Buying a new carry-on

Samsonite spinnerOne of my close friends will soon be starting a new job that includes a significant portion of time on the road, and she wants my help picking out a new rollaboard. I have had the same Ogio suitcase for over seven years, and it has made hundreds of trips with me, gone around the world, and in general been awesome. Unfortunately, it’s also not available anymore. So I’m having to start from scratch.

First, there are several things to consider when purchasing a new rollaboard:

  • 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 and size. The lighter your luggage is without sacrificing the features you need, the better. Also, make sure the bag fits the carryon dimensions allowed for most airlines—14in x 9in x 22in in the US.
  • Interior. 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! Also, check to see if the interior pockets match your needs. 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).
  • Easy to move. Walk around the store with the bag for a while to see how comfortable it is. Depending on how tall you are, the handle may hit you in an awkward place. Also, check out the 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.
  • Looks. While not nearly as important as function, looks are still a part of a carry-on. For first time business travelers, I recommend a solid, fairly conservative color. Dark colors will show less dirt, and my favorites are navy, plum, brown, and of course, black. Add a colorful, unique luggage tag so your bag is easy to identify.

Once you’ve got your criteria figured out, it’s time to look at specific brands. There are a ton of companies, but here are what I consider the best luggage brands:

Ogio. As I said, I have had the same Ogio suitcase for over seven years and I love it.

Briggs & RileyBriggs & Riley bags are true workhorses, ready for regular and hard use. One of the best things about them is their fabric, which reviews say is very water repellant. A good thing to have if you travel a lot during winter or rainy seasons!

Travelpro. I see flight attendants using Travelpro bags more than anything else. I think that right there says it all.

Victorinox. Made my Swiss Army, Victorinox bags are meant to last. They make some incredibly lightweight bags, which can be handy if you are traveling in Europe.

Of course there are a ton of other brands. Some that my readers have mentioned loving are L.L. Bean, Eagle Creek, Samsonite, Red Oxx, Rimowa, and Costco’s Kirkland brand.

Readers, what are your suggestions for buying your first business travel carry-on?

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  1. If you’re going to mention Red Oxx, you should also mention Tom Bihn. Neither make rolling bags, but both make well-designed and well-manufactured carry-ons of various shapes and sizes. For a laptop and 2-4 days of clothing, the Tom Bihn Western Flyer or Tri-Star might work well.

    I don’t have either myself but do have the Aeronaut and a few other Bihn bags that have been excellent to use (Co-Pilot, Synapse19 and most recently a Smart Alec).

    I keep eyeing the Western Flyer to use as a briefcase/overnight bag for some of my shorter work trips–I mostly travel by car, so I have tended to use several bags even on short trips, but I want to consolidate.

    FWIW, my Briggs and Riley suitcase (check-in size, not a carry-on) has held up quite well in spite of some obvious beatings it has taken from baggage handlers. My parents have had great luck with theirs as well, and when they needed service on one of them, it was handled very painlessly under warranty.

  2. I’ve been really happy with my two: the Tumi Vapor Int’l Carryon and the Tumi Tegra-Lite of the same model in Indigo. That color is far more subtle than the web site makes it look. Here’s a photo of mine:

    Anyhow, thrilled with them and my larger Vapor checked bags, even though I haven’t managed to pull together a matched set of anything yet (4 pieces in 4 different colors, oy).

  3. I recently bought the Costco. It is a bit heavy but pretty well-constructed and has in-line wheels which I require (hate the spinners). In full disclosure, I am a complete tightwad and cost was a major factor for me (my last American Tourister rollaboard has lasted ~10 years and was $40 at Wal-mart). I checked out a replacement AmTour but quality was much worse than my old one.

    After a bit of research on bags in the sub-$150 range, I narrowed to the Travelpro FlightCrew 4 (~$150) and the Costco ($100). I’m certainly no expert but read quite a few reviews that gave me some doubts as to the continued superiority of the Travelpro brand – seemed like a lot of long-time Travelpro owners were disappointed in the new generation of bags. The Costco is a tad large and heavy for my preference, but price is right and return policy great.

  4. I highly recommend the Antler Liquis ultra light hard shell carry-on.
    It only weighs 4 lb. and that means I can pack a lot of stuff into it and not be over the weight limit. I also use their larger bags and am really happy with them. We have three sets of Antler Liquis in our family and have owned everything including Tumi, but regarding today’s travel requirements and my back, weight is king.

  5. European carry-on sizings usually aren’t quite the same as US. Handy list

    Lufthansa, for example, allows carry-on width up to 15.75″ so she could get a wide body suitcase if she was just doing that route, but might want to stick to a narrower 14″ or less if she’s flying UA/AA/DL

    Spinner wheels do take away from the space of the bag because it requires raising the entire bag. Two wheelers with the inner luggage handle and wheels also take up some space.

    Wheel-less bags of the same dimensions have the most interior space but then you need to be good at packing light or strong enough to haul it around without wheels.

    There’s good threads on flyertalk for starting points, of course, but I’d also advise weighing her existing carry-on (or borrowing yours), throwing in several lbs of stuff she’d normally pack (or approximate weight), and then asking her to lift it above her head to simulate an overhead bin load/unload. If it is too heavy, then she might want a sub 7 lb bag and to pare down on contents. If she can lift easily it then she can look into some of the many great bags in the > 7/8 lbs category. I don’t know how many male business travelers start with carry-on weight first but that’s my advice as a petite female traveler to other female travelers.

  6. Something else to consider is how much walking you’ll be doing outside of the airport. Will you be dropped at the hotel door by taxi or will you be taking a train and walking 5 blocks with your bag over brick sidewalks, cobblestones, grates, curbs, puddles, etc. Some wheels that maneuver beautifully on smooth surfaces would leave me dragging my bag around as if it didn’t even have wheels.

  7. I have a B&R Verb Fuse which merges the laptop carrier with the carry on. Its tight, but awesome. You can get a one time 20% discount on luggage with amazon by signing up for their clothing e-mails. Which can be a pretty good deal.

  8. I love my 15 year old tumi 21 inch rollaboard, but it weighs 10.6 pounds empty.
    I have been searching for an international,light weight, rolling bag without spinner wheels. I also use a Mountainsmith 22 inch and a Helen Rae, but the HR has spinner wheels. I find the regular wheels have more protection when stored in the overhead bin.

  9. check also eastpack tranverz XS… it is perfect as hand luggage and has the best wheels ever. I just bought a second one after the airline lost the first one 😉

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