Best Checked Luggage
Best Carry-On Luggage
Best Under Seat Carry-On Luggage
How We Tested
When it comes to getting carry-on luggage on a flight, size matters. To ensure that the carry-on suitcases and underseat carry-on bags that we called in for testing would be welcomed on the greatest number of airlines across North America, we researched the allowable bag sizes for each major airline, averaged the numbers and then, in the name of caution, looked for bags that were slightly smaller than the measurements we came up with: 22 x 14 x 9 inches for carry-on bags and 8 x 18 x 14 inches for underseat-sized carry-on luggage. Full-sized suitcases, designed to hold week’s worth of clothing and too large to be stowed anywhere but in an aircraft’s cargo hold aren’t held back by the same sort of sizing restrictions, in most cases. While researching which of these larger pieces of luggage to call in, we paid attention to a brand’s reputation for quality, price and complaints/kudos that we saw online about a given model of suitcase time and time again.
To ensure that a set of wheels or a handle wouldn’t keep the carry-on luggage that we called in for testing from being allowed on a flight, we built our own versions of airport baggage sizing devices. Any bag that refused to fit was quickly disqualified from the competition.
For carry-on bags designed to fit into an airliner’s overhead bin and full-sized suitcases equipped with wheels we looked to mobility: each bag was tested by wheeling it over a quarter-mile of varying surfaces: tile, hardwood, concrete and cracked sidewalks. For every 20 steps taken with the bag, a 360-degree turn was performed to ensure that the suitcase’s wheels were still spinning freely and to make onlookers wonder exactly what we were up to. To simulate having to navigate an airport check-in line, each piece of wheeled luggage was rolled through an obstacle course of tables and chairs. We also tested how easily each suitcase was to use while ascending and descending a flight of stairs.
For baggage that doesn’t come equipped with wheels—backpacks and duffle bags, for example—we looked to how comfortable their handles, backpack and shoulder straps proved to be while carrying each bag, fully loaded, with as many pieces of clothing and toiletries as possible.
In addition to these tests, we also considered the durability of each piece of luggage, whether its built-in storage options were more of a help than a hindrance, small but important touches such as whether or not the bag can be used with a TSA-approved luggage lock and whether it comes with any thoughtful extras such as a laundry bag and, finally, how stylish and adaptable each bag proved to be.
What You Should Know About Luggage
Price: When it comes to luggage, we advise you to spend more if you travel more. High-end luggage tends to be more durable, so you’ll have to replace it less often. The same can’t always be said for personal carry-on sized bags. Sometimes, as these smaller bags, purses, and backpacks can be used as fashion accessories as part of your daily commute, the price of a bag is commensurate with its brand’s recognition, rather than its durability or utility.
Wheels: if you prefer your luggage to glide through an airport concourse on wheels, four wheels are better than two. No matter whether you’re pushing or pulling your bag along, you’ll find it just as maneuverable. That said, two-wheeled bags are still a good get—they’re more portable and can often cost less. For shopping for bags designed to fit under an airline seat, avoid wheels if you can: they eat into the already limited amount of space bags sized to slip under an airplane seat offer.
Handles: Retractable handles should slide in and out of position, smoothly, and offer at least a couple of height settings to accommodate different sized users. These style of handle, however, isn’t desirable in under seat carry-on luggage: the handle mechanism takes up a lot of space in such a small bag. Built-in fabric or leather handles should be wide and padded to make the weight of what’s inside of your bag feel like less of a strain on your hand. Handles located on multiple sides of a bag are a win, as they make it easy to grab it out of an overhead bin, no matter how you had to place it in there.
Organization: Bags that offer a number of easily accessible exterior pockets for small items like a passport, smartphone or plane tickets are a smart buy. Look for bags with a large main compartment that can be used with packing cubes, or stuffed full of a number of loose items such as a water bottle, snacks or a hoodie. If you plan on using your bag for work trips or having it double as a tote for your daily commute, be sure that any laptop compartment, tablet sleeve, or admin panels built into it will suit your needs.
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