At first glance, the two-piece eBags EXO Hardside Spinner 2pc Set (Est. $300) and the three-piece Traveler's Choice TC5000 Tasmania set (Est. $300) have a lot in common beyond their price. Every piece of each set is made of a patterned polycarbonate "hard" shell that flexes just enough to absorb blows or shock, then returns to its original shape. Each has four dual-caster spinner wheels that roll smoothly and easily on flat surfaces, telescoping handles, and built-in, TSA-approved combination locks.
Reviewers say that the carry-on for both sets will usually fit in the overhead compartment for domestic flights but may sometimes be too large for international flights or use on small planes. And finally, both models have handles that telescope far enough to be of use for people taller than 6 feet. The Traveler's Choice set handles reach to 42 inches and, while eBags doesn't give specific handle measurements for its EXO set, one user points out that even the smaller of the two bags is tall enough for her 6-foot-5-inch husband to comfortably manipulate in the airport.
But when you look a little closer, key differences in how those similar features are put together begin to crop up. Although the Traveler's Choice Tasmania set is one of the most popular luggage sets at Amazon.com and eBags.com, we found a couple of complaints that its handles feel loose, with a little extra play in them when fully extended. By comparison, most users say the eBags EXO can handle just about anything: "Rough ground, smooth tile, bumps, escalators, you name it, they kept on going without a hitch."
If you're a fan of built-in organizers, the Traveler's Choice Tasmania set comes out on top; each bag has a zip-in mesh cover in the lid, two interior zip-close mesh pouches and a center zip pouch. The eBags EXO bags, by comparison, have only one zip-around mesh lid compartment, an adjustable and removable interior divider, and five-point tie-down strap.
The eBags EXO set is backed by a better warranty, though -- lifetime covering, including damage caused by airlines. Several customers back that warranty up with their testimonials, saying they received attentive customer service and prompt replacements when they filed claims. The Traveler's Choice 10-year warranty, on the other hand, covers neither damage caused by airlines nor "misuse."
So what does the Traveler's Choice Tasmania set have going for it? Value is a big plus -- you get three pieces for the same price as two pieces from eBags. With a total combined capacity of about 12,888 cubic inches (and expansion gussets on each bag increase that to 15,362) versus the eBags EXO set's 7,158, it's definitely better for people who need to stow a large amount of clothing or gear. The three interior zip-close pouches also help you keep smaller belongings organized, and each bag also comes with an add-a-bag strap.
With that said, the Traveler's Choice Tasmania luggage seems more prone to dents and scratches than the eBags EXO set. "I received the luggage last week, traveled with it yesterday and the medium-sized spinner suitcase has a dent much larger than a golf ball, but smaller than a softball," writes one woman at eBags.com. Every so often a wheel pops off -- "two of the three bags have come off the conveyor belt missing a wheel in just the first few uses," writes another eBags.com user -- and the metal strip holding the logo seems to be a particular liability, often peeling away from the bag entirely.
If you want a warranty that cheerfully covers damage caused by airlines, however, or telescoping handles that don't rattle, the eBags EXO Hardside Spinner Set is at the top of the list, which is why we select it for best luggage set in this year's report. The Spartan interior design is easily overcome by using increasingly popular packing cubes, although quite a few reviewers like the simple, adjustable internal divider. We give a lot of weight to the cheerfully backed lifetime warranty coverage of airline damage, which is, after all, the way your bags are most likely to be damaged.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Luggage: Which luggage is the best for your needs? Editors name the best rolling, best lightweight, best carry-on, best luggage set and best duffel.
Best Rolling Luggage: What is the best rolling luggage? Editors say eBags, Briggs & Riley and Gregory make the best rolling luggage on the market.
Best Lightweight Luggage: What is the best lightweight luggage? Editors say Osprey and Tumi have the top models of lightweight luggage. Read analysis of expert and user reviews.
Best Carry-On Luggage: Which brands are the best choices for your carry-on luggage? Editors say Patagonia, Red Oxx, Tom Bihn and Mother Lode are the best carry-ons.
Best Duffels: Which duffel bag is the best? Editors say the very best duffel bags are lightweight and capacious -- some even have wheels. L.L.Bean makes the best duffel.
Buying Guide: How do you choose the best luggage? Editors say these are the most important characteristics to look for in all luggage types and price ranges.
Our Sources: Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top luggage, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.