After researching 26 pieces of checked luggage and testing five finalists, we can say that the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 25-Inch Expandable Spinner Suiter is the best checked luggage for most travelers. We put it through its paces on a three-week trip to New Zealand and found that it easily packs two weeks’ worth of clothes into the maximum-allowed checked-bag dimensions for most airlines. It also looks and feels fantastic, and it comes with a lifetime warranty against airline damage.
The Platinum Magna 2 25-Inch Expandable Spinner Suiter is the larger, checked-luggage version of our top carry-on pick, and everything we like about its little sibling applies again here. It’s made of a hard-wearing ballistic nylon that’s both sleek and durable. It looks and feels like a bag that costs a lot more than it actually does. It’s also surprisingly nimble thanks to a comfortable, height-adjustable handle and magnetically locking MagnaTrac wheels, which make it noticeably easier to navigate—especially when loaded with 50 pounds of stuff. Internally, the Platinum Magna is well-organized across its main and lid compartments and comes with a built-in garment folder that includes a removable folding board (similar to the one in our Briggs & Riley upgrade pick). This makes it easy to pack and protect formalwear. However, the sheer size of bags such as this makes it very easy to exceed the 50-pound (22-kilogram) weight limit that most airlines impose. (A luggage scale comes in handy.) But even if you overpack, the Platinum Magna can withstand the extra weight. Travelpro tests its bags by filling them with 70-pound loads and passing each handle through 7,500 automated lift tests.
Originally we suggested the 29-inch models as our top picks because they maximized allowable airline space. After more testing and travel, however, we think 25-inch models are probably more appropriate for most people. While overpacking is an issue with any bag, the 29-inch versions of these suitcases make it too easy to exceed airline weight limits; they’re also more unwieldy than their 25-inch cousins.
Soft-sided luggage is better for most travelers because it’s more versatile (due to its exterior pockets and better interior organization) and tends to be more durable in the long run. But for travelers on a budget, or people who specifically want a hard-sided piece of luggage, the Delsey Helium Aero 25-Inch is a great bargain. Though many hard-shell bags in this price range are made with cheaper and less-durable ABS plastic, the Helium Aero is 100 percent polycarbonate. This gives it a sleeker finish and superior impact resistance. In fact, this is the same type of material used in the so-called “lower-end” models from Rimowa, such as the Salsa, which sells for about six times as much as the Helium. And in case anything goes wrong, Delsey backs this bag with a limited 10-year warranty. It also has a built-in TSA-approved lock for added peace of mind.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $699.
If you identify as a frequent flyer or an overpacker, or you have a large family and are willing to invest in higher-quality luggage for traveling, we recommend the Briggs & Riley Baseline Large Expandable Spinner. Though the Travelpro is nice for the price, the Briggs & Riley is nice, period. This bag provides extra features that frequent travelers or overpackers will appreciate. Every detail—from the zippers to the wheels to a unique compression system that lets you fit an additional week’s worth of clothing into the same volume as the Travelpro—is made to the highest standards of any luggage maker. You won’t get the unique styling that other luxury brands specialize in, but Briggs & Riley’s reputation for reliability and durability is unmatched. The bag also includes a garment folder like the Travelpro does. If things go awry, user-replaceable parts and a network of repair centers located around the world make quick fixes easy, and the reliable lifetime warranty covers repairs for airline damage.
We’ve spent more than 140 hours researching luggage, including interviews with numerous experts and continuous testing to understand what makes good luggage. In the three years we’ve covered this category, the products have evolved—and so has our thinking about what kind of luggage is best for most people. Based on what’s available and what different travelers prefer, we think the following bags are the best you can currently find.
After speaking with luggage designers and frequent travelers, we believe that soft-sided luggage is better for most people because it’s more versatile (exterior pockets) and—however counterintuitive it may seem—will most likely last longer.
Based on appearances, many people think that hard-sided luggage (characterized by a rigid plastic or metallic exterior) is more durable than soft-sided luggage. But according to industry testing, that’s not the case. As Scott Applebee, vice president of marketing for Travelpro (who, we’d like to note, sells both types of luggage), told us over email while describing the performance testing of hard-sided bags, “The hard shells can crack more readily under the extremes of our drop test and handle-jerking tests.”
