While suitcases of old may have only needed to pass the "caged gorilla" test, modern suitcases must comply with ever-changing airline size regulations and TSA security requirements. Travelers need to pack more delicate items into less cubic suitcase space, and those suitcases need to survive numerous transfers and trips through the baggage department.
We examined dozens of popular suitcase models to create our shortlist of top contenders.
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.
Construction and Design
Most consumers want a suitcase that's rugged enough to survive rigorous baggage handling and the antics of overly enthusiastic hotel bellhops. At the same time, they want luggage that is accessible and stylish. In this section, we consider construction materials, wheels and handles, closures, and aesthetics. Our top five contenders may use different construction materials and designs, but they all perform the same important task of protecting their insides from the outside.
Travel regulations have affected the dimension and capacity of many suitcase models, but conscientious manufacturers have figured out ways to maximize the limited space. While some of our top contenders may not have the dimensions required for carry-on or checked baggage, they are still able to store plenty of clothing, toiletries, electronics, and other items efficiently. We examine each top contender's compliance with airline baggage regulations and any features that maximize capacity.
A suitcase is only as secure as its weakest point. Because of this, conscientious manufacturers pay close attention to security features such as on-board combination locks, external security locks, and latches. Vulnerable elements like zipper fabric should be reinforced to discourage a brute force attack with cutting tools. In this section of our ratings, we discuss each suitcase's security features as well as additional steps users can take to protect their possessions.
High-end suitcases tend to offer more in terms of security and construction, but exceptional capacity and baggage size compliance can be found at all retail levels. Our top suitcase contenders run a gamut of price points. In this section of our ratings, we discuss price as it relates to each product's overall quality.
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The Samsonite Mightlight Spinner 30 is exceptionally lightweight, but it's still strong enough to heal itself after most dings and drops. This is due primarily to the use of rugged polycarbonate plastic to form the suitcase's outer shell. (Aluminum shells used in other suitcases can be strong, but they tend to retain the dings and dents they receive during handling.) The Samsonite Mightlight Spinner 30 has a brushed appearance that helps hides scratches. A reinforced fabric and metal zipper completes the suitcase's durable design.
The Delsey Helium Aero 29, with its dent-resistant polycarbonate shell, is an affordable alternative to pricier metal suitcases. It's not quite as scuff-resistant as the Samsonite, but it does offer a number of shell color choices that help minimize the appearance of scratches and dings. The extendable handle is aluminum, unlike other models that use a less sturdy form of plastic.
The Travelpro Maxlite3 Expandable Spinner does not have a hard shell like the Delsey and Samsonite, but it does feature a durable honeycombed frame that fully supports its 100-percent polyester outer and inner linings. We have some concerns about the durability of this model's nylon zippers, and unfortunately, zipper damage is not covered under the manufacturer's warranty. The telescoping aluminum handle has two stopping points to improve handling for shorter and taller users. The Travelpro's four-wheeled spinner design is a nice feature; in terms of stability and portability, this configuration works better than the two-wheeled roll-along design.
The American Tourister Luggage Splash 25 is promoted as an upright suitcase with four independent wheels. This means the suitcase moves in a linear direction with in-line wheels, much like a two-wheeled roll-along model. Some people find this design to be a bit frustrating, especially when compared to the 360-degree swivel of other contenders. We appreciate the inclusion of two padded handles for easier vertical and horizontal carrying, but the side handle is only attached to the suitcase's thin outer skin, not the support frame. Some owners have complained about the the extension handle's tendency to bend or warp under pressure. In addition, the durability of this suitcase's fabric – especially along the zipper seams – is questionable. We do appreciate the American Tourister's multiple zippered sections; these allow users to conveniently separate documents from toiletries.
The US Traveler Rio carry-on luggage set consists of two pieces, both of which meet the carry-on criteria of most airlines. The larger 21-inch suitcase, with its in-line skate wheels, is a lot like the American Tourister Splash. It has a strong metal framework, a telescoping handle that locks into place, and a number of zippered pockets on the outside for the storage of documents and small electronics. We especially like the way the larger case's cross-strapping compresses clothing to increase storage space. The smaller piece is like a well-constructed tote bag that could easily be stashed under a seat. Both cases are made of durable 1200d polyester, a material that is water-resistant and rugged enough to withstand rough baggage handling.
The stated dimensions of the Samsonite Mightlight Spinner 30 are 28 x 19.8 x 12.5 inches. This figure pushes the limit of airline baggage regulations. However, we've only received a few reports of users being charged additional fees for "oversized" luggage. Inside its fabric-lined interior, the thin walls of the Samsonite Mightlight create a surprising amount of usable storage space. One side is ideal for clothes storage; an elastic cross-strap provides additional security. The other side consists of several organizational pockets for smaller items, all of which are protected by a privacy curtain.
