Purchasing a new suitcase in 2023, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the breadth of options to choose from. From different brands to material options and warranty periods there are many factors to consider when purchasing your next suitcase to ensure it remains your travel companion for many trips to come. In this buying guide we hope to address many common questions for purchasing a new suitcase including:
- How much should I spend on a new suitcase?
- What is the best luggage brand?
- What suitcase size should I choose?
- What suitcase materials are there, and which one is the best?
- How to find the best suitcase?
How much should I spend on a new suitcase?
Suitcases are available in all kinds of price ranges ranging from as little as € 40 for a small carry-on suitcase up to € 2.000 for suitcases from designer brands. But how much do you actually need to spend?
Identifying your needs
Before looking for the perfect suitcase to purchase, it is important to identify how often and for what types of trips you are planning to use the suitcase. The following questions can be a starting point for your consideration:
- How often do you travel (once per year, every few months or even every week)?
- What is the typical duration of your trips?
- Do you mostly travel for pleasure or for business?
- How often do you plan to exchange your suitcase?
Generally, you should base your budget on how often you plan to use the suitcase. For frequent travellers a lower weight, enhanced durability and an elaborate interior might be more important than for the occasional traveller taking the suitcase on a summer holiday. Additionally, you will have to consider if you only need one size of luggage or multiple sizes for different trip durations as this can influence your budget significantly. Another factor to consider is how often you plan to exchange your suitcase. If you plan to update your suitcase regularly to have a more modern design or have better features a longer warranty period may be less important than the price.
While your planned usage is an important and rather objective factor to consider when setting your budget, you may also want to consider other requirements. Additionally, requirements can be anything from a preference for a certain brand or design to must-have features which might only be available in certain price classes e.g., an integrated battery.
H3: Why is there such a large price gap between different suitcases?
As in many other product categories the price of products may depend on many different factors and cannot be rationally explained for every product. In the following you can find a few common factors influencing the pricing which will be explained further in this guide:
Branded vs. Generic products
It is not uncommon to find that several brands sell products which look nearly identical but have different logos. Some luggage factories will produce these items and sell them to many different brands with their unique logos and the colors of their choice. Brands benefit from having lower costs for design and development of new luggage and can purchase such items at lower prices as they are produced in large volumes for multiple brands at once.
On the contrary many well-known brands e.g., Samsonite employ a large amount of people to continuously develop new designs and components and to improve existing items. Naturally, to manufacture such custom items new moulds for the shell have to be made, samples have to be produced and tests have to be performed which make branded products more expensive.
Another factor is of course also the branding itself with branded products being priced higher compared to unbranded products which is due to higher margins on one side and higher expenses for advertising and branding on the other side.
Materials & Components
The cost of materials is often a major driver of the overall cost of a product. In case of suitcases the shell material is among the main factors for the overall pricing with materials such as Aluminum or high-tech materials (e.g., Curv) being more expensive compared to entry-level materials such as ABS. Next to the shell material a modern suitcase can be made from over 100 other components from screws to the lock or the wheels. While there can be major differences in quality it is often hard to see the difference between these components at first sight and you would have to trust to receive higher quality components when purchasing a higher priced item. For comparing the wheels of different suitcase, you can also refer to our suitcase wheel guide.
The service offered by a brand is often a major cost factor. With many brands offering a warranty with their luggage, brands will factor the cost of the warranty into their selling prices. This often means that brands offering products with a 10-year warranty will charge more than brands only offering a 2-year warranty. At the same time the general service quality will also affect the pricing with many reputable brands offering a high level of customer service and aftersales service which in many cases cannot be expected from brands selling items in the entry price range.
What is the best luggage brand?
Suitcases are offered by many different brands which typically offer many different models. As many of these brands compete in different price segments and each model may offer different advantages and disadvantages it is not possible to determine which of these luggage brands is the best. However, the following can be a useful starting point to identify models which may match your requirements.
In the field of designer brands there are many brands to consider with some only being available in some regions however the most well-known include:
- Hartmann (Part of Samsonite Group)
- TUMI (Part of Samsonite Group)
- Zero Halliburton
- Louis Vuitton
For those looking to spend slightly less but who are still looking for a premium piece of luggage there are several brands to consider some of which are common household brands offering a wide variety of different styles and types of luggage:
- BRIGGS & RILEY
In the field of premium luggage brands, you will additionally find a large number of brands which are focused on providing suitcases with a very sleek / minimalist design. In comparison to the above-mentioned household brands these brands typically have a strong focus on selling their items online and having in many cases only few different designs to select from:
- AWAY (US & UK only)
- Horizn Studios
- Monos (US only)
- Paravel (Sustainability focused)
The medium price range is traditionally a wider field which can range from items above € 100 up to items costing € 300. Typically, brands in this category are focused on providing quality luggage with a focus on price conscious customers. As there are many different brands in this category a few well-known brands include:
- American Tourister
- Eagle Creek
- Eastpak (primarily for wheeled holdalls)
For customers looking for a suitcase in the entry price range there are many different branded and unbranded items. A few notable examples include:
- IT Luggage
- Amazon Basics
What suitcase size should I choose?
