Best Cheap Luggage
$50 - $150Cheapism
$150 - $300Mid-Range
$300 and upHigh End
- Published on
- By Saundra Latham
While prices can easily mount to $300 or much more for high-end luggage sets, there are inexpensive options below $150 for frugal travelers who wish to save their money for other travel expenses. Cheap luggage comes in a variety of shapes, styles, and sizes. Tote bags and the smallest rolling carry-ons start around $40, while larger bags are slightly more expensive. We waded through thousands of consumer and expert reviews of both hard-sided and soft fabric luggage to find which budget-priced bags offer the best mix of functionality, resilience, and overall value. We also discovered a couple of cheap luggage sets that should be left at the curb.
Cheap Luggage Buying Guide
There are dozens of luggage manufacturers, from high-end brands such as Briggs & Riley and Tumi to more moderately priced labels such as Samsonite, Delsey, and TravelPro. However, only a handful of well-known brands make less expensive bags that are widely sold at big-box stores and major online outlets. The most prominent include American Tourister, Rockland Luggage, Traveler's Choice, and Olympia.
These manufacturers make bags that look and function quite similarly -- the difference is in the materials, craftsmanship, and durability. Higher-priced luggage tends to better withstand the brutal realities of travel, and it may also offer the bonus of more packing flexibility and a bit more style. Bags under $150 will still get belongings where they need to go, but they're better suited to occasional travelers who won't be depending on them week after week.
Of course, the best type of luggage to choose, budget or otherwise, depends on individual needs, whether it's finding the ideal carry-on for avoiding checked-luggage fees, a small, maneuverable bag suited to business travel, or a multi-piece set for extended family trips. To meet a range of traveler specifications, our picks for the best cheap luggage include both multi-size sets and individual carry-ons.
Our top picks among cheap luggage sets are four-piece collections: the American Tourister Fieldbrook II 4-Piece Set (starting at $50) and the slightly more spacious Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam 4-Piece Set (starting at $81). The Rockland Rio 2-Piece Set (starting at $38) is a good carry-on-size upright that comes with an accompanying tote that fits under a seat. For an even better carry-on bag, spring for the Travelpro Maxlite 4 22-inch Expandable Rollaboard (starting at $110) or the Kirkland Signature Upright 21.5-Inch Carry-On from Costco (starting at $100). Too many poor reviews on the subject of durability suggest consumers should think twice about purchasing the Traveler's Choice Cambridge 3-Piece Set (starting at $150) or the Olympia Skyhawk 22-Inch Expandable Carry-On (starting at $72).
Although it may initially seem incongruous that our carry-on picks are pricier than the four-piece luggage sets we recommend, keep in mind that carry-ons are the workhorses of the luggage family. Most travelers take them on every trip, while a larger upright may be trotted out sparingly for the occasional long-haul voyage. For that reason, we think it's worth spending a bit more on a durable carry-on that will face greater use and abuse.
What We Considered
Size.Checking bags at the airport can be a hassle, and rising checked-baggage fees can also make it a major expense. In fact, most airlines now charge travelers to check any bags at all, and low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier, especially, tend to have particularly high (and widely variable) rates for stowage. To help avoid these added costs, we looked for either regulation-size carry-on bags or luggage sets with at least one carry-on-compliant bag. Although size limits vary by airline, especially internationally, most carry-ons for domestic flights within the United States must be no bigger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches. Our top carry-on, the Travelpro Maxlite 4 22-inch Expandable Rollaboard, has exactly those dimensions.
Some bags billed as carry-ons are actually slightly bigger, so we looked for "real-life" confirmation of manufacturer specs. For instance, consumer-product experts have measured the Kirkland Signature Upright 21.5-Inch Carry-On at 23 x 14 x 9 inches, larger than the stated size. There are other pros to this bag that still make it a top choice, but be aware that it might end up gate-checked, especially on smaller planes with limited overhead space.
Larger uprights that must be checked come in a variety of sizes, but 24- and 28-inch bags are the most common. If buying a set, a small tote bag that can be attached to one of the uprights may be part of the mix -- these can typically be carried on as a personal item if they're small enough to be stowed under the seat ahead. The smaller bags in the luggage sets we recommend can also "nest" inside the larger bags, Russian-doll style, to save on storage space.
