Reviewers recommend Eagle Creek luggage more than any other brand, and they say the Eagle Creek Tarmac 22 (*Est. $280) is a particularly great wheeled carry-on pick. It's lightweight, sturdily built and carries an unconditional lifetime warranty that even covers airline damage. A tester at Wired is impressed by this bag's "knobby" tires, which handle concrete, carpet or dirt with ease. The Tarmac 22 carry-on also features coil zippers, multiple grab handles and interior compression "wings" to help you maximize the amount you can squeeze into this small bag. However, the multitude of interior pockets and compartments that caught the fancy of reviewers at Wired and USA Today are no longer a part of this bag, which has since been redesigned. Instead, it has a single large interior compartment with a couple of flat pockets in the lid. Though the bag remains highly rated, that change is not a positive -- the most common complaint we saw in user reviews is that this bag does not have enough pockets to help with organization.
At 14 by 9 by 22 inches, the Tarmac 22 just meets the normal airline size limit for carry-ons. However, when expanded, it grows a couple of inches deeper. A couple of users at Amazon.com report having trouble fitting the bag into overhead bins. For those who want to make absolutely sure their bag fits in the bin, a 20-inch Eagle Creek Tarmac (*Est. $275) carry-on is also available. A bigger version, the Eagle Creek Tarmac 25 (*Est. $310), wins a head-to-head durability test against four other lightweight suitcases at CNNMoney.com, which reports that its nylon shell "never ripped or even scuffed."
The ultimate frequent travelers -- pilots and flight attendants -- often say they use Travelpro, the original wheeled luggage invented by a Northwest Airlines pilot in 1987. We found good user reviews of the Travelpro Crew 8 22-inch Expandable Rollaboard Suiter (*Est. $160) at Amazon.com and LuggageOnline.com. (An older model, the Crew 6, is named the runner-up wheeled bag in a segment on the CBS news program "The Early Show.") The smaller Travelpro Crew 8 20-inch Expandable Rollaboard Suiter (*Est. $150) is also popular at LuggageOnline.com and is named the best bag for business travel in a roundup of rolling bags in Real Simple magazine. One especially popular feature on this bag is the "business organizer" pocket, with compartments for a smartphone and laptop -- although some users say larger laptops might not fit.
Users say both Crew 8 bags are sturdy and lightweight, and they hold a surprising amount for their size. They also find the bags easy to maneuver. The handles seem to be the bags' weakest point; we saw several reports that they either broke or got stuck. A few users who have owned older Travelpro bags say the brand's quality has dropped in recent years; compared with the older Crew 4 and Crew 5 bags, they say, the Crew 8 has fewer organizational features and flimsier construction. However, most owners are happy with the Crew 8 line.
Another rolling suitcase that fares well in both professional and user reviews is the eBags Mother Lode TLS Junior 25\" Wheeled Duffel (*Est. $200). This bag has one large main section with a smaller top pocket, and it comes with movable shelves to help you organize your belongings. Ted Alan Stedman of Outside magazine recommends the Mother Lode TLS Junior in the 2010 Summer Buyers' Guide, describing it as a sturdy and practical all-purpose case with "rock steady" wheels. At 25.5 by 16 by 14 inches, this bag exceeds the maximum size for carry-ons, although some owners at eBags.com say they have managed to squeeze it into the bin. Users generally describe this bag as durable, lightweight and incredibly roomy. The biggest downside they report is the lack of a side handle. For those who prefer a carry-on, eBags also offers the smaller Mother Lode TLS Mini 21-inch Wheeled Duffel (*Est. $190), which gets equally enthusiastic feedback from users.
For infrequent travelers, experts at Fodors.com say even discount-store luggage should be fine. However, if you travel more than once or twice a year -- or if a broken zipper or lost wheel would ruin your trip of a lifetime -- then travel experts say it's worth investing in more substantial (and often more expensive) luggage, preferably with a lifetime warranty that covers accidental damage (like the Eagle Creek bags above). Owners generally report more quality-related flaws with budget luggage; the zippers, wheels and handle are most apt to cause problems.
Still, there's a difference between high-quality luggage, which typically falls into the $100 to $300 range, and "luxury" luggage, which can cost anywhere from $300 to $2,000 for a single bag. Luxury brands, such as Briggs & Riley, Hartmann and Tumi, distinguish themselves by their styling and attention to detail. However, their high price tags don't necessarily guarantee better quality. In one test conducted by CNNMoney.com, for instance, a Tumi carry-on bag receives a D grade after a round of battering produces a hole in the nylon and exposes part of the internal frame. By contrast, a Delsey bag costing one-quarter as much receives a grade of B-minus. In the forums at FlyerTalk.com, frequent travelers praise Briggs & Riley bags in general, but Tumi seems to get more negative comments than positive ones. No single piece of luggage made by these high-end brands earns as many favorable reviews as the top-rated Eagle Creek Tarmac 22 or Red Oxx Air Boss -- or even the top budget-priced bags from L.L.Bean and eBags.
One feature that used to set luxury bags apart from their lower-priced counterparts was their lifetime warranties, which insured travelers not only against manufacturing defects, but also against damage caused by aggressive airline baggage handlers. However, lifetime guarantees of this kind are no longer limited to high-end brands. Red Oxx, a midrange brand, offers an unconditional lifetime warranty on all its products, as does bargain brand L.L.Bean. The midrange brand Eagle Creek also offers a "no matter what" warranty on some of its bags. Tumi, by contrast, now offers only a five-year warranty -- and accidental damage is covered during the first year only.