My wife and I have purchased multiple cars together. We bought and furnished an older house. We’ve undertaken home improvement projects like installing a new driveway and adding a patio to our backyard.
We’re no strangers to planning and executing important purchases. But, in terms of effort expended per dollar spent, none of the preceding holds a candle to our most recent joint investment: a new suitcase.
Over many hours, we pored over product listings, weeded through Amazon user feedback, studied expert reviews, and made multiple lists weighing our budgetary constraints against each candidate suitcase’s apparent value. This was to be our first new piece of luggage ever – we’d been making do with increasingly frayed hand-me-downs up to this point – and we didn’t want to get it wrong.
We finally chose the Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion 28″. Two flying vacations and several car trips later, we’re happy campers. And I, for one, am ready to relive our buying odyssey.
What follows is a comprehensive roundup of the top budget suitcases for frequent travelers, informed by my own buying experience and a litany of expert and consumer reviews.
Best Suitcases for the Frequent Traveler
Each listing below includes rough pricing from the manufacturer. You may find better deals on gently used, seasonal sale, and clearance items, or when you buy multiple suitcases as part of a set – a sensible move for traveling families.
1. SWISSGEAR 7272 Energie
The stylish yet practical SWISSGEAR 7272 Energie collection includes polycarbonate hardside carry-ons and checkable suitcases in three sizes: 19″, 24″, and 27″.
Each suitcase features eight multi-directional spinner wheels for omnidirectional maneuverability, a retractable locking handle, an integrated TSA lock, and an expandable packing space. The 19″ carry-on model – SWISSGEAR 7272 19″ USB Energie – comes with a hidden USB cord for on-the-go device charging. That’s a lifesaver on long journeys and in remote areas, and a sure way to reduce the cost of travel in the long run.
Color options include black, gold, olive, and periwinkle. The empty weight ranges from 6.9 pounds for the 19″ model to 11 pounds for the 27″ model. If you sign up for SWISSGEAR’s email newsletter, you’ll get 15% off your first order.
2. CALPAK Ambeur
The visually arresting CALPAK Ambeur collection includes three polycarbonate hardside suitcases: carry-on (19″), medium (24″), and large (27″). Website pricing ranges from $135 for the carry-on model to $180 for the largest size.
Each suitcase features eight multidirectional spinner wheels, a telescoping trolley handle, cushioned top and side handles, expandable packing capacity, polyester interiors, zippered interior dividers and side compartments for easy organization, and a TSA lock. Relatively lightweight construction is helpful for frequent flyers who are tired of hoisting and dragging bulky luggage through unfamiliar airport terminals.
Color options include black, gold, and rose gold. Empty weights range from 6 pounds for the carry-on model to 10.3 pounds for the large model. Continental U.S. shipping is free on orders over $75.
3. Herschel Supply Highland Luggage Carry-On
This surprisingly spacious softside number retails for just $149. It measures 22″ x 14.75″ x 9.25″, making it compact enough for most airlines’ overhead bins. One website review raves that “[i]t’s the perfect size for any trip. I’ve used it for a weekend away and even a week-long trip overseas.”
Sizing isn’t the only thing going for the Highland Luggage carry-on. Other selling points include a three-position retractable trolley handle, four multidirectional spinner wheels, and zippered front- and top-access pockets. It also features an interior mesh pocket with a garment strap, which is ideal for quick business trips, as well as a branded identification slot in case others on your flight have similar taste.
If the Highland Luggage Carry-On has a weakness, it’s color: With the exception of Frog Camo, your options are shades of black or gray. But pragmatism is the order of the day here anyway.
4. Samsonite Freeform 21″ Spinner
The Samsonite Freeform 21″ Spinner is a compact, crisp-looking hardside that’s trim enough to meet most airlines’ carry-on requirements. Features include eight multidirectional spinner wheels, a built-in identification tag, a TSA lock, an interior cross ribbon and divider for maximum space efficiency, a retractable handle, and a fabric extender.
Choose from five color options: tangerine, sage green, white, silver, and black. Its empty weight clocks in at 6.5 pounds; verified reviewers’ top touts were that it is “lightweight” and “easy to carry.”