For consumers who may be concerned about meeting size and weight regulations at airports, the Delsey Helium Aero 29 is a top contender that will not disappoint. The stated dimensions are 12.5 x 29 x 19.5 inches, which is actually one inch below the current standard. However, there have been some concerns about these measurements not including the height of the wheels. We urge users to use caution and ask questions before checking this suitcase. Also, because of the Delsey's generous interior capacity, it's quite easy for owners to exceed the maximum weight allowance. The suitcase is expandable and features an elastic lock strap for clothing and a privacy curtain for smaller items. Delsey also sells a matching 25-inch model that could be used as a carry-on.
At 25 inches, the Travelpro Maxlite3 is four inches shorter than our hard-shell contenders, but it still does not qualify as a carry-on under most airline baggage regulations. Its actual interior dimensions are a generous 22 x 17.5 x 9 inches – plus an additional 1-2 inches of expansion. It can easily accommodate the standard airline limit of 50 pounds (and even more if packed for a car trip). The second zipper compartment is ideal for carrying documents, electronics, and other items that should not be stored with clothing. The inner cross-strapping can be adjusted easily to accommodate large suits and other bulky items.
While still above the legal carry-on dimensions, the American Tourister Splash is noticeably more manageable (in the opinion of many business travelers) than some 29-inch models. The official shipping dimensions of this suitcase are 25 x 19 x 9 inches – but this is at full expansion. The American Tourister easily accommodates the maximum 50 pounds allowed by airlines; this is an important consideration, especially when charges for overweight baggage can be $100 or more! Overall, this is a simplistic, no-frills suitcase. However, with a distinctive choice of vibrant colors to choose from, it should stand out from the crowd on the airport baggage carousel.
Both suitcases in the US Traveler Rio set are carry-on approved. As such, the capacity of each piece is on the smaller side. The 21-inch suitcase, designed with an airplane's overhead bin in mind, measures 21 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches (with a few extra inches of expansion possible). This should be enough capacity for the average business or weekend traveler, but it's not quite enough for extended trips. The smaller piece, at 14 x 10 x 6 inches, may be too small for some consumers, but others say it's the perfect carry-on size. We suggest using the larger suitcase for clothing and documents and the smaller tote for toiletries and other personal items.
Because of recent airline security regulation changes, passengers are encouraged to keep their suitcases under supervision at all times and to use TSA-approved locking devices. The Samsonite Mightlight Spinner 30 features a combination lock with a TSA-accessible keyhole. The ends of both zippers remain securely attached to the lock while in transit. Our only security concern is the vulnerability of the zipper fabric to a knife attack.
The Delsey Helium Aero 29's rugged polycarbonate shell is its first line of defense against vandalism and theft. The fabric/metal zipper is reinforced with nylon, and the zippers fit securely into a rod at the bottom of the lock. The suitcase has a TSA-approved combination lock that can be changed repeatedly.
The Travelpro Maxlite3 spinner suitcase is recognized for its exceptional lightness and expandability. It is not recognized for its security. Polyester suitcases like the Maxilite3 are always going to be vulnerable to box cutters and other bladed tools, but owners can take steps to improve the security of their luggage. It's true that this suitcase does not arrive with a TSA-approved combination lock or even a padlock for the zippers, but an owner could easily purchase a TSA-approved padlock (or two) that would secure the zipper ends in place during transit.
Like many fabric-based pieces of luggage, the American Tourister Splash has some vulnerabilities. However, the manufacturer uses an especially rugged 1200d x 900d polyester for the outer shell. The zippers are nylon, so they may be prone to snag (or even fail) under heavy loads. Some customers report fraying and tearing around the zipper seam. We urge users to handle this suitcase with care. There are no locks or latches on the suitcase itself, so the purchase of several TSA-approved padlocks would be a good idea.
Neither of the US Traveler Rio luggage pieces arrive with any type of security device. This is not unusual for luggage sold at its retail price point. Users should invest in at least one TSA-approved padlock in order to discourage break-ins; the main zippers on both pieces could easily be attached to a small lock. The outer polyester shell is made from 1200d polyester. This material is not necessarily “damage proof,” but it does make the suitcase resistant to many bladed tools. For maximum security, the smaller tote should be carried on whenever possible, and the larger bag should be checked only if the expansion puts it over approved carry-on dimensions.
