Guidelines for Choosing a Rollaboard Suitcase

Your carryon luggage is the foundation of packing for a business trip. It’s not a place where you want to skimp—I recommend getting the highest quality piece you can afford. Consider it an investment, as you will use it for years. I’ve had the same carryon for six years, and it is still is really good shape after using it several times a month. There are several factors to consider when choosing a suitcase, so take time making your decision. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Quality construction. This one may seem obvious, but make sure the bag is well made. Tug at the handle and zip and unzip the pockets. Read reviews to see how well it has held up for users. Good Housekeeping also has an extensive collection of suitcase reviews.
  • Travel area. If you are going to be primarily in the U.S., you have a lot more consistency with carryon bags than in Europe. The major US airlines allow rollaboards to be 14in x 9in x 22in, with a maximum weight of 40 pounds. In Europe, the size allowances seem to be similar, but the weight allowances vary widely—from 11 to 51 pounds.
  • Weight. According to Good Housekeeping, in 2006 the average carryon they tested weighed in at a whopping 11 pounds. When you consider that on some European airlines the maximum carryon weight for your rollaboard is 13 pounds, well, that doesn’t leave a lot of weight for clothes! In 2010, the average weight was 8 pounds—much better! The lighter your luggage is without sacrificing the features you need, the better.
  • Size. Make sure the bag fits the carryon dimensions allowed for most airlines—14in x 9in x 22in in the US.
  • Roominess. Once you know the bag is of an allowable size, look to see how much room is inside the main compartment. The more, the better!
  • Handle length. Depending on how tall you are, the handle may hit you in an awkward place. Walk around the store with the bag for a while to see how comfortable it is.
  • Wheels. My current bag does not have spinner wheels, and I don’t want to buy a new bag just because of the wheels. However, on the few occasions I’ve used suitcases with spinner wheels, they have been so, so easy to maneuver. The next bag I purchase will definitely have these!!
  • Pockets/Dividers. If you are a person that likes lots of pockets or internal dividers, look for a suitcase that has them. If you prefer fewer, that’s okay too. I like two inside pockets (one for my undergarments, one for my toiletries) and two outside pockets (one for chargers, one for other miscellaneous items).

So there you have it! My extensive list of things to consider when buying a new suitcase. Obviously quality and size are the most important features. However, since a road warrior will use their suitcase all the time, and because there are so many available on the market at such varied price points, I don’t think there is any reason to settle.

Readers, what do you look for in a carryon suitcase?

(For a great resource, check out Flying With Fish’s Carryon and Weight Baggage Limit Chart from a few years ago. )

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  1. Mine is LL Bean. My wife uses a Briggs-Riley. Both are highly recommended, but the Briggs is 2.5x the price.

    LL Bean has a video of them doing a reasonable test (dragging up and down stairs, across cobblestones, etc) and is worth watching.

    Most sites have the number of cubic inches listed somewhere in the specs. My LL Bean, for example, has just over 3000.

    My wife’s bag has an accordion top that expands via zipper. Good for another 10% and we always pack on the way out with the zipper closed, usually coming back with it open. When open it does not fit in the overhead, but I’ll risk a checked bag when coming home. (We move inexpensive clothes such as undies, socks, shirts to her bag and put the better stuff and gifts into mine, then check hers).

  2. It’s gotta be a spinner and NOT BLACK! I’m a huge fan of the Samsonite Sahora Birghts series because they come in great colors and it’s a well designed bag. My current one is pink, and I have a red one ready to go for when Pinky McPinkersons (Yes, it has a name) finally turns her wheels up.

  3. The best set EVER is the discontinued Samsonite Padma collection. It has a coordinating big suitcase, carry on, rolling brief/laptop case and tote that doubles easily as a purse. The set is feminine with professional looking and easily identifiable detailing of buckles and straps, the suitcases are 4 wheeled rollers, all pieces stack easily and the black color hides the wear and tear of the road. It baffles me that Samsonite would discontinue this amazing set… I scored all of my pieces on eBay and will literally be in mourning when they bite the dust…

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