Weight.Carry-on bags aren't subject to excess baggage fees on domestic airlines, but most travelers still don't want to drag around a heavier bag than they need to. At the lighter end of the spectrum, the compact 19-inch upright in the Rockland Rio 2-Piece Set weighs just 6 pounds. The larger Kirkland Signature Upright 21.5-Inch Carry-On not only pushes airlines' size limits but skirts users' weight tolerance at 11.25 pounds. There are some benefits associated with the extra bulk -- denser fabric and body reinforcements help account for this bag's lauded durability.
Most of the larger uprights we researched weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 to 10 pounds. In this case, lighter is definitely better: More belongings can be stuffed into bags without paying the steep penalties for going over airline weight allowances. On Delta Air Lines, for instance, any checked bags weighing over 50 pounds are subject to a $100 fee; go over 70 pounds and expect to pay $200.
Soft-Sided vs. Hard-Shell Luggage.All our top picks are soft-sided luggage. Hard-shell suitcases may offer more protection for the contents inside, but they have a few major downsides: They are less forgiving when trying to stuff more inside or fit the bag into a tight space; most of them lack convenient exterior pockets; and they may be less durable in the long run than their soft-sided counterparts. That's because manufacturers of cheap luggage sometimes use a less rugged kind of plastic called ABS for low-price sets, while higher-end sets use a more durable polycarbonate.
While it's tough to find polycarbonate bags at budget prices, one notable exception that may be worth a look is the Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion 20-Inch Spinner (starting at $90). This attractive, hard-wearing carry-on receives high ratings and is more likely to resist cracks and dents than its all-ABS counterparts. Reviewers still lament the lack of outer pockets, however.
The Kenneth Cole Reaction Out of Bounds 20-Inch Upright (starting at $55) is a highly rated hard-sided carry-on at a very low price for those who don't want to shell out for the Samsonite Winfield 2 and are willing to go the ABS route. If a hard-shell set is absolutely what's needed, the Rockland Sonic 3-Piece Set (starting at $120) is lightweight and roomy, although, again, it can't claim pure polycarbonate construction.
Soft-sided luggage is generally made from nylon or polyester, both strong, resilient, lightweight, chemical-based materials. These bags can be stuffed full or compressed down as the need arises -- a particular concern for carry-ons, which need to fit in tight overhead compartments. The main downside is that soft-sided bags can be slashed open by a determined thief (or ripped by a careless baggage handler). They're also more vulnerable to moisture and harder to keep clean.
For soft-sided bags, one specification worth noting (but 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. For instance, the American Tourister Fieldbrook II 4-Piece Set is made with 1,200-denier polyester, while the less durable Olympia Skyhawk 22-Inch Expandable Carry-On and Rockland Rio 2-Piece Set are made of 840- and 600-denier polyester, respectively.
Handles and Wheels.Gone are the days when suitcases had to be carried -- even cheaper bags now have wheels and retractable handles that allow them to be easily transported. Some smaller totes have a strap or sleeve that slides over the pull-out handle of a larger upright suitcase. Conversely, some of the uprights come with their own straps to piggyback smaller bags. Extra carrying handles on the sides or bottoms of larger bags are another desirable feature, as they make it easier to heave them onto a security belt or drag them out of an overhead luggage bin.
Bags with four wheels that rotate 360 degrees, also known as "spinners," have become increasingly popular, because they make it possible to easily scoot bags in any direction. But some reviewers warn that spinner wheels on cheap luggage can snap off easily, and they add to a bag's overall dimensions. The Wirecutter notes that less expensive spinners typically have bearings that are unsealed, meaning they may break down more quickly as gunk builds up.
Reviewers warn that the spinner wheels on the Olympia Skyhawk 22-Inch Expandable Carry-On wobble and pop off too easily. The same goes for the Traveler's Choice Cambridge 3-Piece Set. Our top picks are more traditional rolling bags with inline skate wheels. These require travelers to tip the luggage and roll it in one direction, but they are less likely to be damaged when yanked out of a cramped baggage compartment or rolled off a curb. For consumers determined to get a spinner, our research into the hard-sided Samsonite Winfield 2 turned up incredibly few remarks pertaining to broken wheels.
Luggage Performance Reviews
To find the best cheap luggage, we pored over a mix of industry expert and consumer reviews. We also consulted in-depth reports by sources such as The Wirecutter and OutdoorGearLab, which conduct consumer product testing. Most user reviews come from major retail sites such as Amazon, eBags, and Overstock. Unfortunately, many users are quick to review their luggage after a single trip, making it hard to judge how it will stand the test of time, so we paid particular attention to reviews commenting on long-term performance. In general, luggage reviews from both experts and consumers focus on three main issues: ease of transport, functionality, and durability.
