When you should buy a cheaper suitcase

If you’ve read this blog for any period of time you know that my advice is to always buy the best carry-on you can afford. There are relatively affordable brands in different price points, but if you’re going to be on the road a lot then you need a bag that can take the abuse.

Today, my advice is a little different.

I’ve had the zipper on bags literally break apart on a trip, requiring duct tape and a prayer to get my stuff home. So I don’t take this lightly! But there are times that buying a less expensive suitcase is the more prudent option.

When to spend as much money as you can afford comfortably

If you’re upgrading your suitcase to get a new one similar to what you currently have, don’t be afraid to spend money. Most business travelers plan to carry-on as much as possible, so generally they’ll be getting the same size. If you’re just trying to add more features don’t be afraid to spend money.

When to buy a cheaper suitcase

If you are changing something major about your suitcase, buy a less expensive version first. For example, if you’ve always carried-on and now you’d like a larger suitcase you can check–don’t spend $400 unless you know you’re comfortable with the new size! A reader recently dropped almost $500 on a new 26-inch suitcase for a two-month trip. She thought surely it would be the right size, but it was just too big. Now she doesn’t want to use it for her next long trip.

Here is a 28” suitcase for $100 similar to one I got a few years ago. It’s only gone on a handful of trips but it’s held up fine. I get wanting a high-quality suitcase that you’re going to use frequently, but this is a good way to check out a different size first.

Another major change–moving from soft to hard sided or vice versa. There are plenty of suitcases in the $100 range that will give you a good taste of a hardside (like the reader favorite Delsey)–don’t spend $450 the first time out!

When it could go either way

One scenario that could go either way is if you’re changing to a spinner from a two-wheel suitcase. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has been thrilled with their spinner, but there are a few readers who end up going to back to their old suitcase.

The most important thing is to do as much as you can to simulate your travel activities before your actual trip. Fill up your suitcase, wheel it around your house, bump it up and down stairs, try lifting it, etc. Obviously there is no way to get the complete experience without traveling, but it may help you realize what you bought is not going to be a good fit–before the return period is over.

As always when buying a suitcase, there are a number of things to consider. But spending the most money up front is not always the best plan.

Readers, what do you think? Is it good to buy a cheaper suitcase first to test out a major change? Or should you go all-in and hope for the best?


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  1. Cheap is best. Even a hard core road warrior should buy on the cheaper side. My reasoning is that a cheaper but not cheap quality suitcase (think Samsonite in instead of Tumi) will last less time but they get beat up so bad you will want to replace it anyway after a couple years. I think of like a cellphone or laptop. Sure you can get more than a couple years out of one but why would you want to. In addition you make your suitcase at theft target and yourself a crime target if you have a fancy suitcase. You’ll be treated differently but that isn’t always good to be a fashion statement when you travel.
    I agree about buying at Costco. They do have a decent selection and prices at times. I’m also a fan of the 2 wheel style because they roll so much better in snow, rain, cobblestones, etc. You give up the ability to roll them down the plane aisle but you should likely be carrying the suitcase at that point anyway. In addition I think cheap quality spinners are not the way to go if you travel much.

  2. Agree with everything you said, @DaninMCI. Plus I have another reason to buy “cheaper not cheap.” In addition to getting beat up, suitcases get quite filthy. Outside: foul.* Inside: even if you wrapped all of your clothes in plastic bags, your dirty underwear, sweaty gym clothes, and shoes are festering in that suitcase for the length of your trip home. My advice, for those with heavy travel schedules, find a carry-on that lasts you in the 1-2 year range.

    * I guess a hard-sided one could be easily cleaned.

  3. I agree you should buy the best quality bag you can afford as a frequent traveler.
    Not every expensive, luxury brand bag is high quality, so I’d stick with proven brands like Tumi or Samsonite. My first Tumi carry-on lasted 15y. It was still fully functional, but I gave it away because, with handles and wheels sticking out, it was more of a 24in than 22in and I got the evil eye more than once…
    A situation where I’d recommend less expensive, no-brand luggage is check-in luggage on trips to developing countries. You don’t necessarily want to advertise your wealth…

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