Getting a deal on luggage

By Mir
April 22, 2008

Pretty, pretty Steph writes:

Pretty Pretty Mir, I have a question for you. I am going to Hawaii in June of this year, and April of next year, and the Samsonite luggage I got when I graduated from high school 10 years ago is falling apart. My family does alot of traveling (the trip this June is to get my sister and I to the state of Hawaii, we’ve been to all the other 49 states, the trip next April is a high school band trip), but does it in short time frames. We rarely stay in one place more than two nights, when we are gone for 1 1/2 to 2 weeks each summer. So…I need luggage that can take a beating, then get put in the closet til the next time. II don’t want to spend a LOT of money, but I would like something with a liftime/long guarantee. Any suggestions?

Actually, Steph wrote me this email a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been mulling it over for a while, because I’m of two minds on this issue. Usually I have a strong opinion and no issues with sharing it. For this… well, I’m just not sure.

On the one hand, luggage that lasts forever would be a great thing, because who wants to keep spending money on luggage? Yes, definitely invest in the good stuff!

On the other hand, most of us (not Steph, but most of the rest of us) don’t do a whole lot of traveling, and how much money do you really want to spend on something you won’t use all that much? In addition, if you’re flying or engaging in other modes of transportation where other people handle your bags, it’s out of your control whether that bag is subjected to a normal amount of wear and tear or a hairy gorilla who likes to jump up and down on suitcases. I personally have an issue with spending a lot on something that has a higher-than-normal chance of being wrecked.

But a better suitcase will withstand more damage!

But a cheaper suitcase will be less painful to lose!

But a broken zipper mid-vacation is a crisis unto itself!

And before you know it, I’m opting to just stay home because it’s all too complicated.

(Yes, it’s hard being me, sometimes.)

Okay, all of that said? I personally would go one of two routes, if it were me doing the purchasing.

Option 1: Buy luggage from a merchant who offers a “Guaranteed. Period.” warranty. My two favorites are—as you well know—Lands’ End and LL Bean. You are unlikely to get a deal at either of these stores, though it’s not impossible; occasionally last year’s color or style will go on sale, plus the Bean Outlets and the Lands’ End Inlets often have some markdowns. The advantage of going this route is that if anything goes wrong—it rips, the zipper breaks, a wheel falls off, whatever—you can get a replacement with no cost and minimal hassle. This would be a forever investment. The outlay is large, but it’s a one-time thing, basically.

Option 2: Buy “pretty good” luggage at a discount, and hope it lasts. Frankly, this is my preferred path because I personally cannot stomach hundreds of dollars for a single suitcase. But again, I don’t travel all that often. If you do, Option 1 may indeed make more sense for you. If you choose this option, though, check out the choices at Overstockicon. There are lots of great, pretty-good, and less-known name brands there, so you can balance your need for a known entity against what you want to pay.

[Truthfully, the customer service at Overstock isn’t all that it could be. If you buy something there, you pretty much buy it assuming it comes with no support. That’s a gamble I’m usually willing to take because the prices there are so amazing, but again, you have to consider what you’re buying and whether money saved is more or less important than customer service.]

What else do you need to consider? Well, hard-sided luggage is more likely to protect its contents, but it’s heavier and also harder to store. Wheels on bags are great, but they’re one more thing that can go wrong. These are the sorts of things to think about. So first determine what sort of bag(s) you want, then decide whether you want to go high-end, full-warranty or reasonably-good-quality at a bargain price.

Readers, what did I forget? I’m sure many of you are more seasoned travelers than I, and have plenty to add. Have at it.


  1. I agree, it’s a dilemma. I travel back and forth from LA to the UK regularly and I’ve found that my Heys polycarbonate is the only suitcase that *always* arrives pretty much unscathed. That said, I may check out LL Bean and Lands End though I know anything more than $150 for a single suitcase is probably the most I’d spend.

  2. Both Kohls and JCPenny carry some of the well known brands (like Sampsonite) and will occasionally mark them on sale. We got ours at Kohls for 50% off plus their card member additional 10% off. It was still pricey, but a pretty good deal! I think they only do that a few times a year though so you have to watch for it. Which doesn’t really help if you need it NOW, sorry.

  3. How we approached it was to read up on the last Consumer Reports ratings for luggage (which has been a while now, I think). Then we went to Tuesday Morning and found all the suitcases mentioned as ranking in the top three or four (or as close as we could come) and whittled away based on design, size, color, and weight. My husband wanted a bigger bag, so we had to carefully consider how much the bag already weighed so that we wouldn’t go over the 50-pound limit that most airlines have once we added clothes and whatnot. We ended up with a huge Atlantic bag for less than half retail price. It’s been through three trips so far with no problem. My only complaint is that TSA cut our TSA-APPROVED lock on this last round.