Ease of Transport.Ease of transport covers factors such as how the bag rolls. It should move smoothly, without a lot of wobbling, squeaking, or vibrating when travelers are rushing through the airport. A bag should also be stable when standing alone, and the best luggage doesn't tip over even when it's overstuffed. Telescoping handles should not be flimsy or prone to sticking, and additional handles on the side and/or bottom of a bag are appreciated when stowing a carry-on or lifting a full bag off a luggage carousel.
Experts at The Wirecutter praise the Kirkland Signature Upright 21.5-inch Carry-On for its large, sturdy wheels, which they say handle uneven pavement and concrete steps just as easily as smooth airport floors. They add that the bag is hard to tip, even when packed to the gills. Similarly, users say the Travelpro Maxlite 4 22-Inch Expandable Rollaboard has reliable wheels and the added perk of lots of extra handles, which make it easy to carry when necessary. A rare bottom-mounted handle helps users pull it out of an overhead bin, no matter which way it's been stuffed in.
At the other end of the spectrum, some reviewers say the Olympia Skyhawk 22-Inch Expandable Carry-On can quickly become a pain to haul through the airport. One reviewer on Amazon says the wobbly handle twists when using all four wheels, but the bag shakes when rolled on only two wheels.
Functionality.Reviewers often comment on whether there are enough compartments for clothing and other items to stay organized and neat. Bag interiors should be fully lined and ideally have at least one additional compartment for smaller items and toiletries, along with garment straps that effectively keep things in place. Soft-sided luggage should also be expandable if a little more room is needed and malleable enough to be squished into tight spots.
The American Tourister Fieldbrook II 4-Piece Set and Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam 4-Piece Set get high marks for giving travelers lots of options when it comes to packing. For instance, users can easily carry the tote from the American Tourister set by using a sleeve that attaches it to the larger uprights. Reviewers also like the exterior pockets on those bags for keeping things easily at hand. The Traveler's Choice bags offer more room, and one Amazon customer even reports stuffing the largest bag with a queen-size comforter, duvet cover, sheets, clothes, several pairs of shoes, and more. The Travelpro Maxlite 4 22-inch Expandable Rollaboard also gets high marks for functionality, because reviewers say it expands so well.
Exterior pockets are always appreciated, and many reviewers say they miss them when they're lacking -- especially on carry-on luggage, because they offer quick access to essentials. Most hard-sided suitcases, such as those in the Traveler's Choice Cambridge 3-Piece Set, require users to dive into main compartments if they need to retrieve anything.
Durability.Rough baggage handling and lower-quality materials make long-term durability the biggest downfall of cheap luggage. Still, consumers expect bags to be tough enough to resist punctures and stains, with reinforced corners and bumpers adding extra protection. Zippers should glide without sticking or splitting and stand up to repeated use, and retractable handles should adjust smoothly and feel stable when engaged. Wheels (perhaps the biggest trouble area for cheap luggage) shouldn't stick or fall off after limited use.
Among the carry-ons we researched, the Kirkland Signature Upright 21.5-Inch Carry-On gets the best feedback on durability. Some reviews on the Costco website come from customers who have used the bag for years without problems -- a rare and impressive endorsement for cheap luggage.
Amazon reviewers are impressed with the wheels on the Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion 20-Inch Spinner, given that spinner wheels are typically more vulnerable long-term than more traditional inline skate wheels. Flimsy wheels and handles, according to reviews, are part of what makes the Olympia Skyhawk 22-Inch Expandable Carry-On a questionable buy. Similar complaints dog the Traveler's Choice Cambridge 3-Piece Set, and experts at OutdoorGearLab assert that the handle and zippers simply aren't built to last.
A lot of users reviewing the Rockland Rio 2-Piece Set on Amazon say they weren't expecting much from the uber-cheap little set but admit they're surprised at how well the pieces have held up. They're certainly not made to withstand frequent travelling and may not fare that well if placed in the care of airline baggage handlers, but for just $38, even the five-year limited warranty seems like a boon. The Travelpro Maxlite 4 22-Inch Expandable Rollaboard, by comparison, comes with a limited lifetime warranty, and purchasers of the Kirkland Signature Upright 21.5-Inch Carry-On are covered by Costco's generous return policy.