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Cheap Luggage Buying Guide

There is no shortage of luggage brands to choose among. There are dedicated luggage companies such as Samsonite and American Tourister, fashion-designer brands such as Kenneth Cole, and outdoor-equipment companies such as the North Face that have diversified into travel bags.

There are also budget brands sold online and by big-box retailers.

Of course, the type of luggage you choose depends entirely on your needs. Are you interested in the ideal carry-on to avoid checked-bag fees? Would you rather a multi-piece set for extended family trips? Are you a business traveler heading overseas or a backpacker heading into the wilds? Answers to such questions will focus your search and point you to either cheap luggage sets or individual pieces.

If you're looking for a single cheap suitcase, options range from large uprights to small carry-ons and backpacks, and everything in between. Our top picks are the Samsonite Hyperspace Spinner Boarding Bag (starting at $95), a smaller bag that's often a big bargain on sale, and the American Tourister Splash 2 collection of uprights (starting at $49). One bag that fell off the cart is the SwissGear SA8395 Upright (starting at $70).

Among luggage sets, our research turned up the four-piece American Tourister Fieldbrook II (starting at $70) and Rockland Impact Spinner set (starting at $135). Most cheap luggage sets include several upright suitcases of varying sizes in addition to a carry-on tote and possibly a duffel or a small travel bag for toiletries. (Don't worry 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.)

What We Looked for in the Specs

Light Weight and Optimal Size.

Having to check baggage at the airport can be a hassle, as well as a major expense. To help you avoid baggage fees and overweight surcharges, not to mention save your back and arms, we looked for bags that are light and can be stowed as hand luggage. New size limits of 22x14x9 inches for carry-ons recently instituted by several airlines mean that some bags once considered acceptable must now be checked.

Review continues below

The aptly named Samsonite Hyperspace Spinner Boarding Bag, with dimensions of 17x14x7.5 inches, fits overhead without a problem or, some travelers claim, under the seat in front. It should also satisfy stringent carry-on requirements on international and low-cost airlines. The American Tourister Splash 2 25-inch upright (starting at $60) is too large to carry aboard most airplanes (although some reviewers assert having done so) but a 21x14.5x8-inch upright from the Splash 2 collection (starting at $49) should squeak by under the new rules at Delta, American, and United (no guarantees). The two smallest bags in the American Tourister Fieldbrook II set and the smallest in the Rockland Impact Spinner set currently satisfy the most restrictive carry-on rules.

The multi-piece American Tourister Fieldbrook II is the bantam-weight champ. The four pieces in this cheap luggage set hit a total of 20 pounds compared with 39 pounds for the Rockland Impact Spinner set. In all fairness, though, the bags in the latter, which consists entirely of wheeled uprights, are significantly larger. Still, the 21-inch upright in the American Tourister set weighs 6.5 pounds, nearly 1.5 pounds lighter than the smaller Samsonite Hyperspace Spinner and 2.5 pounds lighter than a slightly larger Rockland Impact Spinner bag. The 25-inch American Tourister Splash 2 upright comes in at an impressively light 8.4 pounds. With most airlines charging an extra fee for bags over 50 pounds, this bag can hold almost 40 pounds of clothes, shoes, and other necessities without going overweight.

Soft Sides.

These days both soft-sided and hard-shell suitcases are relatively lightweight. Hard-shell suitcases offer more protection but are less forgiving when trying to stuff more inside or fit the bag into a tight space. They also lack outside pockets, which afford more packing flexibility and assure easy access to whatever is needed en route. Most cheap luggage currently available is soft-sided, and this is the construction we stuck with. The American Tourister Fieldbrook II set even includes a 23-inch wheeled duffel, which is about as soft and lightweight as good cheap luggage gets.

Low-cost soft-sided suitcases are generally made from nylon and/or polyester, both strong, resilient, and lightweight chemical-based fabrics. The shell on the Samsonite Hyperspace Spinner, for example, is 70 percent nylon and 30 percent polyester. Some luggage gives off an unpleasant odor when new, and the Rockland Impact Spinner set takes heat from some travelers for this irritant.

One specification worth noting, though not always given, is the denier, a fabric-related unit of measurement pertaining to the thickness and weight of the thread: The higher the number, the heavier the fabric. The Rockland Impact Spinner bags are made of 1680 denier nylon, and each piece in this set is heavier than comparably sized luggage made of fabric with a lower denier.

Wheels and Handles.

Gone are the days when you had to carry a suitcase -- even a cheap one or a duffel such as the 23-inch bag in the American Tourister Fieldbrook II set. Wheels and pull-out upright handles let you roll your bag. Some smaller pieces of luggage, such as the American Tourister Fieldbrook II tote bag, feature a strap or sleeve that slides over the pull-out handles of the a larger suitcase. Extra carrying handles on a larger bag make it easier to heave off a luggage carousel or into a car.

The Samsonite Hyperspace Spinner and Rockland Impact Spinner set feature wheels at each bottom corner that spin 360 degrees for maximum rolling flexibility. Some experts warn that the spinner wheels on cheap luggage can snap off easily. The American Tourister bags on our list each sport two inline-skate wheels for smooth back-and-forth motion.

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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Luggage
  2. Luggage Reviews
  3. Discount Luggage Features Comparison Table
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