  4. I travel near monthly and I’m a travel agent — so I be happy to share my opinion. (Mir, try not to faint.)

    Buy the best luggage you can afford. No seriously. I used to be of the mindset of “Hey look, Target has a 14 piece set for $25 bucks, let’s go.” But they fall apart with repeated plane travel. I buy Briggs & Riley now. They are one of the few that have a 100% lifetime fix it policy and I need that. I have a few things I look for before price:

    1. Weight. My last suitcase was a high end TravelPro and it weighed (no lie) 25 pounds empty — I bought it before the weights of planes dropped to 50 pounds. I buy lightweight, not-expanding suitcases now.
    2. Few bells and whistles. I do NOT want a suit thingie attached inside my bag. They add weight and bulk and take away from your overall space for shoes. I often go into a shop and ask to see the bag with no pockets, no bags inside, nothing — I want clear open space.
    3. Color. Yes, I know. We laugh about all bags being black, but have you been at the bag claim lately? There are just as many blue, khaki, green, whatever bags too. I’m more looking for something that won’t show the cargo hold wear marks. (Sidenote, I recently took a group of ladies on a tour and one of them had an expensive bag with a plastic cover fitted for that bag on it. The bag was hot pink and the plastic cover looked like a bag condom. It was a little weird, but I get it.) Also, consider last year’s color and ask if a color is being discontinued.

    Now on how to save given those things. First, don’t forget to check out They carry many name brand bags and if you catch a sale right you can save. However, know that the margin on a Briggs & Riley isn’t much to begin with so if you get 20% take it and run.

    Also, buy fewer pieces. It goes without saying, I hope, that you really don’t need a 7 piece set of luggage. Think about only picking up (if you are completely WITHOUT luggage today) 1 24″ or 26″ checked bag (I’d buy this one with wheels); 1 completely soft-side foldable bag (I have an old one from LandsEnd from college) for dirty clothes and expansion on a trip), and one 21″ carry-on. Those three bags can get me (and my family of 3) through any trip of just about any length. I happen to have a second 24″ checked bag — for when the 3 of us are going in different directions.

    I also should note that my luggage is NOT stackable. It sounds weird, but after thinking it through I like this plan better. I prefer not to have the wheels that have run through the streets of Italy touching my underwear. And I attempt to not bring dirt INTO my bag by stacking them together.

    So, there’s my 2 cents. I firmly believe in buying the best you can afford because it really does save you in the long run. I tend to think of cheaper luggage to be throw away, so maybe if you only take a trip every few years, it is fine. I travel a ton and invested in good pieces.

    Oh, and you may be able to find a place (if you check for local shops instead of the internet) that will rent luggage. I’m all for the try before you buy plan — and I did this when looking at my first Briggs bag. The place I bought from applied my rental to my purchase — which was awesome, since I paid over $300 a bag. (Again, Mir, don’t faint.)

  5. TSA stinks- I had one of their handlers go through my bag traveling from Longview, TX, and they swiped all of my DVDs. After a ton of phone calls and hassle, they only agreed to refund me half the purchase price.

    That was pretty off-topic, but I had to vent.

    My LL Bean bags withstand a ton of being tossed around and still look great. I made the mistake of getting the largest size, though, and have to be very careful to put all my lightest, fluffiest stuff in there so I meet the weight requirements.

  6. My husband is Air Force and a Flier. He’s gone 2-3 weeks a month, during which he’s hauling his own luggage and strapping it, along with the plane’s cargo, into the back of a C-17. While gone, it goes in and out of the plane, into various lodging in all parts of the world. My husband isn’t gentle, either.

    We also use the same luggage when our family of four (two small children) travel for pleasure. We’ve done this for almost eight years now. The luggage is starting to look worn around the edges, but are still structurally sound, and we’ve never had any issues with them.

    We paid about $30-$35 for them at Target. My opinion is, don’t waste your money on overpriced pieces.

  7. We go to Europe once a year — and points around the US a few times. We have 2 25″, big, sturdy suitcases of a brand called Andiamo that got some sort of great rating when we bought them 5 years ago and they ARE very tough. But they were expensive ($400?? I think) are HEAVY which is a problem when traveling internationally (we are always battling weight limits). We have a similar size Travel Pro Lite or something like that — a pretty decent suitcase, cost much less, weighs MUCH less. Now I wish I’d gotten all Travel Pro Lites.

    I have a fully-collapsible extra bag that can be a carry on or be checked that I keep in my suitcase for extra stuff coming home … it is a brand called “Baggalini” and I made fun of my mom when she gave it to me but you know what? She was right! It is about 20″x20″x8″ unfolded and about 8″x8″x1 folded and it is sheer genius.

    For a carry on I have a somewhat-snazzy looking black backpack. Because I am always traveling with 2 small children and need all my hands.