The Samsonite Freeform 21″ Spinner normally retails for more than $300, but it’s just $120 on Samsonite’s website. Save even more when you sign up for Samsonite’s mailing list to unlock 10% off your first order. Continental U.S. ground shipping is free on orders over $99.
5. Rockland Luggage Melbourne 20″ Carry-On
At under $45 on Amazon, the Rockland Luggage Melbourne 20″ expandable carry-on is a fantastic value. This hardside is made from ABS, a super-durable polymer that can take its fair share of abuse. An aluminum telescoping handle draws the eye and soothes the wrist. Eight multidirectional spinner wheels allow for easy navigation through busy airport terminals. Plus, Rockland offers dozens of color options.
Reviews are mostly positive, with particularly high marks for carrying capacity and maneuverability. I’ve seen some complaints about it having cheap-looking construction and a useless five-year warranty; however, it’s not entirely reasonable to expect the manufacturer to bend over backward for a $45 suitcase. Multiple reviewers caution against activating the expander for carry-on usage: “This carry-on fit through the bin opening with no extra room to spare,” one Delta flyer warned.
6. Travelpro Luggage Maxlite3 21″ Spinner
The Travelpro Luggage Maxlite3 21″ Spinner ranges in price from just $85 to $100. It is another high-capacity carry-on – “The Maxlite swallowed all my stuff with ease,” gushed one Amazon reviewer. It also meets most airlines’ size restrictions. Like the Rockland Luggage Melbourne 20″, it may be wise to forgo the expander here unless you’re sure your airline won’t verify sizing. Since it’s a softside, you’ll have more leeway without the expander anyway.
Notable Maxlite3 features include the patent-pending Contour Grip rubber trolley handle with two locking positions, four multidirectional spinner wheels, a full-length interior lid pocket, and adjustable interior hold-down straps. Color options include blue and black, and its empty weight is 6.5 pounds.
7. Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion
The Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion series features three rugged polycarbonate hardsides: 20″, 24″, and 28″. Discounted pricing on their website ranges from about $160 for the 20″ to about $220 for the 28″, though you may be able to find better deals elsewhere. We got our 28″ for less than $150. Standard features include a TSA lock, a full-zip interior divider, oversized exterior zippers, and a retractable handle.
The 20″ is compact enough to meet most carry-on sizing requirements; however, the 24″ and 28″ are checking-only. With the expander activated, the 28″ is the most spacious suitcase I’ve ever owned. The polycarb shell isn’t totally rigid – instead, it temporarily deforms to absorb shock, and then returns to its normal square shape over time. The subtle brushed appearance hides scuffs, too; ours got dinged up on delivery, but you can hardly tell by looking at it.
Its empty weight ranges from 6.7 pounds for the 20″ to 11.5 pounds for the 28″. Color options include deep blue, purple, orange, and brushed anthracite.
8. AmazonBasics Hardside Spinner Luggage
Amazon sells so many competing luggage brands that it might as well get in on the action, as well. Enter AmazonBasics Hardside Spinner Luggage, one of several Amazon-branded luggage lines. The Hardside Spinner series has 20″, 24″, and 28″ varieties, ranging from about $50 to about $90.
Price is the main differentiator here. Amazon claims their ABS exterior is thicker and more durable than comparable products; however, I haven’t independently verified this. The expander adds 15% more packing capacity, and three zippered interior pockets simplify on-the-go organization. A telescoping aluminum handle and eight multidirectional spinner wheels round out the package.
Color options include blue, black, orange, and navy blue – nothing fancy. Reviews are mostly positive: “Can’t beat this suitcase for the price,” writes one user; a common sentiment. Negative reviews mostly beat up on the cheap construction, but then again, you get what you pay for.
9. Samsonite Fiero
Fiero is Samsonite’s answer to AmazonBasics: a practical, no-nonsense polycarbonate hardside series featuring a 20″ carry-on and a jumbo 28″ checkable. Like the Winfield 2 Fashion, the exterior is remarkably scratch-resistant – though Fiero cases owe that to their rough “micro-diamond” texture, which masks the visibility of scuffs.
