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Cheap Luggage Buying Guide
Cheap luggage comes in a variety of shapes and sizes -- short or tall, wide or thin, rounded or rectangular. The options don't end there.
To a certain extent, the kind of luggage you carry says a lot about you. Are you a business traveler or a backpacker? A once-a-year vacationer or once-a-month wanderer? Do you pack light and tight, or without rhyme or reason? Do you pack just one pair of jeans for a week-long trip or cram your entire shoe collection into the suitcase?
However you answer these questions, there are certain factors to consider when searching for the best cheap luggage. For starters, you want something durable, easily portable, and sufficiently roomy to carry whatever you need wherever you go. Next, think about baggage allowances, which vary by airline and mode of transportation. In general, checked luggage on an airline cannot exceed 50 pounds. One rule of thumb for carry-ons is anything that fits through the X-ray conveyor at airport security is fair game; that said, carriers like American and Delta limit carry-ons to a maximum 45 dimensional inches (length + width + height) and Southwest sets the maximum at 50 linear inches. Amtrak and cruise lines likewise impose restrictions on baggage (size and number of pieces). If you're buying discount luggage for a specific trip, check the conveyor's rules before you shop. Even if you're picking a suitcase from one of many in your closet, make sure you know how many pieces you're allowed, along with their sizes and weights.
Cheap luggage basics are, well, fairly basic. The shell of a suitcase is either hard or soft, but invariably lightweight. If you travel often, for extended periods and with valuable items, a hard-shell suitcase might work best. If you only take occasional short business trips, a soft-shell carry-on should be sufficient. If you travel with family in tow, a cheap luggage set with four or five pieces of varying sizes is a good bet. Must-have features in luggage, whether upright, duffel, carry-on, or tote, include durable closures, organizational aids, and ease of carrying/transporting (e.g., secure handles and rolling wheels). An extra convenience is an expandable design that gives you another 1.5-2 inches of packing depth.
There's no shortage of luggage brands. Some of the big names in the business include Samsonite, American Tourister, Hartmann, Atlantic, Tumi, and Delsey. Many fashion designers, such as Kenneth Cole, Liz Claiborne, and Steve Madden, attach their names to a line of luggage, as do outdoor-wear companies like Nike and The North Face. And then there are the lower-priced brands sold primarily by the big-box retailers; for example, Kirkland at Costco, Protégé at Walmart, and Rockland and Swiss Gear at Target.
What distinguishes discount luggage from expensive luggage is how the bag is constructed and its aesthetic appeal. Higher-priced luggage tends to be sturdier, more durable, and offer more packing flexibility. But with the best cheap luggage you'll still get many of the same features, including pull-out handles, a decent zipper, pockets for small or delicate items, straps to hold things in place, and often a tri-fold for suits or dresses. Some discount luggage is also available in a variety of colors.
Consumers have their own opinions about the best luggage to buy. The consensus among travelers posting comments on an "Expensive vs. Cheap Luggage" forum at Flyertalk.com seems to be that durability and functionality matter more than price. Some insist you get more for your money with upscale luggage while others say discount luggage is more than adequate to the task, noting that pricey luggage tends to be heavier and may leave you fretting about the nicks and dents it suffers en route. Bottom line: let your taste and your budget be your guide.
For our list of best cheap luggage, we chose two single pieces of luggage and two sets. Our top picks are the Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3 22" Expandable Rollaboard Suiter (starting at $76, Amazon) and the Samsonite Outpost 5 Piece Nested Luggage Set (starting at $139, Amazon), both featuring soft-sided luggage. Next on our list as good cheap luggage are the hard-shell Delsey Helium Zip 29in. Suiter Trolley (starting at $90, Amazon) and the soft-shell Traveler's Choice Travel Select 4pc Amsterdam Expandable Luggage (starting at $75, Amazon). All these products boast ample packing space, easy portability, and a warranty in case something goes wrong. One cheap suitcase that doesn't make our list is the Swiss Gear Zurich Upright (24") (starting at $125, Amazon), which suffers from weak zippers and handles, and general durability problems.
Best Cheap Luggage
Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3 22
A sturdy, soft-sided "roll aboard" with room to expand, the 22-inch WalkAbout Lite 3 travels well and features lots of organizational aids. It's a bit of an investment for a small suitcase, but it should last a while.
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Good Discount Luggage
Delsey Helium Zip 29in. Suiter Trolley
The only hard-shell suitcase on our list, the Delsey Helium Zip features "self-repairing zippers," easy-rolling wheels, and a convenient side handle. Despite some minor dings for durability, users are satisfied with this model.
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Delsey Helium Zip 29in. Suiter Trolley Review
Traveler's Choice 4pc Amsterdam Expandable Luggage Review
Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3 22 Review
Samsonite Outpost 5 Piece Nested Luggage Set Review
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