Best Cheap Luggage
- Published on
- By Jeremy Bender
Cheap luggage comes in a variety of shapes, materials, styles, sizes, and brands. A single piece that is durable and light can be found for $80 or less and entire luggage sets of reputable quality can be had for about the same price. What distinguishes cheap luggage from its upmarket counterparts is the bags' construction and design. Higher-priced luggage tends to be sturdier and more durable, offer more packing flexibility, and present a more stylish aesthetic. Nonetheless, the budget-priced bags on our list meet travelers' expectations for resilience, overall functionality, and value.
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.
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.
Before buying an individual suitcase or a multi-piece set, pay attention to luggage reviews. We found numerous comments online asserting that ostensibly durable bags broke in one way or another, or that supposed carry-ons were in fact too large for the overhead bins. Although not perfect, the budget-priced bags we added to our list of favorites seem less prone to such disappointments than others at this end of the market.
Durability.The most important attribute of any travel bag, regardless of price or features, is durability. In other words, the suitcase must have a shell that's strong enough to withstand the rigors of travel. For the most part, luggage reviews indicate that our top picks pass this all-important test: They survive the abuse meted out by luggage handlers and baggage-claim carousels, by travelers who haul them hither and yon over uneven surfaces, and by children who use them as props for play.The rugged polyester-nylon blend of the Samsonite Hyperspace Spinner Boarding Bag (starting at $95) showed no evident signs of distress after being dragged two miles along cobblestone streets, according to a luggage review at Amazon. One frugal traveler with an older 25-inch American Tourister Splash upright reports that it suffered only a bit of fraying, with no loss of functionality, in five years of heavy-duty service. User feedback on the American Tourister Splash 2 collection is less prevalent but equally positive; the word "quality" recurs in reviews. Similar accounts and wording show up in posts about the American Tourister Fieldbrook II set (starting at $70), with its 100 percent polyester construction, and the Rockland Impact Spinner upright set (starting at $135), which is made of 1680 denier nylon, although reports pop up here and there about balky zippers on the latter.
Enough users' experiences with the SwissGear SA8395 Upright (starting at $70) seemed sufficiently problematic to relegate this bag to the bottom of the list. Several luggage reviews at Amazon report a variety of malfunctions, such as broken plastic buckles, a pull handle that fails to retract, wheels and zippers that fall off, and puncture holes in the shell -- all after minimal use.
All the suitcases on our list come with a warranty, which provides insurance against any manufacturing problems but does not cover any damage caused by the carrier, be it airline, cruise ship, bus, or train. The Samsonite Hyperspace Spinner is covered by a 10-year limited warranty, as are American Tourister bags, being part of the Samsonite family. The Rockland Impact Spinner set is protected by a three-year limited warranty and SwissGear offers a 10-year limited warranty. One reviewer who had four zippers on two SwissGear SA8395 Uprights fail during a trip writes that she doubts the warranty would cover it, although she had yet to file a claim at the time of the posting.
Overall Functionality.If the suitcase suits the type of travel demands placed on it, reviewers seem generally pleased with the bags on our list. Users rave about the Samsonite Hyperspace Spinner Boarding Bag, noting it's just right for "anytime traveling," holds more than expected despite its compact size, incorporates easy-access outer pockets, and sometimes fits under an airplane seat. The 360-degree wheels afford maneuverability in tight spaces and over bumpy terrain and the option of pushing the suitcase while it's standing upright is a user-friendly boon, according to luggage reviews. Reviewers also applaud the removable toiletries bag, additional organizational aids for small items, and padded laptop/tablet compartment located inside the front flap.The 25-inch American Tourister Splash 2 wins kudos for longer trips and the 21-inch upright garners same for its spacious carry-on size (unless it's overstuffed, that is; one luggage review at eBags tells of having to remove some items before being allowed to bring it on board). Travelers commend the colors, which stand out on luggage carousels; roomy interiors with expandable packing space; strong zippers; and multitude of pockets. They also note the two-wheel design, which lets the bag stand upright reliably, unlike a spinner that may roll itself away when set on its wheels.
Satisfied users of the American Tourister Fieldbrook II luggage set write in reviews that the price is right, the three bags with wheels roll easily, and the smallish size of all four pieces works well for short hops -- although that same size disappoints some who wind up needing greater capacity. In general users say the bags are very portable and easy to maneuver in most any environment. Function and price balance out for users of the larger Rockland Impact Spinner set who comment approvingly about the classy looks and the expandability of each luggage piece, which provides welcome extra space when everything must fit in one suitcase. As with the Samsonsite boarding bag, they report that the spinner wheels roll easily over any type of terrain and in multiple directions. Several reviews, however, grouse about telescoping handles that break or get stuck in the bag.
Reviewers are torn about the durability of the SwissGear SA8395, but they do appreciate the copious packing space and the convenience of features like the laptop storage compartment, telescoping handle, and expandable zip.