Monday, April 10, 2017

Guide to selecting new luggage

With the summer travel season quickly approaching, there's no time like the present to take a close look at the luggage you will be using and replace or upgrade as needed. But which luggage brand is best, and which are best avoided?

The multitude of choices on the market coupled with differing priorities make choosing the “right” luggage a bit more complicated than just picking out a brand. So how do you choose the luggage that is best for you?

First and foremost, keep in mind that the function of luggage is to securely hold and protect your clothes, shoes and other belongings as you make your way from Point A to Point B. While issues can arise with any brand, some of the more upmarket brands are more likely to provide that necessary protection over the long term. But that does not necessarily mean the more you spend, the better.

Swiss Gear suitcase
Case in point: Tumi. Very stylish, very popular among the status-conscious … and very expensive. The company’s website offers expandable carry-ons ranging from $595 for a soft-sided bag to $2,495 for a carbon-fiber version. Larger pieces are commensurately more expensive. Despite those stratospheric prices, Consumer Reports (CR) rates Tumi luggage only fourth best overall among checked luggage.

CR also rates carry-on luggage and luggage stores.

The manufacturers ranked highest in CR's most recent ratings for checked luggage are Eagle Creek and Briggs & Riley, which are tied for top spot.

With carry-ons starting at $299 and available in a variety of colors, Eagle Creek is surprisingly affordable.

Among my current collection, I reach for a Briggs & Riley carry-on more often than any other piece. Briggs & Riley offers carry-ons in the more modest range of $349 to $519.

The No. 3 entry on CR’s list was L.L. Bean followed by Tumi at No. 4 and and Kirkland. Costco’s signature brand, at No. 5.

Kirkland luggage has earned accolades from frequent travelers and is backed by Costco’s “satisfaction guaranteed” policy and excellent customer service. While luggage is considered an item with a “limited useful life expectancy” under Costco’s return policy, a customer service rep told TheTravelPro that it would be covered by the policy for at least two years.

Travelpro luggage, which is ubiquitous, along with Hartmann, Victorinox, Nautica and Ricardo Beverly Hills all tied for sixth in Consumer Reports' ratings.

While I have no experience with the others in the No. 6 slot, I have a Victorinox messenger bag-style case for my laptop and it does its job admirably. Victorinox is a brand name for products by Wenger, the company that manufactures Swiss Army knives. The company also manufactures luggage under the name “Swiss Gear,” which also sports the company’s familiar red logo.

Over the years, I have owned many pieces of luggage – both expensive and, frankly, cheap – that performed their function well and others – again, both expensive and cheap – that did not. While the Travelpro luggage boasts a durable shell and robust zippers that keep the bags securely closed, I have had the extendable handles fail on two different suitcases. On one occasion the handle stuck in the open position and on the other, it stuck in the closed position.

In both instances, they were repaired under the cases’ warranty without cost to me – except for the aggravation and, on one occasion, the challenge of finding a luggage repair shop in a strange city in which I was traveling.

Although admittedly newer than my Travelpro, I have never had any trouble with the Briggs & Riley case, nor with the much more humble Samsonite cases we purchased for our daughter's trip abroad when she graduated high school about 20 years ago.

Consider your personality as well as your travel style

Travelpro suitcase
The right luggage for you will depend on a number of factors including your travel style and your personality.

If you travel a great deal and are status-conscious with the wherewithal to back that up, then Tumi may be right for you. Are you fastidious? Then you may want to choose luggage in a darker color as lighter shades show dirt and scuff marks more easily. Do you insist upon having the latest fashion? If you don’t travel much or plan to replace your luggage every year or two to keep up with the most current style, then whatever manufacturer appeals at the moment will probably do nicely.

Shop around. A brick and mortar store that specializes in luggage will have experts on hand to discuss the features of the various bags. Visiting such a store will also enable you to make a hands-on assessment of the luggage you are considering.

When it comes time to purchase your new luggage, online sources like eBags.com, LuggageOnline.com, Amazon.com and even Overstock.com may have better prices than your local luggage retailer but remember to add the cost of shipping and consider the benefits of supporting a local businessperson.

Finally, if you are willing to take on a possible quest for your chosen style and color, discount retailers like Home Goods, T.J. Maxx, Ross and Marshall's carry luggage and have been known to carry some well-regarded brands in addition to less expensive offerings.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photos by Carl Dombek
Click on photos to view larger images

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