All three Fiero cases expand two inches when extended and boast interior dividers, cross straps, and TSA locks. Weights range from 7.5 pounds on the 20″ to 11.3 pounds on the 28″. Website orders earn 50% off the sticker price. Plus, shipping is free on orders over $99.
10. Samsonite Silhouette 16″ Expandable Carry-On Spinner
The Samsonite Silhouette 16″ Expandable Carry-On Spinner is a literal softside “power” carry-on, thanks to the built-in Power Hub pocket that hides and charges your mobile device as you move through the airport or catch some z’s during your flight. Compact enough to fit under most economy seats, yet spacious enough to hold several outfits, the Silhouette 16″ is an ideal companion for shorter trips when you’d prefer to take just one piece of luggage.
There’s more. The Silhouette 16″ features multiple exterior pockets for easy compartmentalization, a gusseted tri-fold suiter that maximizes interior space, tie-down straps designed to compress soft contents, 0.75″ of expansibility, dual spinner wheels, and an eight-position retractable handle. You can get all of this for a discounted price of $230. It weighs 8 pounds.
11. RTIC Duffel Bag
At 70 liters, the RTIC Duffel Bag has ample space for your next four-day trip – longer if you’re a practiced packing artist. It’s incredibly tough, with puncture-resistant waterproof fabric construction, heavy-duty handles, and a weather-resistant zipper flap that you won’t think twice about opening in drizzle. And it’s designed for modern travel, with alpine-cut shoulder straps designed to minimize twisting, a separate water-resistant ID pocket on top, and an internal mesh organizer.
You’d expect all these premium features to push the RTIC Duffel up into premium price territory. But this bag is a relative steal at about $90, leaving plenty of room in your budget for actual travel.
12. American Tourister Fieldbrook II 2 Piece Set
I’m not coordinated enough to sport a multi-piece luggage set of my own, but the American Tourister Fieldbrook II 2 piece set will be at the top of my list should my disposition change. It’s practical: a 21″ carry-on complemented by a 15″ duffel slim enough to fit under the seat. Despite softside construction, it’s rugged, with reinforced corners capable of taking plenty of abuse in the cargo hold. It’s light, with the carry-on clocking in at under 7.5 pounds. And it’s cheap: on clearance for under $60 for the entire set. Also, it’s worth noting that American Tourister is a Samsonite brand, so it has a pedigree.
Other advantages include a “smart sleeve” on the duffel – an ideal holder for your boarding pass and ID through security – a push-button locking handle on the carry-on, and efficient interiors for longer trips. If you order it from the American Tourister website, sign up for the email list to unlock 10% off your first order.
13. U.S. Traveler 2-Piece USB Port Ez-Charge Spinner Set
The U.S. Traveler 2-Piece USB Port Ez-Charge Spinner Set is another budget-friendly luggage set. This one is ideal for longer trips, with a matching hardside carry-on and checkable bag. The carry-on’s USB charging port is also a big help on multi-stage journeys during which outlets are in short supply. According to verified users, most power packs fit in the charging pocket, and you can secure those that don’t with the case’s handy cross-straps.
Other features include a retractable handle and 360-degree spinner wheels that provide effortless maneuverability through crowded terminals. Feedback is generally positive, with durability the clear weak spot. Says one Amazon reviewer, “[T]he problem I’m finding is that the more I travel with them the more they are getting damaged…”
As I’ve said, you get what you pay for.
14. Travelers Choice Travel Select Amsterdam 25″ Expandable Rolling Upright
The Travelers Choice Travel Select Amsterdam 25″ is a smart-looking softside that retails for less than $50 and boasts an “add-a-bag” front strap for your under-seat duffel. The expandable compartment boosts carrying capacity by a whopping 25% when fully utilized, making the Amsterdam a viable alternative to bulkier 27″ and 28″ competitors. It’s also great for road trips where trunk space is at a premium.
Other selling points include the dual shoe compartments – ideal for business travel – and PVC backing. For those accustomed to spinners, the inline wheels take some getting used to, but the reviews are filled with veteran users raving about the Amsterdam’s maneuverability. Take that for what you will.