Shopping for suitcases you should be aware of what sizes you require for your usual trips. Typically, luggage comes in 3-4 different sizes which include various cabin size options, a medium size and a large or extra-large size. In many cases these sizes are designed to fit into each other to allow space-saving storage and transport. Choosing the luggage size correctly is very important as a too big suitcase which has many empty areas is more prone to get damaged while a too small suitcase may mean that not all your belongings fit inside.
Hence, it may make sense to purchase multiple sizes at once. Depending on how much the trip duration varies an expandable suitcase may be a good option to save on one size. Many brands offer discounts when purchasing multiple items at the same time. If you already have a suitcase you are looking to replace, we recommend measuring the existing item including wheels, handles and other parts and comparing it to the dimensions of suitcases sold online or in stores (which are typically also measured including all these parts).
What suitcase materials are there, and which one is the best?
Browsing through suitcases from different brands you will inevitably be confronted with different materials. As the materials for soft shell suitcases and hard-shell suitcases we will be looking at these separately.
Suitcase Materials for Hardshell Suitcases
The most common materials for hardshell suitcases include Aluminum, Polycarbonate, Polypropylene and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). While most of these are plastics, they have very different physical properties which make them more or less suitable for the use in suitcases.
- Aluminum: Suitcases made from aluminum are by many regarded as a luxury suitcase material with many luxury brands such as RIMOWA making their suitcases from this material. Aluminum is compared to other suitcases described in the following among the most expensive materials as it requires specialized material for bending the aluminum into shape. In comparison to other materials aluminum is among the heaviest materials with large suitcases weighing 6 KG or more. When purchasing a suitcase made from aluminum you should be aware that the material is not very flexible so that smaller dents as well as scratches and other signs of usage can be visible creating a unique patina on the shell.
- Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate has been initially developed to be used for aerospace appliances. Due to its temperature resistance and high impact resistance, it is however also very suitable for use in luggage shells. One of the biggest advantages of Polycarbonate is the flexibility of the material. This flexibility helps the shell absorb shocks very well and helps to prevent cracks in the shell. In many cases dents in this shell can simply be pressed back with the shell returning to its original shape. These unique properties however also make suitcases made from Polycarbonate also more expensive compared to suitcases made from Polypropylene or ABS. In many cases Polycarbonate is also advertised as Makrolon Polycarbonate which is a brand name from Covestro however there are also many other chemical manufacturers selling Polycarbonate.
- Polypropylene: Polypropylene is a material which can be frequently found in many household appliances made from plastics. Suitcases from Polypropylene may appear in various shapes and forms. One prominent example is frameless suitcases e.g., Samsonite S’Cure or Eminent Vertica, which feature a rather thick and stiff shell which is regarded as very sturdy but also causes these items to have a slightly higher weight. In recent years Polypropylene suitcases with a more flexible shell (similar) to Polycarbonate suitcases are also gaining popularity due to their light weight and low price while still being sturdy (even though not comparable to Polycarbonate suitcases in many cases).
- Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): ABS has been one of the earliest plastic compounds used to make luggage and is used to make suitcases until today. At first sight ABS is the same as Polycarbonate or Polypropylene a very rigid material which should withstand the handling at airports. In comparison to these materials, however, ABS is not as good at absorbing shocks which is why cracks in the shell can be observed more often. Due to the low cost of the ABS material and the rather simple production processes ABS remains a popular choice among suitcases in the entry price range.
In addition to these very common materials used to make hard-shell suitcases there are also a wide range of mixed materials. By mixing different materials luggage brands aim to combine the properties of different luggage materials or reduce the price compared to using the pure materials. One prominent example is ABS+PC mixtures combining an ABS shell with a thin layer of Polycarbonate on top. Products with such shell are typically priced below items made from Polycarbonate are however also less durable.
Another factor to consider when choosing a suitcase made from one of these materials is that the durability of the shell may still defer between different models even if they are made from the same material. This is commonly found with Polycarbonate suitcases which are sold at many different price points. Besides the brand, components and other materials used, a common factor is the use of virgin polycarbonate during production which describes the new granulate sold by the chemical companies. During the production of a suitcase, it is not uncommon that parts of the shell are cut-off and subsequently re-melted and used during the production of new suitcase shells. As polycarbonate often consists of up to three different layers such production line recycled materials are used for the middle layer which is typically not visible from the outside. The degree to which recycled polycarbonate is re-used plays an important role as re-melted polycarbonate has a lower impact resistance and durability compared to virgin polycarbonate. At the same time the use of re-melted polycarbonate also has a significant impact on the production price allowing brands which use a higher degree of re-melted polycarbonate to offer their items at a lower selling price.
The use of production line recycled materials which is done in nearly all cases to reduce material waste should however not be confused with post-consumer recycled materials which are typically made by producing new polycarbonate granulate from common household waste and is typically significantly more expensive.
