You could go out and buy a four-piece polyester luggage set for dirt cheap, but this type of luggage rarely delivers the durability that most people want.
That doesn't mean you have to break the bank for quality travel bags, though. While our shortlist doesn't include the very cheapest suitcases, much of the luggage we've reviewed is quite affordable.
Our list also includes a few premium suitcases that are worth considering if you travel frequently.
We do not accept products directly from manufacturers; we use our own funds to purchase the same “off-the-shelf” products that you do. And when we've finished our testing and consumer reviews, we donate all these products to charities and other non-profit organizations.
While most suitcases share a basic "shape," different manufacturers use different materials and construction methods. The way a suitcase is constructed impacts how long it will likely last. It also impacts weight, and with increasingly tough baggage allowances on flights, poundage matters.
Appearance & Versatility
While style may not be a deciding factor in your luggage choice, it's still important. Most consumers also like to have a variety of pockets so they can keep things organized. In this section, we discuss the aesthetics and functionality of each suitcase set.
Multi-directional wheels ("spinners") and extending handles make luggage less difficult to move around. Good locks improve security. In this part of our ratings, we look at the features each manufacturer offers to make your traveling easier.
In this part of our ratings, we look at the overall value of each suitcase set as it relates to the asking price.
Bill has been a hardware store owner, locksmith, and general home repair guru for over 40 years. His ability to solve problems and repair every item in every situation is a true gift. In his spare time, you may find Bill working in his garden, tending to his perfectly manicured lawn, or riding his bike.
The Samsonite Winfield 2 luggage set is molded from 100 percent polycarbonate, an exceptionally strong plastic commonly used for heavy-duty storage containers. Polycarbonate can pop back into its original shape after being dropped or mishandled.
The two halves of each spinner suitcase in the set are held together by strong zippers and TSA-approved locks. The two larger pieces are also expandable. The interior of each suitcase is completely lined with fabric, and a separate privacy curtain holds smaller items securely in place during travel. We do wish the Samsonite had more external compartments to hold travel papers, however.
The US Traveler Rio carry-on luggage set incorporates 1200D polyester instead of the standard 600D material. Its thick outer shell is almost as rigid as some hard-shelled suitcases we examined. A metal framework beneath the polyester lining contributes to its solid construction. The extendable, self-locking steel handle is situated internally.
All of the corners are reinforced for enhanced protection against common dings and rough handling. Four in-line wheels, combined with handles on the top and sides, make the larger carry-on piece quite easy to maneuver and store.
While the High Sierra Backpack does not offer the same level of protection as a hard-shelled polycarbonate or a thicker 600D polyester bag, its nylon-based outer shell will protect contents from most damage during handling. A separate 15-inch sleeve provides extra protection for laptops up to 17 inches wide. Corner-mounted in-line wheels provide decent maneuverability, and the extendable handle doubles as part of the support structure. Multiple pockets and sections allow users to keep different items (toiletries, clothing, electronics) in segregated areas
Each of the three pieces included in the American Tourister AT Pop spinner set is constructed from 600D (Dennier) polyester, a durable material often used in soft-shelled luggage. The corners are reinforced to protect the pieces from rough handling, but the sides are not. They can be easily compressed if additional weight is applied.
Four multi-directional spinner wheels provide easy maneuverability, and they are balanced well enough for the suitcase to stand upright during commutes. The American Tourister luggage set also contains several external pockets that provide quick access to important travel documents.
Most hard luggage is made of either acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) or polycarbonate; the Delsey Luggage Helium Aero Luggage Set is constructed of the latter. It's a bit more expensive than ABS, but it's also lighter and stronger. (Polycarbonate is the material that motorcycle crash helmets are made of!)
You can tell just by looking at this case that it was designed with care. The pull-out handle is made of what Delsey calls "industrial-grade" aluminum tubing and features a molded grip. Owners tell us that the glossy exterior can get scratched (this happens with all hard-shell suitcases), but they also say that, despite the "thin" shell, the Delsey's pieces are actually quite sturdy.
One nice feature of the Samsonite luggage is that the hard-shelled suitcases look noticeably more rugged than their soft nylon and polyester-shelled counterparts. The polycarbonate shell has several molded details, such as reinforced ribs and sleek indentations. In addition, the stylish brushed appearance helps minimize the appearance of small dents and dings.