Soft-sided luggage is more flexible, quite literally, so these bags tend to bend, not break, and scratch instead of crack. Their soft construction makes it much easier for designers to add exterior pockets and interior organization features compared with hard-shell designs. If short-term durability and protection of essentials such as gifts or work equipment is your biggest concern, a well-packed piece of hard-sided luggage is your best bet for keeping valuables safe.
We’ve tested 31 bags over the past three years and found that the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 22″ Expandable Rollaboard Suiter is the best carry-on roller bag for most travelers.
Most hard-sided luggage is built of ABS plastic, polycarbonate, or a blend of both materials. (There are also aluminum cases, first introduced in the 1930s by Rimowa, that are very strong but are usually too expensive for most travelers—often carrying price tags breaching four figures.) ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is the cheapest of these materials. However, because of its low strength, ABS is usually blended with polycarbonate. The ratio of this blend helps determine the luggage’s price and durability, but the lower the amount of ABS, the better. Rimowa introduced pure-polycarbonate luggage in 2000 and the luggage has taken off since, now accounting for 25 percent of total luggage sales—we suspect that this is mostly because of its bold aesthetic. Due to its layered manufacturing process, polycarbonate is lightweight—a hard-sided bag in the 29-inch size is about 4 pounds lighter than equivalent soft-sided luggage—and durable. However, it doesn’t absorb coloring as easily and shows scratches more easily than ABS-blended luggage.
Soft-sided luggage is commonly made from either polyester or nylon. Polyester is inexpensive, lightweight, and resistant to abrasions. However, it ages faster than nylon and doesn’t resist tearing or cuts as well. That’s why it’s typically found on luggage that costs less than $200. Despite being a little more expensive, nylon typically lasts longer than any other material and allows for the most flexible kind of luggage design. Doug Dyment of OneBag writes, “High-denier industrial nylon fabrics are the way to go: In top quality luggage, the main choices are ballistic and Cordura® nylon, differences between the two being largely cosmetic in nature.” (Ballistic nylon has a smooth texture, whereas Cordura feels more like a woven canvas.) “Cordura is more abrasion resistant,” Dyment says, “while ballistic offers higher tear strength. In both fabrics, though, these capabilities are considerably greater than actually needed, so one is unlikely to experience a notable difference.”
There may be thousands of different types of checked luggage available for sale. Even after we excluded models that didn’t meet our basic criteria—a reliable warranty, reputable reviews, and quality materials—we found hundreds of bags worth testing. Over the years researching luggage, we’ve called dozens of experts to help us narrow the field of top manufacturers. Conversations with these experts helped us understand things such as the function behind nylon and polyester, the difference in wheel bearing designs, why alloys in telescoping handles matter, and more.
Besides the suggestions from our experts, we researched editorial and user reviews of luggage, making sure to include popular brands like Samsonite and Tumi as well as esoteric names like Filson, Hideo Wakamatsu, and Flight 001. In addition to the expert interviews, we’ve spoken with assorted salespeople, brand engineers, and media-relations folks to make sure we found the best models from each brand.
If you want a general rundown of our testing process, check out the corresponding sections from our best carry-on luggage review, because our testing of the larger bags mirrored that process. But we did uncover some differences—mostly having to do with the larger size of checked luggage—that led us to modify our analysis.
The smaller the luggage, the more intricate the design must become to accommodate travelers’ needs. While testing carry-on luggage in the past, we’ve found that company claims of luggage weight and measurements weren’t exactly precise, with capacities exaggerated and weights minimized. Oddly, for checked bags we didn’t find so much fudging of the numbers. Our best guess is that with looser size and weight restrictions for checked luggage, manufacturers aren’t as motivated to manipulate their figures when advertising their larger bags.
When we tested carry-ons we noticed the varied and individual way each bag handled rough surfaces depending on their wheels and build quality. With checked bags this wasn’t a problem. Fully packed, the weight of any checked bag carried it over the roughest of surfaces without a strong discernable difference between the models.
With bags this large, the subtler points of comparison aren’t as pronounced. For instance, with carry-on-size bags, the handle’s size and shape can significantly change the bag’s useable space and your overall packing experience. But this doesn’t really matter when limited space isn’t an issue. As a result, we focused on the obvious design comparisons, including how these bags handle when full, how durable the materials they are made from are, and if the bags are comfortable to use.