15. Away The Bigger Carry-On
Instagrammed the world over, the perfectly named Bigger Carry-On ($245) just squeaks into larger planes’ overhead bins. On regional jets, it’s probably going to be a checked bag. But that’s okay, because the built-in phone-charging battery (a lifesaver on multi-leg journeys) ejects easily – and it’s TSA-compliant, anyway. If you’re not sure whether you need the ejectable battery, get it. There’s no price premium, and you never know when it’ll come in handy.
The Bigger Carry-On boasts a durable polycarb exterior, a TSA lock, padded handles, multidirectional spinner wheels, and an internal compression system that may just help you squeeze an extra day or two out of your carry-on. And, thanks to a well-concealed interior laundry bag, you can keep your bag fresh and organized for days on end.
Find The Bigger Carry-On (and its diminutive sister, The Carry-On) on Away’s website. Shipping is free to the continental United States, and all orders come with a 100-day trial period during which you can return for a full refund, no questions asked.
16. Eagle Creek Borderless Convertible Carry-On
The Eagle Creek Borderless Convertible Carry-On is the most stowable entrant in Eagle Creek’s rugged National Geographic Guide Series. Designed for travelers looking to get off the beaten path, it boasts a rip-, water-, and dirt-resistant exterior, a separate waterproof compartment for wet and dirty items, zip-away backpack straps for hands-free use, and above-and-beyond safety features such as an emergency whistle and low-light reflectors. This versatile carry-on clocks in at just 7.5 pounds, so you don’t need the muscles of a lumberjack to maneuver it through the terminal.
At $299, the Borderless Convertible Carry-On isn’t cheap. But Eagle Creek’s “no matter what” warranty and three-day free shipping help blunt the fiscal impact.
17. Solo New York Columbus Rolling Overnighter Case
Whatever the Solo New York Columbus Rolling Overnighter Case lacks in ruggedness, it more than makes up for in style. The sleek polyester body complements a padded carry handle – a practical, inexpensive innovation that’s surprisingly uncommon in the budget luggage category. The 15.6″ laptop compartment is a clutch inclusion too, all the more so on a roller slim enough to fit under an airplane seat. Use the spacious “overnighter” compartment on longer trips.
For all this, you’ll pay just a hair over $100, and standard shipping is free within the continental United States.
18. North St. Scout 44L Duffle
The handmade North St. Scout 44L Duffle is a capacious piece of luggage inspired by old-fashioned military duffel bags – nothing fancy, just everything you need for a few days or more on the road. The slim shape and rugged construction make storage a breeze, though you’ll need to check with your airline to determine whether the Scout 44L is suitable as a carry-on; it probably won’t pass muster with discount carriers. The Scout 44L also comes with a built-in shoulder strap.
You can expect to pay about $145 for a Scout 44L. Sign up for North St.’s email list to get 10% off your first order.
19. Case Logic Bryker Backpack Roller
The Case Logic Bryker Backpack Roller is a compact little number small enough for a daily bike commute and big enough for a long weekend out of town. Padded storage compartments allow safe, simultaneous carriage of laptops up to 15.6″ and tablets up to 10.5″, but you’re free to remove the laptop sleeve and break out the internal elastic compression straps to increase packing capacity. Built-in shoulder straps complement a telescoping handle and tuck-away wheel covers, making for effortless carrying method transitions.
Expect to pay about $120 for this innovative piece of luggage – a steal, considering all you get.
Before we bought our Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion 28″, my wife and I relied on several hand-me-downs, some dating back to the 1980s. Those hand-me-downs still live in our attic – they’re virtually worthless on the secondary market, and we still use several as carry-ons. Although they’re bulkier, flimsier, and more beat-up than our new suitcase, they’re still structurally sound.
Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t expect your new suitcase to last many years. If and when you upgrade to a larger or more luxurious version, you’ll want to have the option to keep your present suitcase as a backup or pass it on to your kids. Purchase accordingly.
What’s your go-to budget suitcase?