Apart from the above-mentioned materials certain high-tech materials should still be mentioned. Based on the material polypropylene (described above) several high-tech materials have been developed aiming to combine the low density of polypropylene with increased impact resistance and flexibility. In most cases this is achieved by creating woven layers from polypropylene strings which are melted with a polypropylene core. Such materials are sold under several brand names such as Curv, Tegra-Lite or Roxkin. These materials show a superior durability and flexibility which is superior to regular Polycarbonate suitcases and have a very low risk of shell breakage. As these materials are patented and require complex machinery for production items made from this material are in many cases significantly more expensive, making them in many cases only an attractive choice for frequent travellers.
Suitcase Materials for Softshell Suitcases
When it comes to softshell suitcases the choice of materials is much more limited compared to hardshell suitcases and unfortunately, they are also less easy to distinguish for the untrained eye. The most popular materials for softshell suitcases include:
- Polyester: Many of us know polyester from household fabrics and clothing. So it comes as no surprise that this material is also used for suitcases. Polyester is made from polyethylene terephthalate or also referred to as PET which is most associated with plastic bottles. To make polyester fabric the PET materially is in some cases chemically treated before being weaved together to create polyester fabric. Polyester material is very popular as it is durable, water resistant, retains it shape even after some time and does not degrade over time (which is however not good for its environmental friendliness). To further increase the strength of the material it is not uncommon that polyester fabric is coated on the backside with Polyurethane (PU) to increase the stiffness of the material. Polyester materials are typically found on suitcases in the entry to mid-price level however it can be difficult to distinguish the quality of different polyester fabrics and how they have been treated from the outside.
- R-PET: With sustainability gaining importance luggage brands are also trying to make their products more sustainable. To achieve this many brands, make use of r-PET which uses the PET material from plastic bottles to make polyester material. Compared to regular polyester material r-PET is more expensive due to the additional steps involved in the production.
- Nylon: Those looking for higher quality softshell suitcases will also find suitcases made from nylon. Similar as polyester nylon can be found in many household applications and apparel products e.g., stockings. While there are many different types of nylon this material is typically stronger than polyester, stretchier (to prevent the material from ripping) and has a better feeling. Additionally, nylon shows a better water resistance compared to polyester making it a popular choice for higher quality luggage. On the downside nylon has a slightly higher likelihood to show pill and is more expensive compared to Polyester.
How to find the best suitcase?
At suitcase.repair we are often asked if we can recommend a specific suitcase model or brand. Also, many people are searching for the lightest, most durable or an undestroyable suitcase.
In this guide we do not recommend specific products or brands as each product has its own value proposition. In most cases finding the best suitcase for yourself is a trade-off between price, weight, durability, features, service and design. From our experience the perfect choice is very individual depending on your preferences e.g. some customers prefer a light product while being willing to compromise on the features or are willing to spend more for a suitcase with a specific design.
Suitcase Tests and Comparisons
Searching for a new suitcase you are inevitably confronted with many websites offering luggage tests and comparisons. From our experience many of these tests are not objective and are incentivized in some way. In many cases you will find that the tests link to products on Amazon and earn commissions for every product sold through their recommendation. While this is in many cases not affecting the price paid by customers for the product you may still receive a biased recommendation. Many well-known brands only offer selected products through retailers such as Amazon and offer a different assortment through professional luggage retailers. Other brands with attractive products may not offer their products through Amazon at all. This limitation on products available through Amazon may increase the earnings of website owners but may not actually show you the best products.
Another factor to consider is that many tests and comparisons only compare data in the product descriptions without performing any test at all. Only few testing institutes e.g. Stiftung Warentest in Germany aim to provide unbiased testing which on the downside can only test a fraction of the products actually available to customers.
Our recommendation: Even if it may be time consuming it is often the best choice to compare products yourself based on the information brands provide. The information in this buying guide can be a good starting point to evaluate this information. In many cases visiting a luggage store and comparing products yourself can help greatly to feel differences in materials and components.
Are expensive suitcases better than cheap suitcases?
At last, we want to have a look at the question if expensive suitcases are performing better than cheap suitcases. From our experience in many cases brands selling their items at a higher price indeed make use of more expensive materials such as using a Polycarbonate shell or using Nylon instead of Polyester for the interior lining. Many smaller differences such as the zipper used or if the different components have been tested for chemicals are, however, hardly visible which makes comparing items very difficult. As many brands offering more expensive items also aim to offer superior customer experience, service, and a unique design there may be factors in the pricing which do not necessarily translate to a higher quality. Investing in a medium-priced item may in many cases provide you with the most meaningful upgrades compared to entry level items e.g., regarding the shell material and components such as wheels, may however lack premium features which may be less important to the occasional traveller.
At this point we want to mention, however, that price comparison is important. In many cases items are always sold with a discount and the indicated RRPs do not reflect the price the item is usually sold at. While some offers may be a good chance to get a premium item at a discount many items sold at a discount are only produced for promotions so you should check such special offers with additional care.