For the majority of families who fly 25,000 miles or less per year together, the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 25-Inch Expandable Spinner Suiter is the best choice. It’s a durable, attractively styled, well-organized bag for a reasonable price. It holds a full seven-days’ worth of clothes for two people. During a trip to New Zealand, our tester was able to pack two-weeks’ worth of clothes (without a laundry stop) and several pieces of camera equipment into the Platinum Magna without an issue. Like every large piece of checked luggage we tested, it comes only in a four-wheel or “spinner” configuration. Although more wheels means more bits with the potential to break and some reduction of interior space, that’s a necessary compromise for bags this size if you want any hope of managing them in a busy airport.
The Platinum Magna’s exterior is made of ballistic nylon, which can take more overall abuse than polycarbonate and will show less wear in the long run. As with carry-ons, we don’t think polycarbonate hard-shell bags are as versatile or durable as soft-sided nylon bags. As mentioned above, hard-shell bags usually weigh about 4 pounds less than soft-sided equivalents, but their increased failure rate and affinity for displaying scratches and wear aren’t worth it unless you really need the extra protection from sharp jabs.
The soft fabric design allows for extra flexibility and the inclusion of exterior pockets for quick access to small items. With the Platinum Magna, you get two pockets: a flat one suited for documents and boarding passes, and an accordion-style one that provides extra storage for miscellaneous small items—this can be a lifesaver if you’re traveling with kids and need quick access to extra-small toys, coloring books, clothes, or supplies.
During her three-week trip in New Zealand, photographer Caleigh Waldman said, “On this trip I never stayed in the same location for more than three days and was forced to constantly unpack, repack, and maneuver the Platinum Magna 2. Usually living out of any suitcase makes me crazy but the many zip compartments of the Platinum Magna, both inside and out, make it easy to compartmentalize your things. The pockets, zippers, and interior liner seemed sturdy, and the large pull-back cover allowed me to access everything I had in the bag with ease.”
The Platinum Magna also handles beautifully for its size. Its aluminum handle extends to three different heights (38 inches, 40 inches, and 42½ inches), and it comes with a hook-and-loop system for attaching your carry-on bag, for consolidated transport. Although every bag we tested for this guide had similar levels of maneuverability, the Travelpro’s MagnaLock wheels, which align in the same direction, rolled past the rest of the competition with ease. On smooth surfaces, such as those found in airports, it felt as if the bag was almost directing itself across the terminal floor. Waldman appreciated its smooth rolling during her trip, even when it was overpacked, saying, “It was not always easy to maneuver on rough or gravelly surfaces. Overall though, given the limitations of traveling with this much stuff, I thought the Platinum Magna 2 did a great job moving through a variety of environments.” And it has sealed wheel bearings, which extend the life of the wheels by preventing dirt and grime from entering and breaking down the components as quickly. It’s a feature not usually found on cheaper bags and, chances are, if a bag isn’t clearly advertising sealed bearings, you should assume it doesn’t have them. If for whatever reason your wheels do break, you can easily swap them out yourself with Travelpro’s readily available replacements.
Travelpro uses YKK zippers throughout its bags, which—if you’ve read any of our other reviews—you’ll know is a mark of quality. As Doug Dyment explains, “If you have a zipper that is difficult to open or close, or that opens of its own accord, or comes off track easily, it’s a good bet that it’s not a YKK.” That’s not to say that non-YKK zippers are automatically bad, but because zippers are the component most likely to fail on bags it’s an important measure when companies spend the extra money to get the best.
The strength of the YKK zippers also allows you to use the Travelpro’s expansion feature with some peace of mind. A 2-inch-wide expansion zipper runs along three sides of the Platinum Magna, allowing the bag to accordion open a touch if you need the extra space. (Although we found it more useful as a way to compress what you already packed than as a true additional-space-providing feature.)
The Platinum Magna weighs 9 pounds, 14 ounces empty, which is average to heavy among checked bags, but that’s a workable weight for the bag’s spacious 6,982 cubic-inch interior—twice what its carry-on sibling can hold! But as with carry-ons, weight shouldn’t be your primary concern when selecting luggage this large, because all the bags we tested felt about equally heavy once fully packed. The important thing is that in our tests the Platinum Magna swallowed up a week’s worth of clothes for two people with no problem and had a good deal of room to spare.
We should note that bags of this size can almost hold too much. The Platinum Magna already weighs over 9 pounds, so when you pack it to its limits, you may have trouble keeping it below the 50-pound weight limit of most airlines—and that means extra fees. But this is true of all checked luggage.
