Tuesday Tips: Shopping for Luggage

I'm going on vacation in a few weeks and so far it looks like my husband and I, along with our two daughters, will be stuffing our clothes into one small suitcase. We recently threw away a large bag that fell apart after many years of trips. I'm resisting going luggage shopping because it's hard to stomach paying a few hundred dollars for something that'll get manhandled the second we step foot in the airport. So I spoke with Lisa Lee Freeman, editor of ShopSmart magazine, to get some tips on making the right purchase:

Tip #1: Don't go the cheap route when buying luggage. This is one of a handful of items in your life where it really does make sense to shell out the big bucks for a good quality item. "If you cheap out, you may not be saving money because they rip and fall apart if they're not well made," Freeman says. "Buy a decent quality bag so you don't have to keep replacing it."

Tip #2: Don't assume that those hard shell suitcases are the most durable. ShopSmart, which is a sister publication of Consumer Reports, discovered that the toughest pieces of luggage were the bags made of heavy duty fabric. Their top picks for 22-inch carry-on bags were the Tumi Alpha, the Victorinox Mobilizer NXT 4.0 and the Hartman Stratum.

Tip #3: Take a spin around the store. You'll want to see what it's like to pull the luggage behind you for a few laps around the store. This little test will tell you if the bag tips over easily or bumps your heels as you walk. Also see if it'll stand up on its own without falling over. Unzip the bag to get a sense of how roomy it is.

Tip #4: If you're looking for a carry-on, make sure the bag you're buying fits the dimensions required by the airline you're flying. Freeman says their research revealed that many bags that advertised themselves as carry-ons were far bigger than what was generally allowed by the airlines.

Tip #5: Mix and match. If you're not picky about having a set of matching bags, look for sales and buy separate pieces. Marshalls and Tuesday Morning sell separate pieces at pretty good prices.

Tip #6: Go for the odd color. You might get a better deal on a bag depending on the color you choose. Amazon.com's prices on the same bag varied about $10 between the black one and the blue one.

Tip #7: Shop around. The same bag had a wide range of prices online, from $148.90 to $167.

So what's your favorite piece of luggage? Who has the best deals? What do you look for when you're buying new luggage?

By Tania Anderson |  February 24, 2009; 12:00 AM ET General Interest
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baloney - do not put a lot of money into a "quality" set of luggage. buy heavy weight duffel bags, such as lands end or eddie bauer. eddie bauer outlets are a good source of these. sears and jc penney also have them and ordering from the catalog makes it easy to get an initial out on, to help find your bag on the carousel.
hartman and tumi, which I have owned in the past, are so tech bubbler in terms of price.
many better options. I agree that ross dress for less and similar stores are good sources of roll ons, get the 21" or risk having it checked.

Posted by: nancyjeanmail | February 24, 2009 8:24 AM

Things I will be asking myself when my ugly orange suitcase from the '60s (which has taken my mom through 5 weeks abroad and me through a total of 6) finally falls apart and I have to replace it:

1) Do I have a reasonable chance of picking the thing up and moving it if I have to, even when it's full? Not all hotels everywhere and very few houses have convenient ramps to every place I could want to take it, and I can't always afford to get someone else to haul it for me (nor am I always going to visit able-bodied people).

2) Can I spot it on the baggage carousel fairly easily?

3) Visibility aside, will 50 people likely have a bag just like it, increasing the chances of a mistaken bag and my luggage taking a detour without me?

Posted by: forget@menot.com | February 24, 2009 8:26 AM

I disagree with tip 1 (and tip 1 is inconsistent with tip 5). Buy the cheapest stuff you can find at Target or Wal-Mart. It won't last as long as the expensive luggage, but the expensive luggage will wear out also. In the long run, you save money buying the cheap luggage, and replacing it more often.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | February 24, 2009 9:38 AM

Beware of wheels and zippers: convenient for you, but hazardous when in the hands of the airline. Wheels can get caught in the delivery system's mechanism, or go careening down the baggage chute to smash into other luggage below. Zippers under torsion may pop open at the wrong end when the suitcase is stuffed too full, and then the suitcase is ruined forever!

Posted by: rabbit3 | February 24, 2009 10:00 AM

I took several feet of duct tape and put a big "K" on my luggage, front and back. Makes it much, much easier to spot on the carousel.
Hey, it's cheaper than trying to buy luggage that's sufficiently unique to solve the same problem.

Agree with the poster regarding zippers. I've traveled a lot in the past two years, staying for weeks at a time in various parts of europe ... so I needed the larger luggage. Whether I packed it tightly or loosely, the zippers always end up going first.

I've purchased a duffle-bag-on-wheels, with a handle and all that. It's not as large as my larger suitcase, but it's much tougher than anything else I've owned.

Posted by: khote14 | February 24, 2009 11:32 AM

Buy the odd color of a good quality to save money and see it on the carousel. Don't buy the cheap brands, they WILL come apart. If they wear out during transport, you'll be out the cost of your contents.

Invest in spinners. You can zip through crowds and keep your belongings closer. I was able to survive 3 weeks of business travel via planes and trains in the UK as a result of the spinner.

Posted by: MzFitz | February 24, 2009 12:12 PM

Additionally, if you buy good luggage, you may have a lifetime warranty on those zippers and wheels. My BF is also a heay traveler who owns a Samsonite carry-on. After 8 years of heavy use the zipper broke. They were able to refer him to a Richmond shop for a repair that they foot the bill for. I would say that it makes it a better investment than the cheap stuff. It also keeps them out of the landfills!

Posted by: MzFitz | February 24, 2009 12:16 PM

I love my Travelpro Flightpro wheeled luggage (best pricing is on the web--always closing out last year's style) - 22", 19", and tote(s). The 22" fits in most airplane overhead compartments sideways; the 19" fits lengthwise (easy to retrieve with the handle facing out); the totes fit under most seats (aisle seats might be tricky depending on the tote chosen). Stack a regular tote on a wheeled tote and you have more carryon flexibility. Flightpro is really durable and has lots of pockets to organize packing. I've successfully packed for an 11-day cruise for two with the 22", 19", and two totes (formal wear included) without checking a single bag!

Posted by: TwoEvils | February 24, 2009 2:09 PM

The unusual color is a key to locating a bag that ended up in Las Vegas when you're in Louisville, or if you're retrieving a bag from baggage services when the flight is cancelled in Atlanta and you're headed for a hotel at 2 am. All the ribbons, duct tape, and neon luggage tags don't get as fast results as a bag that stands out from a sea of black, black, black. When I had a red and white striped garmet bag, I never had a problem tracking it down when the airlines sent it to odd destinations.

Posted by: eburbage33 | February 24, 2009 5:29 PM

Commit to packing light.
Don't buy a suitcase bigger than what you can carry when loaded.

Buy small suitcases for your children, with wheels, and as soon as they are able let them handle them.

Women struggling to lift their carry-on suitcase into the overhead bin is one of the most disgusting things I see. If you can't lift it yourself check it.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 26, 2009 5:49 AM

Go shopping for luggage at a nice thrift store. You'd really be amazed at the deals you'll get.

Also -- back in 2001, I bought a purple roller/carryon new for $20 at a discount store, it travels fairly frequently, and the last time I had to check it (bringing bottles of wine home), I wound up with the first rip. I am considering sealing it with duct tape because I do love that suitcase. If I have to replace it, I am definitely going the thrift store route.

Posted by: capecodner424 | February 26, 2009 8:04 AM

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