Best Carry-On Suitcase Luggage Bags for 2023 — What to Consider When Shopping for New Carry-On Luggage
A carry-on suitcase can make or break your trip. Or, rather, a bad one can most assuredly break your trip. Meanwhile, a good carry-on will hardly be noticeable at all, as it should be. After all, you never remember how great your carry-on suitcase performed during that one work trip. You do remember that time your carry-on bag lost a wheel in the middle of EWR and you had to drag it to your gate. Or, that time your zipper gave way mid-flight and you opened the overhead compartment to find your personal effects strewn all about.
Ditch your next luggage disaster by choosing a carry-on suitcase that’s going to get you from Point A to Point B with ease. Here’s how to pick the best carry-on suitcase luggage bag for your needs.
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What to Consider When Shopping for a New Carry-On
Don’t just shop for any ol’ carry-on bag. You want to ensure you’re picking the right option for your needs. Here are a few elements to consider.
What size carry-on bag do you need? This isn’t a question that you’ll want to think about relative to how much you pack. Instead, think about where and with what airline you fly.
Do you frequently fly domestic? Then you should be safe with a carry-on bag that fits within the industry standard guidelines of 22 by 14 by 9 inches.
If, however, you fly internationally more often than not, you’ll want to go with something slightly smaller, like 21 by 14 by 9 inches.
If you fly with budget airlines, you may also want to go with an even smaller suitcase, to better ensure your carry-on makes it onto the plane (and not in the cargo hold).
In general, if you tend to fly with one airline more than any other, see what their carry-on size requirements are and then stay within those parameters.
But beyond size, you also want to consider weight. The heavier your carry-on bag, the less weight you can stuff inside that carry-on bag. Additionally, consider that you’ll have to heft the bag up and over your head to get it into the carry-on compartment. If that’s going to be difficult for you, go with the lightest possible option.
Should you go with a hard shell or soft, fabric carry-on bag? While the hard-side suitcases may look more durable, they’re not typically (unless you go with a high-end, name-brand version). That plastic can give way very easily, leaving you stranded with no way to get your clothes home after a trip. Or worse, the plastic gives way mid-flight, leaving you to pick up all your stuff before rushing to make that connection.
Fabric suitcases are often more durable because they have that extra give. They’re not likely to just crack down the middle if they’re dropped, scooted, or shoved by some careless airline employee. This is particularly important if you have to check your carry-on more often than not.
But, on the flip side, a hard-side carry-on is usually waterproof and easy to keep clean. It also protects your interior items from getting all smushed, if you’re worried about that. However, if you’re mostly carrying clothes, that should be a non-issue.
Beyond the material of the actual suitcase body, also look at the material used for zippers and other hardware. Opt for a suitcase with metal zippers, not plastic or nylon, as these break easily.
We all love a good spinner suitcase. The ease of pushing it around! The lack of clumsy fumbling as you glide through the airport! No celebrity would be caught dead gliding through the airport with a two-wheel bag!
But, despite the luxury of a spinner suitcase, there are some instances when you might want to go with a two-wheel carry-on instead. If you’re worried about room and size, a two-wheel bag can give you a little extra space that you just can’t get with a spinner suitcase.
You don’t want to be climbing a flight of stairs at the airport or train station and, all of the sudden, your suitcase’s handle gives out. That’s just going to make for an uncomfortable trip, as you lug your 10 to 20-pound bag to your destination and back. So, when examining a suitcase before purchase, check out the number and placement of handles. Also, look for online reviews that mention handle stability and durability.
Other Design Features
Beyond wheel type, what other design features are found on your perfect carry-on suitcase?
Do you need a lot of pockets for organization? Or would you prefer a large, open bag, with less need for a bunch of zippers and separate storage areas? Do you want a quick-access pocket on the exterior? Or would you rather have everything locked safely away?
Consider exterior design in terms of color and patterns as well. Do you want a same-ol’ same-ol’ black suitcase? It’s classic but gets lost in the shuffle and is incredibly difficult to pick out on the luggage carousel. Or do you want something that pops and is immediately recognizable as yours?
Of course, when purchasing any travel accessory, price is a consideration.
Generally, you’re not going to see much difference between a $300 carry-on bag and a $1,000 carry-on bag. That higher price tag is usually related to a brand name. Where you will see a big difference is between a $50 carry-on bag and a $300 carry-on bag. The ultra-cheap options are going to feel ultra-cheap and may only last you one or two trips. However, the bags that fall around the $200 to $300 mark are usually built to last long-term.