During her New Zealand trip, Caleigh Waldman packed the Platinum Magna 29-inch model for two weeks with enough clothes, toiletries, and different types of shoes and activewear for the terrain. Though she didn’t fill the bag completely, she still found that her luggage weighed over the 50-pound limit. “Every flight I took, I had to cough up the overweight-baggage fee, and it was a monster to carry up stairs and toss into car trunks,” she said.
Compared with the stiffer-framed Briggs & Riley or the hard-sided models, the Platinum Magna has areas where its body seems less reinforced than we would have liked. Its top is especially pliant. Though it’s not enough to make us worry about the bag’s overall strength, when compared side by side with the Briggs & Riley, this unsupported flexibility is very apparent. We hope that further long-term testing will reveal if this is a fundamental flaw or not.
A few years ago, Travelpro stopped providing free TSA travel locks with its bag upon purchase. You now have to send in a mail-in rebate with proof of purchase to receive a lock; some reviewers report waiting several weeks to receive their lock. This isn’t a big enough flaw to strike our recommendation of this bag, but it’s something to bear in mind if you like to travel with a safety lock, need a bag in a hurry, and don’t have a lock on hand.
For travelers who want a sturdy piece of luggage for not too much money, the Delsey Helium Aero is a great option. You lose out on the superior organization, exterior pockets, and long-term durability of our top pick, and overall we still think a soft-sided bag is a better option for most people, but this bag is hard to beat from a pure-value perspective. Most other hard-shell bags in this price range are made of a less-robust ABS-polycarbonate blend; the Helium Aero is 100 percent polycarbonate. Pure-polycarbonate luggage is not always this inexpensive. Rimowa sells a so-called “lower-end” pure-polycarbonate model, the Salsa, for nearly six times as much as the Delsey Helium. In fact, more-expensive bags like the American Tourister Metallic Disco still use a blend of plastics.
The Delsey Helium’s interior isn’t much to brag about (most hard-shell interiors aren’t). It’s built around a simple clamshell design, divided into two sides. One side of the Helium has a vented, zippered compartment, which seems well suited for storing laundry while traveling. The other half of the shell has a simple strap system for securing clothes. It doesn’t have mesh pads to keep the straps from creasing your clothes. Nor does it have a built-in suiter or garment bag. Even slightly pricier bags that share the same layout—like the Samsonite Winfield 2—also lack suiters, so we didn’t consider this a strike against the Delsey.
Similar to our top pick, the Delsey Helium also has a zipper-based expansion system that gives you an extra 2 inches if you’re really pressed for space. Alternatively, you can pack it a bit looser, then zip up the main zipper, sit on it, and zip up the expansion zipper to provide a bit of compression. It’s not as elegant or easy to operate as the Briggs & Riley’s ratcheting system, but it does work well enough for the price.
We did enjoy the Aero’s built-in TSA lock, which is integrated into the outer polycarbonate and latches simply onto the main compartment’s two zippers. It’s a neat addition that prevents your luggage from suddenly unzipping while traveling, and finding a lock is one less thing you have to think about while busily packing.
Though a pure-polycarbonate shell is not indestructible, it should stand up to most of the rigors of air travel. But if it doesn’t, The Helium Aero is backed by a limited 10-year warranty. That’s not as great as the warranties provided with our other selected models but it is decent coverage for such a low price.
If you fly more than 25,000 miles per year, it’s worth investing in luggage that goes beyond the minimums and somehow improves your travel experience. The Briggs & Riley Baseline Large Expandable Spinner is that kind of bag. It costs about twice as much as our main pick, but after using all of these bags side by side, it’s clear that there is more than twice as much value hidden within this luggage: The Briggs & Riley’s expansion/compression system is superior to anything else we’ve seen—it lets you fit an additional week’s worth of clothes into the same external dimensions as the Travelpro does.
To do this, you pull upward on two plastic handles inside the bag, which extends its depth a full 2½ inches. Load the bag as full as you need to, and zip it closed without putting stress on the zippers. Then, you simply push down on the bag. This compresses it back down again, and a latch mechanism keeps it securely in place. Unlike cheaper zippered expansion systems that are either fully open or closed (like the Delsey’s), this one can lock in at variable degrees of expansion or compression. It’s totally unique and extremely satisfying to use. Pressed down, the bag measures 25 by 19.5 by 10.5 inches, with 5,118.6 cubic inches of interior space. Expanded, the case measures 25.5 by 20 by 13.5 inches, with roughly 6,885 cubic inches of interior space.