With three sizes to choose from, owners can pick and choose how they pack things. For example, the carry-on could hold essential items while the larger suitcaes could hold clothing, electronics, and gifts. When not in use, the three pieces nest into each other for easy storage
Both pieces of the US Traveler set meet most airline requirements for carry-ons, and the smaller piece will fit comfortably under an airline seat. Both have external pockets for carrying important travel papers and other essentials. Those who require additional room for souvenirs love the fact that the pieces can expand up to 25 percent. (Other "expandable" luggage sets typically provide little more than 10 percent additional space.)
The smaller travel pack and the 21-inch carry-on could be easily strapped together during commutes through the airport or on public streets. The smaller piece could also be tucked into the larger carry-on between uses.
The High Sierra Freewheel incorporates the capacity of a small carry-on with the ruggedness of a book bag. Although displayed in basic black, High Sierra offers this model in a number of color and design options. Mesh tuck-away shoulder straps provide comfort when worn as a backpack, and reflective striping improves safety.
In terms of versatility, the High Sierra would serve equally well as a book bag, day trip backpack, or small carry-on for overnight trips.
The American Tourister AT Pop can be ordered in several popular colors, starting with basic black and extending into brighter shades such as red, orange, and pastel blue. We like these color choices, as some travelers prefer to purchase luggage sets that stand out from the crowd on the airport carousel or baggage area.
The smallest suitcase in the American Tourister set measures 21 inches, which means it should meet the size requirements for a carry-on bag. The larger pieces, 25 and 29 inches respectively, can hold quite a bit of clothing, electronics, and other personal items. Because of the soft-shell design, however, we urge users to pack fragile items and electronics under a protective layer of clothing to avoid crush damage. All three suitcases nest comfortably when not in use.
If you like a glossy finish on your suitcases — and many people do — you'd be hard-pressed to find anything more reflective than the Delsey Helium Aero! This suitcase is available in four eye-pleasing colors: Titanium, Brick Red, Black, and Purple.
Only one suitcase is included with this purchase. Inside, there are two storage areas, the larger of which is expandable. According to the manufacturer, the suitcase's dimensions are 29 x 19.5 x.12.5 inches. Notably, however, some owners have complained that these measurements aren't accurate. One or two have actually had to pay for excess baggage at the airport because, when the wheels are included in the measurement, the case exceeds the 29-inch maximum. Given how few owners have made this comment, we do wonder if the issue is with a particular airline. Nevertheless, it's certainly a consideration if you fly frequently.
All three pieces included in the Winfield 2 set are considered “spinners," which means they employ four corner wheels that spin and move in any direction. An extendable metal handle makes the commute from baggage claim to ground transportation (or the trip from the car to the hotel room) much easier. The inclusion of TSA-approved locks also makes the check-in process easier.
Each suitcase in the set has a securable privacy curtain and a fully lined interior. Expandable zippers on two of the pieces makes it easier to find space for any souvenirs or other items not originally packed at home.
Because it's a carry-on luggage set, the US Traveler Rio may not have the total capacity of our three-piece contenders, but it offers significant expandability. The self-locking extended handle allows for one-handed maneuverability, and the side handle is helpful when attempting to store the carry-on in an overhead bin.
The smaller travel bag is ideal for stowing personal grooming items, electronics, and important travel documents. The interior is fully lined for additional protection against rough handling. Tie-down straps help keep larger items (dress shirts, laptop) secure during travel.
The High Sierra features a handy external pocket for storing media players (iPods, smartphones). A personal headphone set can be plugged directly into an opening in the pocket. Other features include a tuck-away set of mesh-padded shoulder straps, an open external pocket for holding a beverage, and a clip for attaching additional gear while hiking.
In terms of travel-specific features, the High Sierra’s corner wheels are balanced quite well, so tip-overs are rare. Some users tell us they have taken these backpack/carry-on hybrids on long hikes in foreign countries with very few problems.
The American Tourister AT Pop spinner set contains the essential features travelers have come to expect from quality luggage. The polyester outer shell is soft and pliable, yet it is resistant to the damaging effects of rough handling. Several external pockets provide fast access to important travel documents and other items.
The spinner wheels and extendable handle offer improved maneuverability for travelers, since the suitcase’s weight is supported in any position. Consumers who want luggage that stands out from the crowd enjoy several great color options.
The Delsey Helium Aero's interior is lined with nylon for the protection of your goods. It features straps and helpful pockets for the security and storage of both larger and smaller items. Owners really love the fact that the Delsey case can expand up to two inches. This accommodation is especially helpful at the end of a vacation when you have extra souvenirs and gifts to bring home.
