Budget luggage is often made with polyester fabric instead of more durable Cordura or ballistic nylon. Experts say budget bags won't last as long as pricier luggage, and their warranties usually cover only manufacturing defects -- not damage. However, experts point out that even an inexpensive carry-on is less likely to fall apart than a checked bag, which will get battered by baggage handlers.
Last year's top-rated budget bag, the Delsey Helium Fusion Lite 2.0 Expandable Suiter Trolley, has been discontinued -- although we did find this model still available at several retailers. The newer Delsey Helium Fusion 3.0 Carry-on Expandable Suiter Trolley (*Est. $85)
The L.L.Bean Rolling Adventure Duffle, medium (*Est. $90), is made of water-resistant nylon and is available in a rainbow of colors. It also comes in three print fabrics, which are made of polyester. This sturdy bag weighs less than 6.5 pounds, yet it has a capacity of 2,000 cubic inches. Features include a telescoping handle and padded shoulder strap. This bag earns a rating of 8 points out of 10 from Wired (which translates to "good, with room to kvetch"). It is also recommended as the best duffel bag by a Real Simple magazine editor in a segment on CBS' "The Early Show."
After nearly 400 user reviews on L.L.Bean's website, the Rolling Adventure Duffle earns a rating of 4.2 stars out of a possible 5, with 84 percent of users saying they would recommend it. Users find the bag sturdy, spacious and lightweight, and most say the wheels roll smoothly. Their biggest quibble is that it won't stand upright on its wheeled base. Another major drawback is its 23-inch height, which exceeds the carry-on rules of many airlines. Reviews suggest that most users end up checking this bag and that it generally stands up well to airline baggage handlers. However, in case it doesn't, the Adventure Duffle is backed by L.L.Bean's unconditional lifetime guarantee.
We also found generally positive reviews for the Heys xCase (*Est. $60). Unlike most of the carry-on bags covered in our sources, which have soft fabric sides, this case has a rigid polycarbonate shell. Reviewers at Fodor's say its construction makes the case durable and waterproof, yet very lightweight (a mere 5.3 pounds). However, because the case is rigid, it can't be "expanded or overstuffed" to accommodate a few last-minute purchases. On the other hand, the editors at Real Simple magazine point out that this can be an advantage, too, by making it impossible to pack more than you can comfortably carry. In tests conducted by Good Housekeeping, the Heys xCase gets mixed results: The handles hold up well and the case sheds water easily, reviewers say, but the hard exterior proves vulnerable to dents, cracks and scratches. Users at Amazon.com and eBags.com echo this complaint, and some describe damage to the zippers and handle as well. Several users say that while this bag makes a handy, lightweight carry-on, it should never be checked and subjected to the rigors of airline baggage handling. Overall, user ratings for the Heys xCase are above average, but far from outstanding.