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Cheap Luggage, Best Cheap Luggage
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. You also have a choice of soft-sided or hard shell, buying by the piece or as a set.
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 cheap suitcase is either hard or soft, but invariably lightweight. If you travel often, for extended periods and with valuable items, a cheap hard-shell suitcase might work best. If you only take occasional short business trips, a cheap 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 cheap 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 cheap 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.
Luggage Sets vs. Individual Suitcases.The first issue to consider when shopping for the best discount luggage is how it will be used. Who will be traveling -- just you or the entire family? Is the purpose of the trip business or pleasure? How long will you be gone? What about future trips -- do you need an extra suitcase of a certain size for those once-in-a-while voyages? Your answers to these questions will point you to either cheap luggage sets or cheap luggage sold as individual pieces.
There are a slew of discount luggage sets available online and in retail stores. Most cheap luggage sets include several upright suitcases of varying sizes in addition to a carry-on tote, possibly a duffel, and perhaps a small travel bag for toiletries. The Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam Expandable Luggage Set (starting at $75, Amazon) features four pieces: three uprights (29x18x10 inches, 25x16x9 inches, and 21x14x7.5 inches) that each expand two inches in depth, and an 11x15x6-inch tote. The Samsonite Outpost Nested Luggage Set (starting at $139, Amazon) boasts five pieces, including two uprights (26x18x10 inches and 22x14x9 inches), a duffel (13x19x12.5 inches), a tote (11x14x10 inches), and a travel kit (7x11x5 inches). If you want fewer pieces in a discount luggage set, the U.S. Traveler Rio Luggage Set (starting at $40, Amazon) includes a carry-on size upright plus a tote, and the Travelers Choice (a.k.a. Caribbean Joe) Malibu (starting at $150, Amazon) comes with three uprights standing 28 inches, 24 inches, and 21 inches high. Don't worry too much about storing all this gear: most discount luggage sets nest, that is, each piece fits into the next largest size, so the only storage space you'll need is for the largest suitcase.
If you're looking for a single cheap suitcase, there are all kinds of options, from large uprights to small carry-ons and backpacks, and everything in between. The Delsey Helium Zip Suiter Trolley (starting at $90, Amazon), for example, is too large for carry-on with its 29x20x12-inch profile, as is the 24x16x8-inch Swiss Gear Zurich Upright (starting at $125, Amazon). The Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3 Expandable Rollaboard Suiter, (starting at $76, Amazon), measuring 22x14x9 inches, is designed to do what its name suggests. If you prefer a less formal look, you can pick up a duffel with wheels for less than half the price of an upright; the Travelers Club Bottom Expandable Rolling Duffel (starting at $28, Amazon), for example, sports measurements of 13x32x16 inches.
Hard-Shell Suitcase vs. Soft-Sided Suitcase.The shell of discount luggage is either hard or soft. Cheap hard-shell suitcases are constructed from some type of plastic or, less often, from metal. The cheap hard-shell suitcase on our list, the Delsey Helium Zip, is made of a polycarbonate ABS blend. Luggage experts note that hard shells are relatively impact- and stain-resistant, and can prevent incursions from water and dust.
Cheap soft-sided suitcases are generally made from nylon or polyester. Both are strong, resilient, and lightweight chemical-based fabrics. (Note that some soft-sided luggage gives off an unpleasant odor when new.) Most discount luggage these days is soft-sided, as are three of our picks for best cheap luggage -- the Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3, all the pieces in the Samsonite Outpost set and in the Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam set.
One number worth noting when it comes to assessing the quality of cheap soft-sided luggage is what's known as the denier, which relates to the thickness and weight of the fabric's thread. Most of the discount luggage we researched features a denier rating between 1200 and 1682. Although you might think that higher (i.e., heavier) is better, Onebag.com is partial to two-ply ballistic nylon with a 1050 denier for its strength, durability, and light weight. This fabric is costly, however, and largely reserved for high-end luggage. The nylon and polyester more commonly used for discount luggage may have a higher denier, but it's probably a one-ply thread that Onebag.com says doesn't wear nearly as well. So this is one dimension in which you will probably sacrifice by choosing the cheapest suitcases over expensive models.
Modern hard-shell suitcases are relatively lightweight and not necessarily heavier than the same size soft-sided suitcases. Both the 29-inch Delsey Helium Zip (hard-shell) and 29-inch Traveler's Choice Travel Select (soft-sided), for example, tip the scale at 10.5 pounds.
Luggage Zippers.What good is a cheap suitcase if it doesn't zip properly or breaks after a few uses? To minimize the chances of zipper malfunctions, Suite101 advises that you look for discount luggage with sturdy zippers made of metal or good plastic that open and close smoothly, are double-stitched into the suitcase with taped seams, and ideally, are protected with a cloth covering.
The discount luggage we researched all feature zipper closures, which seem to function well, according to consumers' reviews. Some discount luggage, like the Delsey Helium Zip and the American Tourister iLite XL 25" Upright (starting at $62, Amazon), features a self-repairing zipper, which means it should realign when you pull the slider over teeth that have pulled apart. Note that the zipper arrangements on the Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam set, Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3, and Delsey Helium Zip unleash extra packing space by expanding the depth of the suitcase another 1.5 to 2 inches.
Luggage Transport.Long gone are the days where you have to actually carry a cheap suitcase. Fast forward to wheels, handles, and straps that let you roll your luggage or sling it over your back. Many cheap pieces of luggage even feature multiple carrying options, like a pull-out handle on top, a handgrip on the top and side, and an adjustable carrying strap. Some suitcases, like the American Tourister iLite XL and the Delsey Helium Zip, sport a handle on the bottom that helps stabilize the suitcase in standing mode.
Telescoping, or pull-out handles, like the kind you find on the upright Samsonite Outpost and Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam pieces, on the Delsey Helium Zip, American Tourister iLite XL, and the Swiss Gear Zurich, release with the press of a button and then lock back into place. Ditto for the handle on the Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3, which also makes two stops, at 38 or 43 inches.
The wheels on a good cheap suitcase should roll easily and be bolted to the luggage frame. In-line skate wheels provide the smoothest and quietest ride; the uprights in the Samsonite Outpost and Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam sets and the Delsey Helium Zip meet this standard. A few cheap suitcases, like the Swiss Gear Zurich, have four wheels that rotate 360 degrees; the advantage to this arrangement is easier maneuverability in tight spaces and over uneven terrain, and the option of pushing the suitcase instead of pulling it. Wheel size matters (larger is better) as does where they're placed (they should span the width of the cheap luggage). The wheels on TravelPro WalkAbout Lite 3 can be removed, making it easy to prevent mishaps during baggage handling or to replace a broken wheel after a mishap has occurred.
Compartments.Cheapest suitcases are not always as they appear: the dimensions don't tell you much about how the packing space is organized. For example, the Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3 features two large front zipper pockets, the possibility of extra packing space, a removable suit-fold system, and mesh inside pockets. The three upright suitcases in the Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam set expand two inches and have a large zippered mesh pocket in the lid and elastic tie straps. The Delsey Helium Zip features a lined interior with two compartments, a zippered mesh compartment in the lid, and adjustable web straps.
Luggage Warranty.As any consumer knows, a warranty is a great perk. The Travelpro WalkAbout Lite boasts a lifetime limited warranty. The Samsonite Outpost and Delsey Helium Zip each offer a 10-year warranty, and the Travelers Choice Travel Select Amsterdam comes with a three-year warranty.
Best Cheap Luggage
Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3 22A 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 TrolleyThe 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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