so you can carry more formal attire without it wrinkling in transit.

  • $699
  • Amazon
Aer

Carry-On

Incredibly sleek and minimal, the Aer Carry-On is remarkably lightweight with wheels that never catch, get jammed or have trouble turning. The zippers are also exceptionally strong, and the thin but durable Makrolon polycarbonate shell holds everything in tight so you won't have any surprises at the counter when the airline asks you to check the bag's size. Enjoy a variety of colors, too, including this gorgeous mauve that stands out but goes well with any travel outfit.

  • $319
  • Aer
Beis Travel

The Carry-On Roller

A more affordable but still high-quality option is the Carry-On Roller from Beis. Crafted from 100% virgin polycarbonate, this bag features 360-degree wheels for seamless rolling, an extendable handle with a soft cushion for comfort, included TSA-approved locks and a variety of colorways to best fit your personal aesthetic.

  • $238
  • Beis Travel
Samsonite

Silhouette 17 Carry-on Spinner

If you prefer the flexibiity of soft-shell luggage, this Samsonite four-wheel carry-on bag is a great solution. It has multiple grip handles for easy pick up, antimicrobial technology to fend off germs and a TecKit pouch for charing on the go. Since it's soft-sided and thus able to expand a bit, you'll have extra room to squeeze in the souvenirs you pick up along the way -- just be sure to check airline weight limits to ensure you're not going over!

  • $259.99
  • Samsonite
Away

The Carry-On

This carry-on regularly out-performs similar models in post-consumer tests thanks to its lightweight yet durable hard shell, an interior compression system for efficient packing, smooth-rolling wheels and personalization options. The color range makes it easy to match your preferred style.

  • $275
  • Away

Best full-size luggage

15% off
July

Checked Plus Light

You can have size and a lightweight piece of luggage thanks to July's 9.2-pound Checked Plus Light. It has 360-degree spinner wheels, a 3-stop telescopic handle, a lifetime warranty, 100-day returns and free shipping across the US.

  • $276.25
  • $325
  • July
Away

The Trunk

This Away trunk can store a suggested 18 to 21 outfits for longer getaways, and the durable polycarbonate shell is lightweight despite its strength.As both experts recommended, this one comes with a TSA-approved lock. A double-buckle compression pad offers space-saving, secure storage, and a handle on the reverse end allows for easy carrying should you need a helping hand. And if you’re concerned with home storage, Away’s luggage nestles snugly into each other so sticking with multiple pieces from the brand can save space.

  • $435
  • Away
Away

The Large Flex

Away's largest suitcase is built for those long-haul trips that last two weeks or more with plenty of space for you to pack the treasures you find on your trip. It also has all the bells and whistles shoppers love about this popular brand like TSA-approved locks, internal compression and more. You have 100 days to return the suitcase unless you have it personalized, but their limited warranty is still in effect for covered damages to parts like zippers or the shell.

  • $425
  • Away
Amazon

Briggs & Riley Torq Hardside Carry On Luggage with Spinner Wheels 22-inch, USB Charging Port, TSA-Friendly Locks, Easy Access Hinged Front Pocket

Adames mentioned Briggs & Riley several times and told us he rarely, if ever, has seen them come into the shop for repairs. The price of its bags is certainly prohibitive for those on tighter budgets, but as far as investments go, the brand is seen as a gold standard. This popular model claims to be the only hard shell with a hard-side front pocket that hinges open for easy access during travel. Aircraft-grade aluminum gives the handle near-indestructible strength and four stop points on its telescoping system accommodates a wide range of user heights. Best of all? A lifetime warranty guarantees that, even if it’s the airline’s fault, you’ll never pay for damages to the suitcase. For frequent travelers, this could very well pay for itself in a few short years.

  • $549
  • Amazon
Samsonite

Elevation Plus Large Spinner

Expandable by up to 2 inches and engineered with 360° dual spinner wheels that spin on a dime, this large softside Samsonite is an all-around winner that offers plenty of storage and organization options, as well as extra abrasion resisitance and repairability.

  • $289.99
  • Samsonite
Bloomingdale's

Briggs & Riley ZDX 29 inch Large Expandable Spinner Suitcase

For the chronic over-packer, try this softside option that comes with a hideaway ID tag, an outsider handle to avoid wrinkling your clothes and reinforced corner guards. It's also easy to wipe clean, which is always a plus.

  • $619
  • Bloomingdale's

Affordable luggage $100 & under

Aer

Go Duffel 2

With a lightweight 210D Cordura crinkle nylon exterior and soft woven lining, this simple but stylish duffel is perfect for carrying on planes, packing for a weekend away or stashing flat in your bag so you can load it up with must-haves on the way back from your destination.

  • $89
  • Aer
Samsonite

Andante 2 22" Wheeled Duffle

While two wheels aren't always the easiest to navigate, the duffle functionality of this bag still makes it a top pick for travelers on a budget. It has a locking pull handle for easy carrying capability, a large U-shaped opening for quick access to your belongings and multiple external handles so you can always grab it and go.

  • $62.99
  • Samsonite
25% off
Samsonite

Novex Laptop Backpack

Keep things simple and affordable with this protective backpack that keeps your laptop safe thanks to an internal hammock system that cradles your PC. Padding in the back and straps prevents chafing, too, allowing for a comfortable hands-free carrying experience while you rush between connecting flights.

  • $74.99
  • $99.99
  • Samsonite
Amazon

Bric's B|Y Ulisse Duffel Bag - Luxury Weekender Bags for Women and Men

Another sturdy brand Adames brought up was Bric's, whose weekend bag seen here is inspired by Milano fashion with useful and attractive features such as a large side pocket for holding toiletries and a back belt that makes it easy to attach to a telescoping handle on a larger bag.

  • $79.20
  • Amazon
Amazon

Wrangler 4 Piece Elysium Luggage and Packing Cubes Set, Olive Green

If you're on a serious budget and don't have time to shop around for individual pieces, try this all-in-one set from Wrangler that clocks in just under $75. It's sold hundreds of units this month alone to generally positive reviews and while it might not last a lifetime, it's a great deal for the last-minute traveler.

  • $105.41
  • Amazon

Helpful travel accessories

17% off
Amazon

Apple AirTag

Lost luggage is one of travelers’ biggest nightmares and a great way to keep tabs on it is with AirTags. Jones let us know that while accidents are relatively rare, there’s always the chance your bag could get caught up in processing between home and your destination, but these handy tracking devices can save tons of time when trying to determine the location of your belongings.

  • $24
  • $29
  • Amazon
30% off
Amazon

TSA Approved Cable Luggage Locks, Re-settable Combination with Alloy Body

If you’re currently using a non-TSA approved lock and want to avoid damage to your bag, pick up a few cheap locks that won’t cause excess headaches at the airport.

  • $24.95
  • $35.95
  • Amazon
Amazon

Wedama TSA Approved Toiletry Bag, 3 Pack

While the airport will often provide clear bags for you to parse out your liquids ahead of the security line, skip the hassle and come prepared with your own reusable clear bag.

  • $12.99
  • Amazon
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