    We don’t buy dirt cheap bags. We just travel too much over long distances and need bags that can stand up to some abuse. If a person is going to do any international traveling at ALL I recommend buying sturdier.

  8. Thank you, Mir! Keep the suggestions rolling in. Right now I am leaning toward the extra large rolling duffel, a small adventure duffle for carryon (along with my rolling backpack/laptop bag), a large adventure duffle to pack to bring home , and a adventure kit bag for all the liquid stuff…all in lime, and all from LL Bean-will run about $200. Does anyone have any of these items, and how have you liked them?

  9. to bring home stuff…sorry!

  10. I love patricia’s points. I travel a lot both domestic (family cross country) and internationally (family in south america). My choice has been to get the lightest bag possible, that still has a decent rating. With the weight limits on bags, my “best” and “sturdiest” bag from Eddie Bauer, is too heavy to even be fully packed. So, I went to ebags (dot) com and found one that was a (1) unique color (2) very light (3) decent ratings and (4) on sale. I got two great orange 28 in rolling bag by Skyway for $29.00 each with almost no shipping cost (coupon). They have made already 2 years of travel with no problem. If they rip, stain, tear, I don’t worry because – $29 for another.

  11. I have to say that I received Land’s End luggage for my high school graduation (20 years ago). It fell apart over the last 10 years and when I contacted them they told me too bad, so sad, time to buy more. As a very loyal customer, it pissed me off to no end. (HA! end.) Apparently the return no matter what has an unspecified time limit.

  12. Okay, we are a Navy Family and I disocered the Ebags Mother Load rolling duffle a few years ago. We bought two of the largest bags for myself and my husband in a flashy pink and burnt orange (very easy to spot). When we fill it to the gills, it weighs 50lbs, and it carries alot. We took those to Aruba and it held all of our clothes for a family of 4 and our dive gear in the bottom compartment. Before we moved here to Hawaii we bought two medium mother loads (orange and navy blue). They are so easy to maneuver, that even my 6 year old son can wheel the medium around so that is a huge help, and I can pull both of the Large Bags myself! The top compartment folds down into the bottom compartment so they are fairly easy to store. I compared them to the LLBean rolling duffles (since I am also a huge LL Bean Fan) and I thought we got a better deal. I highly recommend these bags to anyone looking for a good deal but that will last through alot of travel.

    On a side note, if you are travelling to Hawaii, we highly recommend the Revealed series of travel books. There is one for each island and it is a good insiders look into the islands. We have lived here a year and he has yet to steer us wrong, and he can save you a few dollars since he eats and some more reasonably priced non-touristy restaurants. 🙂 Feel free to email if you need more Hawaii gauge. 🙂

  13. I may just be an unlucky traveler (and I have friends who swear they won’t go on the same airplane as I do), but I have had luggage damaged by the airline (all different airlines) 4 times. All four times I had to get a new suitcase to replace the damaged one as it was unrecoverable. Once was on the way TO a location and the airline gave me luggage right then (they actually have some in a back room for just such an occasion so I’m guessing this happens more often than we know). So after losing expensive luggage that they won’t replace at full cost no matter what…I buy cheaper luggage and hope for the best each time I travel.

  14. OH and don’t forget starting next month a lot of the airlines are imposing new rules on luggage. If you have more than 1 suit case you will be charged $25 and if it is over 50 pounds you will be charged an additional $100.

    Very distressing.

  15. Divrchk bought that Mother Load because she saw mine when we moved to Hawaii and we stayed with her for a week. 🙂 I want to buy more but I can’t justify it, I love them that much. 🙂

  16. REI is another one of those companies that has great customer service and will let you return anything that doesn’t hold up. We got our luggage there when it went on sale.

  17. Steph,

    We have rolling adventure duffles from L.L. Bean and they have been all over the world with *no* mishaps for 12 years. I bought my daughter a printed one that she has taken to summer camp, hiking in Colorado, and Costa Rica. She doesn’t navigate well with wheels, and will often drag her duffle by the handle across mud, street and rock. The dirt wipes right off (Meaning, of course, that I wipe the dirt off after she gets home) and the fabric shows little wear. I highly recommend them.

    Happy Travels!

  18. Thanks, MomCat!

  19. We too are in the market for luggage so all of these comments are GOLD! Thanks for sharing, everyone!

    We bought a set from Costco 10 years ago and it has held up amazingly well for the $150 we spent. It’s brand is Ricardo-something. It is just starting to show wear after all these years.
    ON THE OTHER HAND, I bought some American Tourister 1 1/2 yrs ago (yes, it was cheap!) and on our last trip, the plastic inside just cracked and disintegrated, like it was brittle 12 year old plastic! 🙁 I’m not sure if they will accept it as part of their lifetime warranty (I wasn’t with it the whole time so I don’t know if it was mishandled by the airlines or the cruise ship…c’mon!) plus there is not a service center anywhere remotely close to us. Urgh.