Briggs & Riley also makes a 31-inch Extra Large version of this bag with nearly 8,000 cubic inches of interior space. But we can’t see the point of a bag this large. As it is you can easily exceed most airlines’ weight limits packing the Large to capacity.
The Baseline Large’s exterior is wrapped in 1,680-denier ballistic nylon, which is durable and puncture resistant. But what’s more impressive is what’s underneath the nylon. The Baseline’s frame is the strongest we’ve seen among any of the soft-sided luggage we tested. This bag can take considerable pressure from any angle. As with our top pick, the Travelpro, the Baseline Large has two external pockets: a small one for tickets and passports and a larger one for small items or light outerwear.
Similar to its carry-on version, the Baseline Large’s handrail tubes are on the outside of the bag, which makes the inside back wall almost completely flat and makes packing easier because you have no crevices to work around. We liked this feature for lighter carry-on luggage, where the exterior plastic handrail tubes can protect the bag when going over an edge without the risk of too much damage. This changes when you’re bouncing a 50-pound bag over a curb. In this case, exposing the handrail system seems like an unnecessary risk when there’s so much available room for an internal rail system.
Briggs & Riley will soon release a hard-sided case with a compression system similar to the one found in the Baseline Large Expandable Spinner. The new Sympatico CX collection uses a 100 percent polycarbonate case and will be available in 21-inch, 27-inch, and 30-inch sizes and three colors: black, marine blue, and burgundy. It’s scheduled to be come out in July and we’ll have more updates when it’s released.
Though we have doubts about the long-term durability of polycarbonate and ABS luggage, we look forward to one day testing Tegris, a woven polypropylene composite designed to compete with ultratough and ultraexpensive carbon fiber. However, so far the number of bags using this new material remain limited: Tumi’s Tegra Lite is the only checked-luggage model currently available.
Briggs & Riley Torq Large Spinner: Briggs & Riley makes excellent luggage, but we don’t think you need to spend this much on a hard-sided case. Especially when Briggs & Riley is about to release a new hard-sided case with a built-in compression system.
Travelpro Crew 10 Hardside Spinner: This bag could very nearly be an alternate pick if our top pick goes out of stock. It’s very similar to the Travelpro Platinum Magna, though the interior isn’t quite as polished and the warranty isn’t as extensive.
Travelpro Walkabout 3 Expandable Hardside Spinner: This hard-sided case is sold only at Macy’s. Though we’ve been impressed with all Travelpro luggage we’ve tested over the years, this bag’s price kept it from making our top lists.
Flight 001 F1 DSH-1 Check-In: We handled this polycarbonate luggage in the store and enjoyed the way it moved and felt in our hands. But its price was a bit high considering its lackluster interior. Despite being nearly four times the price of our polycarbonate pick, the Delsey Helium, you don’t seem to get four times the luggage with the DSH-1.
Samsonite Silhouette Sphere 2 Spinner: Samsonite is known around the world for luggage. But we weren’t impressed with this model or any of the others we researched (Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion Spinner, Samsonite Carbon 1 DLX Expandable Spinner, Samsonite Lift 2 Hardside Spinner). The attention to detail seems to be lacking when compared with our recommended models: Luggage handles are more uncomfortable to use, wheels chatter, and internal spaces are less functional than we like to see.
Pelican BA30 Vacationer: This is a professional-grade piece of luggage designed to protect expensive equipment. It’s stronger and a bit more expensive than most people need. But it’s an interesting idea for world travelers looking for a (nearly literally) bombproof piece of luggage.
Traveler’s Choice Hardside Lightweight Spinner: This is a no-frills bag made of blended ABS and polycarbonate. We think it’s worth spending the extra $40 on our budget pick, which is 100 percent polycarbonate and protected by a slightly better warranty.
Rimowa Salsa Deluxe Multiwheel: Rimowa defined hard-sided luggage in the 1940s and redefined it in 2000 when it introduced polycarbonate luggage. But paying its current price of $700 for “virgin German polycarbonate” is silly. These bags are smart-looking though.
Rimowa Topas Multiwheel: Ever wondered how much people pay for those handsome aluminum pieces of luggage? Well, now you know. This thing is twice as expensive as a ticket to Europe and is little more than a status symbol.