Along those lines, if you’re paying more for a suitcase, it should come with an agreeable warranty. Check out the fine print where your suitcase’s warranty is concerned, to see if you spot any red flags. Some suitcase manufacturers will replace a broken or worn-down suitcase with no questions asked. Others only replace suitcases that have experienced some sort of manufacturing-related malfunction. Some won’t replace a suitcase that’s been damaged by an airline. Others only replace suitcases for a short amount of time after your purchase.
Best Carry-On Suitcases
Do you have an idea of what qualities and features you need most from your next carry-on bag? If so, consider these five favorite pieces of carry-on luggage to help find your perfect fit.
If you’ve decided a hard-side carry-on suitcase is a good fit for you, this option from Samsonite might be the perfect fit. Samsonite is an incredibly well-known brand in the luggage arena. Despite all of this brand’s quality, you’ll still find that its suitcases are on the more affordable side. This particularly spinner suitcase is under $200.
At 21.25 by 15.25 by 10 inches, and only 6.5 pounds, it’s on the smaller side. So it is suitable for international flights. The polypro shell is a little more flexible than you might find with your average, hard-side carry-on suitcases, but it is still impact-resistant.
Another 21-inch carry-on from another notable brand, this option from TravelPro is a little pricier, at $260–$330. However, this spinner is truly state-of-the-art. The contoured handle makes gliding your suitcase across the airport a breeze, as do the self-aligning magnetic wheels. The soft fabric is water and stain-resistant. There’s an external USB port and a power bank-dedicated pocket, for the traveling techie or business traveler. The inside offers loads of pockets and extra removable organizers, such as a TSA-compliant toiletries bag.
This option from Timbuk2 has more than 6,000 reviews on Google Shopping, for a 4.3-star rating. And, flight crew members call it their go-to suitcase. Measuring 21.7 by 14.2 by 9.1 inches, with a nylon exterior, the suitcase is made with overhead bins in mind. It has extra handles to make wrestling that suitcase overhead easier than ever. Sturdy and durable, it’s built to last, and for only just over $200.
The Away carry-on bag has been making headlines in travel publications for a while now. A newcomer on the luggage scene, the brand offers a high quality for a relatively affordable price. It is only $225 to $245 for this variant. The hard-shell suitcase features 360-degree spinner wheels, an ejectable USB charger, an interior compression system, and a hidden laundry bag. It measures 21.7 by 13.7 by 9 inches and weighs 8.1 pounds. It’s ideal for the hesitant shopper who ends up returning things more often than not. Away offers an easy and free 100-day return policy. So if you don’t like the bag once it arrives at your house, you can simply send it back.
If you still cannot imagine spending $200 or more on a suitcase, consider this option from Samsonite. You get all the brand’s expected quality, but for less. At 22 by 15 by 9.75 inches, the suitcase is a little larger than some of the other options on our list. So, you will want to be sure to double-check your airline’s size restrictions. However, if they allow bags up to 22 inches, you’ll find a lot to love about this suitcase. With four spinner wheels, a scratch-resistant polycarbonate hard shell, and a 10-year warranty, plus 12 colors to choose from, this suitcase does a lot for its relatively small price tag.
Testing a Carry-On Bag
If you’re shopping for a carry-on bag in person, or if you purchased from an online retailer that allows you to return or exchange your bag, you’ll want to give it a test before your first trip.
Go through a full test run, packing all you normally might for a quick getaway or business trip. Check out all the pockets, zippers, bins, and compartments ahead of time. How’s the quality? Are the seams in good condition? Do the zippers feel flimsy or like they’ll hold up to a few years of use?
Try maneuvering the bag around your home. Can you imagine sliding it down an airplane aisle? Can you easily lift it overhead, to shove it into an overhead bin? How do those handles feel? Wobbly or sturdy?
Further reading: See our Ultimate Travel Packing List guide.
What About Smart Luggage?
You’ll notice that we didn’t talk about smart luggage features in our roundup of things to consider when purchasing a carry-on bag. Smart luggage, which most often comes with a built-in power bank to charge your devices, is becoming more and more popular. Some smart bags now even come with trackers. That way, you can keep an eye on your bag if it’s checked or lost (see our guide on What Should I Do If My Luggage is Delayed, Lost or Damaged by My Airline?). Others contain electronic scales, so you can easily gauge how heavy your packed bag is before you get to the airport.
However, smart luggage is often equipped with lithium metal or lithium-ion batteries, making them unsuitable for checking. If you aren’t able to take your smart bag onto the plane with you, you’ll have to remove the battery from your bag before your flight. This can be troublesome and, honestly, negates the usefulness of the bag in the first place.
For that reason, you may want to reconsider purchasing a suitcase based on its smart features alone. These bags just aren’t smart enough yet to be worth the extra money.
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