The hard outer shell is easy to clean, and the wheels are actually double "spinners" which make it quite easy to maneuver. A TSA-approved combination lock tops off the package. In our view, the inclusion of this lock is a clear sign of Delsey's thoughtful engineering.
The Samsonite Winfield set's retail price of $262 is quite reasonable considering the number of pieces it contains. The smallest suitcase is 22 inches in size, which should meet most airline requirements for carry-on luggage. The 24- and 28-inch suitcases will probably need to be checked, but these hard-shelled polycarbonate bags are designed to withstand rough handling and extreme storage temperatures. Other luggage manufacturers may rely on soft nylon or polyester to protect their contents, but Samsonite has built its reputation on its nearly indestructible line of hard-shelled travel products.
The US Traveler Rio’s retail price of only $44 makes it a tempting purchase for customers with limited packing needs. While the larger carry-on piece can hold a surprising amount of clothing and other personal items—especially when fully expanded—it is still a weekend travel bag at heart.
When choosing a luggage set, buyers should evaluate their specific needs and shop accordingly. Many business travelers and college students, for example, need only enough luggage for occasional one- or two-night trips. An approved carry-on set like the US Traveler Rio would meet that need.
The $47 High Sierra Freewheel is equally affordable as a book bag, backpack, or carry-on piece. College students should be able to store an entire semester’s worth of textbooks or a laptop in it without difficulty. Those who need to pack a few supplies for a long hike will also find it to be an ideal size at an affordable price.
Instead of investing in an expensive carry-on bag for a weekend trip, a user could pack some clothing and personal items in the High Sierra Freewheel and store it in an overhead compartment with ease. Purchasing a second bag would definitely provide light travelers with enough space for additional clothing or souvenir items.
With a retail price of $129, the American Tourister AT Pop set represents a significant savings over high-end luggage sets with similar features.
While hard-shelled travel suitcases are often perceived as better quality, soft polyester versions generally provide more versatility—external pockets, easy handling during commutes, etc. And, while other luggage sets don't always include a piece that could serve as a carry-on, this set includes a 21-inch case that should satisfy the carry-on requirements of most domestic airlines.
Investing in this affordable luggage set makes good financial sense, especially when you consider the cost of buying each piece of luggage separately.
At $122, the glossy Delsey Luggage Helium Aero suitcase is a significant investment. It costs more than some three- and four-piece sets on the market today.
So what are you paying the extra for? A few things. The polycarbonate shell is arguably tough and light, and there's no doubt that this case is made exceptionally well. Fitted with spinner wheels and a TSA-approved lock, it's convenient to move and store.
Sadly, for the money, only one case is included with this purchase. And owner feedback, which is generally complimentary, is colored by several who have had problems with the maximum dimensions allowed by some airlines—a major drawback for frequent flyers.
When it comes to luggage, many customers find themselves caught between function and fashion. Suitcases designed with durability or security in mind can be boxy and non-descript, while more aesthetic or user-friendly cases can lack the structure required to protect their contents.
One of our contenders beautifully combines form and function, however. The Samsonite Winfield 2 luggage set provides all of the protection of a hard-shell suitcase while maintaining great style. Its brushed exterior helps minimize the effects of rough handling and other damage, but it still looks sleek.
The ample interior of each piece in the Samsonite set provides plenty of room for clothing, important papers, and other items within its numerous pockets. Each piece nests comfortably for easy storage, and the two larger pieces have expandable zippers. For these reasons, we wholeheartedly declare the Samsonite Winfield 2 luggage set to be the Best of the Best!
While a number of people may still consider a hard-shelled polycarbonate suitcase to be the definition of quality luggage, the reality is that soft-shelled polyester models provide many of the same protections and features without the additional cost.
Soft shelled carry-ons are often easier to pack into overhead bins, and larger pieces are much easier to maneuver through a crowded airport. Among the soft-shelled contenders on our shortlist, one model stands out because of its versatility, quality construction, and competitive price. That model is the American Tourister Pop AT 3-piece Spinner Set. It's the Best Bang for Your Buck.
While other brands employ a sturdier 1200D polyester material, the 600D material used by American Tourister provides the level of durability and protection most travelers need. The spinner wheel design takes a significant amount of weight off the user’s arms during commutes (unlike suitcases with in-line wheels that can be difficult to maneuver). We also like the external pockets, a feature not often found on hard-shelled luggage.
Customers who seek affordable, quality luggage from a well-known manufacturer should seriously consider the American Tourister Pop AT 3-Piece set.