The Simple Guide to the Best Luggage

BY: Colleen Loggins Loster | Sep 17, 2019

Need some new luggage? Whether you're looking for a hardside carry-on or soft-side wheeled suitcase to check, our guide can help you find the best luggage for your needs. 

Tourist wheeling luggage through town

Let’s face it, packing is the worst part of vacation. How do you cram all of your essentials into one bag that is spacious enough to hold them but lightweight enough to keep the scales from tipping into overweight-bag-fee territory? We can’t help you pack, but we can help you find the best luggage to make the task more manageable. 

Best Luggage for Flying 

The main thing to consider when buying luggage for airplane travel is the baggage restrictions for the airlines you’ll fly on. The exact weight and dimensions may vary, but in general, here’s what to know.

If You’re Using a Carry-On

Dimensions matter most. The best carry-on luggage will be 22” high x 14” wide x 9” deep maximum.

Those are the dimensions set by three of the biggest U.S. carriers: United, American Airlines, and Delta. They are also among the most restrictive dimensions, which is why we recommend picking a bag in this range. If you fly another carrier exclusively, go with a bag that fits their dimensions.

International carriers often have more restrictive carry-on dimensions so if you fly internationally, be sure to do your research. 

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best carry-on dimensions infographic
*Dimensions set by United, American Airlines, and Delta.Other carrier dimension restrictions may vary.

If You’re Checking a Bag

Weight matters most. There is almost always a 50-pound weight limit for checked bags on U.S. carriers, including United, American, and Delta. (For first class, it’s usually 70 pounds.) If your bag goes over the limit, you have to pay $100 or more for overweight baggage. So if you frequently check bags, the best luggage will be lightweight.

Shop lightweight luggage and luggage scales.

Checked-Bag Dimensions 

Dimensions for bigger suitcases matter to some extent—the big three airlines restrict it to 62 inches total when you add height, width, and depth together—but the most common size options for larger suitcases are 24 to 30 inches in height and less than 62 inches total. Plus, it’s less common to see airline personnel measuring bags that don’t look obviously oversized. 

checked bag weight limit

Hardside Luggage vs. Soft

Hardside
Pros Cons
  • Made with hard, protective and lightweight plastics or aluminum 
  • Easier to clean 
  • Protects better against theft 
  • Stacks easily on top of things
  • Inflexible and hard to cram into tight spaces 
  • Can be scratched and dented easily
  • Clamshell opening means you’ll need room to open fully
  • No outside pockets

Shop hardside luggage.

 

Softside
Pros Cons
  • Made with fabric, usually a strong nylon 
  • Flexible, can be squeezed into tight spaces 
  • Typically lighter than hardside luggage 
  • Stretchy fabric means it’s easier to pack more stuff 
  • Plenty of pockets inside and out 
  • More prone to tearing 
  • Can be cut into by thieves  
  • Easier to stain 
  • Doesn’t protect breakables as well 
  • Gets wet in the rain

Shop softside luggage.

 

Extra Features

Smart Luggage

Some modern suitcases come with convenient integrated tech, from built-in scales to GPS tracking to USB compatibility to charge your smartphones and tech.

Important note about smart luggage batteries: The FAA has imposed restrictions on the batteries often included in smart luggage. According to the FAA, smart luggage is allowed as a carry-on, but not as a checked bag UNLESS you can remove the batteries inside. If your smart bag will be checked, you have to take out the battery compartment and carry it into the cabin with you. 

Bottom line? Make sure any smart luggage you buy has removable batteries.

Shop USB-compatible luggage and other smart luggage.

Wrangler 20" Expandable Hardside Carry-On Luggage with Cup Holder and USB Port

RFID Technology 

Radio frequency identification technology is a type of wireless communication used to track objects embedded with an RFID chip.

RFID is still relatively new to the average traveler, but that won’t be the case for long. In 2016, Delta introduced RFID luggage tags that allow passengers to track their bag’s location on the FlyDelta mobile app. As a result of its success (Delta has won awards for the technology), other airports and airlines are starting to utilize RFID tracking. 

RFID-blocking technology is also utilized in products such as wallets and passport holders. These may prevent thieves from e-pickpocketing your credit card and passport info by holding scanners near your pocket or purse. 

Shop RFID products.

 

TSA Locks 

The Transportation Security Administration recommends locking up your belongings with TSA-approved locks. These locks have master keys that TSA agents can use to inspect the inside a suitcase if necessary. That way, they won’t have to cut off your lock if they need to get into your bag.

Shop TSA locks and TSA lock luggage.

Luggage Organization 

Packing Cubes 

Packing cubes are the best luggage investment you can make after a good suitcase. They’re perfect for anyone spatially challenged as they pretty much organize your suitcase for you. Plus, they help compress your clothes so you can fit more items inside your suitcase. 

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Verdi Packing Cube Organizer Set with Zipper Pockets

Toiletry Kit 

If you’re checking a bag, a toiletry kit is an elegant way to store your beauty and grooming products. If you’re carrying on a bag, a clear plastic quart-size bag is a necessity (and these beauty travel hacks will show you how to fill it.)

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Electronics Organizer

These keep your electronics in one handy place, plus prevent all your cords from becoming one tangled mess. 

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