At a retail price of $269, the Samsonite Mightlight Spinner 30 is one of our more expensive contenders. However, its durable, lightweight construction and significant capacity make it a worthwhile investment. Many seasoned travelers say they would prefer to have have one high-quality suitcase than an entire set of budget-priced luggage. That's because cheaper luggage often cannot survive rough handling or discourage motivated thieves. Samsonite Mightlight owners enjoy the advantages of a hard-shell suitcase and the airline-friendly dimensions of a checked bag.
The Delsey Helium Aero 29's retail price of $173 might sound challenging at first, but consumers need to compare it to the expensive metal hard-shell suitcases it replaces. The Delsey Helium offers the protective benefits of metal at a cloth suitcase price point. What's more, a polycarbonate hardshell suitcase like the Delsy's is more forgiving of dents and scratches than metal. It's also lightweight, easy to maneuver, and expandable to accommodate additional items users might purchase during a trip.
At $280, the Travelpro Maxlite3 is on the higher end of soft-shell pricing spectrum. However, it is one of the best suitcases around when it comes to weight and capacity. Hard-shell suitcases can be difficult to maneuver over rough terrain, but a polyester fabric suitcase can absorb more shock. We encourage first-time suitcase buyers to consider a four-wheeled "spinner" model like the Travelpro Maxlite3 because it provides more balanced storage than a front-heavy, two-wheeled roll-along. For the price, the Travelpro Maxlite3 is a great choice for frequent business travelers who don't want to lug a hard-shell suitcase from town to town.
The American Tourister Splash suitcase is a relative bargain at only $79, but potential customers should carefully examine their personal preferences before purchasing any suitcase. The suitcase's in-line wheel design does put some serious limitations on its maneuverability. Nevertheless, some people find roll-long suitcases to be more stable than 360-degree spinner models. The American Tourister Splash does not arrive with any TSA-approved security measures, but many people who travel by car (or other means) don't require such things. This is an affordable piece of luggage that has multiple storage compartments and a retail price that still leaves room in the budget for additional pieces, such as a matching carry-on bag and makeup kit.
The US Traveler Rio expandable carry-on luggage set has an astonishingly low retail price of only $44. It's an ideal set for budget-minded travelers who don't necessarily need the durability of a hard-shell contender like the Samsonite Mightlight. The two pieces only add up to one 29-inch suitcase in terms of capacity, but they offer users the option of storing clothing in an overhead bin while maintaining under-the-seat access to other items in the smaller tote. The larger suitcase features in-line wheels and an expandable handle for easy handling. Conveniently, the smaller tote will fit on top of the larger piece while in transit. Other suitcases at this price level tend to use less durable fabrics, but the US Traveler Rio features 1200d polyester and a metal framework. It is not just a glorified duffel bag or backpack. Indeed, it will survive rough handling for many trips to come.
A quality suitcase should never fall far from its original purpose – to store suits and other valuable items securely during travel. Our Best of the Best contender, the Delsey Aero 29, boasts a hard-shell case that resists dings and scrapes and a sound interior strapping system that holds everything in place. Because security is a big airline concern these days, the Delsey's TSA-approved combination lock is also a great feature.
Many people are accustomed to using suitcases with two linear wheels that often seem to move in the wrong direction. The Delsey Aero uses four independent caster wheels that provide 360 degrees of movement. Unlike its two-wheeled counterparts, the four-wheeled Delsey Aero will not become front-heavy and tip over unexpectedly. We also praise the Delsey for its solid polycarbonate outer shell, which renders it virtually vandalism-proof.
The Delsey's zippers can be securely attached to the combination lock. However, TSA officials can still access the interior of the suitcase if necessary. The lightweight Delsey's sleek appearance and generous storage capacity make it a suitcase model that is simply too good to pass up!
The US Traveler Rio is the only contender on our shortlist that offers two pieces of durable luggage instead of one. The US Traveler's budget-conscious retail price of $35, along with its other valuable features, easily makes it our choice for Best Bang for Your Buck.
While the larger 21-inch suitcase may not have the capacity of some of our other top contenders, it's the only one that clearly qualifies as a carry-on bag. Its smaller size could mean the difference between walking out of an airport in five minutes and waiting around at the baggage carousel indefinitely. The smaller tote is the ideal size for a small laptop or other electronic device, as well as all of the incidental items you might want to access during a long flight.
The US Traveler Rio's 1200d polyester outer shell and strong interior strapping make it much more secure than any duffel bag or backpack at its price point. The larger case's top and side handles allow users to easily retrieve it from an overhead bin. A number of zippered compartments can accommodate travel documents and other important items. As an added bonus, the US Traveler's expansion option enables vacationers to easily pack souvenirs and other items collected on the way. In short, the US Traveler Rio is an affordable, durable alternative to expensive hard-shell suitcases. We highly recommend this set for budget-conscious travelers!