  20. We have two nice pieces of Briggs & Riley. We LOVE it. DH is in the Air Force and we’ve had our luggage for over 5 years now. It wipes clean (even that nasty road grime from being dropped) with a damp cloth dipped in soapy water. We spent more than I wanted to, but so far it’s been well worth the price. We are a family of six and we can fit tons of clothes in there. We have an expandable wheeled bag and a smaller bag (with wheels) that we put our bathroom stuff in.

    I say always pay for quality. In the end, you won’t regret it.

  21. I like to buy nice pieces on sale at the nearby outlet stores. The last two suitcases I bought were both on clearance at the Samsonite factory store, and I got $200 suitcases for $30-50! That way I feel like I’m getting a quality bag, but I don’t get too upset when TSA or the airlines destroy it (which has happened all too often!).

  22. My husband and I travel a lot, like over 100 flights each year. We usually do carry on only, which means less wear and tear on our luggage. We’ve been through many suitcases over the years, and lost them because of zippers breaking, wheels falling off, and handles disappearing while the bag was checked.
    The only one that is still going strong is our Kirkland brand roll aboard from Costco. We’ve dragged that thing through 15+ countries, including cobblestones and dirt. It’s ridden in planes, trains, and automobiles. It’s been overstuffed, spilled on, and sat on. And we’ve never had a problem with any part. I’m pretty sure they come with a lifetime guarantee, too. And it was very affordable… around $100, I think.

  23. I used to travel from the US to Europe at least twice a year. My $350 (at an outlet store — retail was almost twice that) Samsonite bag lasted about three round trips before it was missing one wheel cover and a zipper pull. They also dented the handle casing so it was hard to pull out and retract.

    The suitcase was really well built — I think it’s just the luck (or lack thereof) of the draw. So now I prefer to go to TJ Maxx or check out the clearance racks at department stores to get nice stuff cheap cheap cheap. My $99, 24″ hardside Delsey from TJ Maxx has taken 2 round-trips to the UK, 1 to Sweden and 2 to Hawaii, with no visible damage. But it weighs about 20 lbs empty.

    My most recent suitcase purchase is a 24″ Samsonite softside, with the wheels that rotate 360 degrees — $125 at TJ Maxx. So far, it’s made one trip to France, which included being dragged across Paris on the Metro and across the country on a train, with no mishaps, and I was lucky enough to find the matching carry-on sized piece at Dillard’s on clearance for $40.

    It sounds like you’ve already made your choice, but in short, my experience has taught me to spend as little as possible to get something fairly durable — and then keep your fingers crossed. Nothing lasts forever when the airlines are involved.

  24. I found Olympia brand bags at Ross and they have a 30 year guarantee. A middle sized one was about $70 if I remember correctly. So far they are holding up very well and we fly three to four times a year.


  25. I bought a 4 piece set of Eddie Bauer (licensed, I assume) luggage a Target about 5 years ago for about $149. It is army green color and is pretty easy to spot, not to mention very durable so far. It’s not super expensive, but not super cheap either. I have been very happy with it.

  26. I go both ways with luggage. I have a hard sided Samsonite suitcase I got for graduation :::mumblemumble::: years ago (ok, 20 years…) and it looks like it’s been stomped on by a whole family of gorillas and is still sturdy as ever. It’s scraped and somehow an airline managed to rip one of the foot covers off, but the wheels still roll, the handle still works, the clasps still work (don’t have to worry about zippers at all) and there are no cracks or dents in the sides. On one hand, if I had paid a couple hundred dollars for it, I’d hate seeing it beaten up, on the other hand, because it was high quality, my belongings have always made it through safe and sound. The downside is it’s heavy and because it’s black, I have a heck of a time differentiating it from everyone else’s bags in baggage claim. Hot pink may be ugly on a bag, but by golly, I sure did spot my friend’s hot pink suitcase in about 2 seconds flat last time we were traveling together.

    I’m a pretty light packer (made it through a 4 day trip to Mexico recently with a bag as big as those rolling briefcases), and I don’t usually need all of that space for belongings unless the trip is over the holidays when I’m carrying gifts and stuff with me, so for a lot of my usual traveling, I’ve really become attached to my rolling duffle bag. It’s perfect for trips to the beach where all I’m packing are a few outfits, nothing that will be wrinkled and can just be stuffed in a bag. Anything that may be breakable is bundled exactly in the center of the bag so it’s got built in padding from the clothes all around it. The bag can be squished tossed around and stuffed into the few milimeters of space left in the car after the rest of my overpacking family leaves me.

    The only thing I cannot live without anymore is wheels. Must have wheels!

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