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Luggage Features and Performance
According to the luggage reviews that we read, travelers generally use the same criteria for judging cheap luggage: durability, space, portability, and warranty. Not surprisingly, suitcase reviews indicate a strong preference for luggage that will hold up over time, is easy to cart around, and helps you keep things organized.
Luggage Durability.Sure, the discount luggage set looks solid and smart when new, but does it wear well with normal use, let alone survive encounters with baggage handling? The Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3 earns high marks for durability in suitcase reviews on LuggageOnline.com, where one world traveler writes that the soft shell and zippers seem sturdy.
We noticed some griping in luggage reviews about the Delsey Helium Zip, but the positive reports dominated. On sites like Zappos, several users assert the hard shell is flimsy and prone to cracking and not always resistant to scratches. Other suitcase reviews, however, say this cheap suitcase endures through travels, both foreign and domestic, even when stuffed tight. The Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam set is dinged in some luggage reviews for weak side supports and zippers, flimsy handles, and wheels that break off. Luggage reviews of on Overstock.com, however, are far more complimentary, with a good number of travelers reporting sufficient longevity given the very cheap price of this four-piece set.
With the Swiss Gear Zurich Upright, be prepared to take some chances. Many luggage reviews posted on the Target site report that this cheap suitcase can't withstand normal use: it looks beat up after one or two trips, moisture seeps through, the wheels are sluggish, the seams split, and zippers jam.
Packing Space.The dimensions of a suitcase obviously limit the packing space, but how much you can cram in depends on how that space is organized. Internal and external pockets are deeply appreciated, according to luggage reviews, largely because they add a sense of roominess. For example, travelers give a shout-out to the suiter/dress fold in the Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3 in luggage reviews on Luggageonline.com, and one notes that the square corners provide a few more usable inches than rounded corners would. Most users say capacity is sufficient in the Samsonite Output set, and a suitcase review on Rateitall.com says the pieces are small enough that you can pack each to the hilt without exceeding airline weight restrictions. Travelers like the number and variety of compartments in each piece of the Samsonite Outpost and Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam sets, the latter earning an extra vote in a suitcase review on Luggageonline.com for the expandable design of the upright suitcases. Although some travelers find the Delsey Helium Zip deep and spacious, some luggage reviews grumble about just one zipper pocket and the inconvenience of having to pack both the top and bottom shells and closing them together like a clam.
Portability.Wheels and handles rule here; these elements are what make cheap luggage manageable (or not). Among the models we researched, the Swiss Gear Zurich Upright proved to be one product whose portability seems problematic. Although some suitcase reviews posted at Target commend the four-wheel design and their 360-degree spin, others complain that the wheels are sluggish and prone to falling off after one or two outings.
For the most part, however, our picks for best and good cheap luggage are relatively easy to cart around. The Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3 is a pro in this regard. A frequent traveler posting a luggage review on About.com notes that the luggage rolls easily and the padded handles on the top and side of the bag are a definite plus. Moreover, the pull-out handle of the WalkAbout Lite extends far enough (38 or 43 inches) for walking comfort, writes a 6'4" consumer in a luggage review on Luggageonline.com. The in-line skate wheels on the Samsonite Outpost pieces glide smoothly, according to luggage reviews, and straps at the top let you stack pieces for more efficient transport. The Delsey Helium Zip sports easy rolling wheels, note luggage reviews on Luggagepros.com.
And the Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam set earns points in suitcase reviews on Overstock.com for strong wheels and smooth sailing.
Luggage Sets vs. Individual Suitcases.The first issue to consider when shopping for 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) 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) 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) includes a carry-on size upright plus a tote, and the Travelers Choice (a.k.a. Caribbean Joe) Malibu (starting at $150) 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), 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). The Travelpro WalkAbout Lite 3 Expandable Rollaboard Suiter, (starting at $76), 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), 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 cheap 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), 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.
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