How To Choose The Best Carry-On Luggage

Rejected and Retired Suitcases

I spend a lot of time with my luggage. I average 40-50 trips and 100,000 miles a year. I hate shopping for luggage, though. I’d putting off buying a new bag for a long time, as in years, until I was left with no working luggage when the handle died on my vintage Swiss Army black roller. Before that, the airlines forcibly grounded my Bluesmart smart bag for an unremovable lithium battery, and I had to retire my grey Samsonite bag after the wheels got wonky — the rubber wore off and the wheels splayed out after 2½ years of trundling it across New Orleans sidewalks.

With my next trip looming, I was finally forced to shop for a new suitcase. But what to buy? I started with a survey of fellow travelers. Actually, it was more like stalking; I eyeballed every piece of luggage that passed by me for two weeks. Then I wandered through the basement luggage departments of a couple of Macy’s, opening bags and waving off clerks. After all that, I gave into my OCD and built this prioritized carry-on luggage shopping evaluation criteria:

  1. It has to fit into my carrier’s carry-on sizer. Now that may seem a bit of a “duh”, but there is some ambiguity; the approved height of a carry-on bag varies by airline between 19 and 22-inches. If I want to play it safe, I’d go for a 20-inch bag, but then I also want to maximize my carry-on space. Most US carriers accept a 22-inch bag and that’s mostly what I fly. So for my main bag, I go for maximum packing volume and choose a 22-inch bag.
  2. And my carrier’s weight limit (if they have one). Many European carriers have a size and a weight limit. Back in episode #121, I talked about the baggage strip tease I had to do at the Wow Air desk in Reykjavik to make their 7 kg/15 lbs carry-on weight limit. My 22-inch bag is 7 lbs, taking up almost half of the weight allowance. So last month, after booking some flights in and out of Riga, Latvia on AirBaltic, I bought a much lighter 20-inch bag
  3. It needs to be black. As I said in my Ruthless Packing Tips post, black not only makes you look thinner, it makes your bag look thinner to gate agents scanning for bag-sizer bait. Black also doesn’t show stains. My grey Samsonite bag, after 3-4 months of my travel schedule, started to look a lot less non-black. Smudges from grease on overhead bin hinges, muck from taxi trunks, muddy water from New Orleans gutters, spilled coffee…. It’s why I can’t have nice luggage.
  4. Two wheels, not four. This is more of a personal preference. My Bluesmart was a 4-wheel spinner and my wife swears by hers, but because the 4 wheels have to extend from the bottom of the bag, spinners sacrifice packing space for agility. Also, I find 4-wheelers have a tendency to wander off — rolling away down ramps or on uneven floors. I go for the 2-wheeler, and with the biggest wheels I can find to make it an easier, smoother pull. I was surprised how much this limited my selection. Spinners definitely rule.
  5. The inside of the suitcase has to be plain and empty. No clever collection of zipped compartments, or built-in suit hangers, or ratcheting clothes dividers; just a wide open box that I’m free to structure how I want for each trip. I was surprised how this also limited my selection. Indeed, in the end, I couldn’t find just a plain box, and settled for a bag where I could detach the suit hanger and clothes divider and stash them in the back of a closet somewhere, never to be seen again.
  6. Buy on-line. A recent study of 32,672 luggage price showed that you can save an average of $110/39% buying on-line. Walmart and Target’s on-line stores had the highest discounts. And while Amazon was in 10th place for average discount (in the 40% range), it was tops with the greatest variety — over 12,000 luggage items.

So what did I buy? For my main bag, I bought a black Victorinox Werks Traveler 5.0 22-inch 2-wheeler. Victorinox is what used to be Swiss Army; I figured if my last bag survived 10 years of hard mileage, that said something for durability. However, Victorinox has moved to a new model year, to Werks 6.0, which doesn’t appear to have a 22-inch or a 2-wheel option. If you’re OK with spinners, the Werks 5.0 22-inch spinner is still available on Amazon. My 2-wheeler is a solid bag; highly recommended.

For my European budget travel, and for 2-day trips where I don’t need all the space of the Victorinox, I landed on the the TravelPro Maxlite 5. It fit the AirBaltic dimensions, it’s one of the lighter bags I saw at 5.4 lbs, and my daughter has had a good run with her TravelPro bag. Mine has worked well on two trips — hopscotching through the Baltics and then a quick trip down to Charlottesville, VA. Another solid bag that’s highly recommended.

Note: I purchased these bags with my own money. This is not a paid endorsement. This post contains links to Amazon where I can earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.

Podcast #156 — Airport Satisfaction; eScooters; Smaller Luggage

This Won’t Help Your Flier Sat Score

In this episode, we talk with Michael Taylor, author of JD Power’s 2019 Airport Satisfaction Survey, about what keeps fliers happy. I also talk about what I like about eScooters, shopping for a smaller bag for upcoming flights on a Euro budget airline, and how Hertz’s contract updates remind me to delete my Bluetooth pairings in rental cars. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #155 — RJ Delays; Street Food in Poland and Hungary

Polish health food

Didn’t have any problems with the 787’s flying 4,800 miles to Krakow or back from Budapest, but the 560-mile regional jet flights between Chicago and Charlottesville, VA have been causing me no end of hassles. We talk about this, revisit our discussions about iPhone dual SIM capability and American Airlines’ MD-80 retirement. And then go deep on my very non-keto-friendly dive into Krakow and Budapest street food.  All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #154 — Will We Still Love Uber When The Prices Go Up?

The moment of truth

Breaking out the mobile rig to record this episode in the Residence Inn in downtown Charlottesville, VA. Summer storms let me test Freebird’s re-booking service, I wrestle with AT&T so I can use my iPhone’s dual SIM capability on my trip to Krakow and Budapest, booking more relaxed flight itineraries lets me call an audible when Uber and Lyft prices surge into the stratosphere, which gets me thinking — will we still love those rideshare companies when they’re no longer cheaper than taxis?  All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #153 — Travel By Algorithm; Leaving Places Behind

What’s Behind Me Is Not Important

Going upscale, recording in the podcast studio at the 1871 tech incubator in Chicago, I talk about my surprising smooth 2-week trip in Ireland and Scotland. We also note the retirement (finally!) of American Airlines’ MD-80 jet, a very interesting new social media app, talk about how algorithms are changing the way we travel, and the melancholy of leaving familiar places for the last time.  All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #152 — Overwhelming Travel; New & Old Restaurant Trends

Latest in Sustainable Food Delivery 

Moving the TravelCommons studios kept me mostly off the road this month except for a quick trip to Nashville, but staying out of restaurants has helped me finally drop the last bit of Christmas weight. We talk about the “earn and burn” strategy for frequent travel awards; answer a listener’s question on how to keep from being overwhelmed when arriving in a new city, and new restaurant trends from the floor of the National Restaurant Association’s big show. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #151 — Traveler Data Leaks; Brittany Street Food

Cancale Oysters with a nice Evian Sancerre

Squeezing in another episode before moving the TravelCommons studios, we talk with Candid Wueest of Symantec about websites that leak traveler data and what we can do to protect ourselves. I talk about yet more frustration with the Avios frequent flyer program, while a listener writes in about his great experience with Freebird, a new flight rebooking service. I wrap up talking about great street food we had while touring Brittany, France last month. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #150 — Travel Interruptus

This guy looks familiar…

It’s been a tough month for travel. Not quite to Book of Job-level torment, but two of this month’s three trips spiraled into head-shaking metaphysical “What the hell is going on here” questioning of my decision to get out of bed that morning. I walk through the travel gods’ fun and games, as well as some new data on regional jet delays and buying a new travel bag. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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