It's becoming almost impossible to find luggage without wheels, even on the smallest bags. And for good reason -- wheeled luggage is extremely convenient because it enables anyone to easily transport a heavy bag through a parking lot and the airport, and on to the gate or baggage check area without strain.
There are two basic kinds of wheeled luggage, spinner, which has four wheels, and fixed, also called inline or roller bags. The latter have two wheels on the bottom of the handle side of the case and rests on the other side so the bag can stand upright. Both have pros and cons. Spinner wheels spin 360 degrees and allow the bag to be pulled behind you, pushed in front of you, or scooted along beside you. Spinner bags are extremely easy to push -- even with one finger. Inline wheels can only be pulled behind you, but they're thought to be more durable and they're easier to wrangle over curbs or other obstacles. In addition, inline wheels add less weight and bulk to a bag. Having said that, manufacturers are working on improving spinner wheels to make them lighter, smaller and tougher.
The clear standout in both spinner and inline wheels in this this category is Travelpro, and, if spinner wheels are your preference, experts and owners say it doesn't get any better than the Travelpro Platinum Magna 21-Inch Expandable Spinner Suiter (Est. $260). Traveler's proprietary magnetic wheel technology solves many of the problems inherent in spinner wheels, namely, that they can make it difficult to control your bag -- spinner wheels tend to drift and "rock" when you pull them. This Magna collection solves that issue by keeping the wheels aligned no matter which direction you're going in.
There are six pieces in Travelpro's Platinum Magma line, but experts say the 21-inch spinner strikes a nice balance between roomy, well-organized packing options and size. At 21 by 14 by 9 inches, it will fit in the overhead bins of most normal-sized planes. Experts and owners say they can pack enough in this expandable suiter for about five days, but it's expandable by two inches if you need to squeeze in a bit more -- although, keep in mind, it may not fit into an overhead bin in when expanded. This 21-inch suitcase includes a removable, tri-fold suiter that is handy for business travelers, and has a good array of other organizational options, including side pockets and a mesh organizer. The two front pockets also earn raves; the larger one will accommodate all but the largest laptops (although it's not a dedicated laptop compartment, so is not padded) and the smaller one gives you quick access to tickets and boarding passes. It's light, too, at just 7.9 pounds.
It's a lot pricier, which is the only thing that keeps it out of our top spot, but if you have the budget for it, a number of experts recommend the Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic Carry-on Expandable Spinner (Est. $520). Reported as roomy, sturdy and durable, this bag is very popular with frequent flyers because it holds up well -- often for years -- and has a great variety of organization options, including a popular, built-in tri-fold garment bag. Its overall dimensions are 22 by 14 by 9 inches, including wheels and handle, and it expands to 11.5 inches. Keep in mind that it may not fit in some overhead bins when expanded, though. Also, at 9.3 pounds, it's heavier than our top pick.
Briggs & Riley is the top-rated luggage brand in a large survey conducted by ConsumerReports.org, and the company is famous for its "Simple as That" lifetime guarantee. Many expert and user reviewers feel that, plus it's extreme durability and unique self-repairing zippers make this luggage line worth the premium price. In addition to the 21-inch bag, the Baseline collection includes totes, international-size carry-ons, duffels, and many other bag styles and sizes.
Victorinox is another popular luggage brand that's well-reviewed by professionals and travelers, and the Victorinox Luggage Avolve 22 (Est. $170) gets raves for its sturdy, balanced design and ease of wheeling it through airports, even over long distances. It's light, only 6.8 pounds, and it has helper handles on the top, side and bottom. It also has a good number of storage features, including two front pockets -- a small one and a large, padded one that will fit up to a 17-inch laptop. The inside features a large compartment with compression straps and a smaller zip pocket. The lid container is a large, zippered, mesh compartment.
The main complaints we saw about the Victorinox Avolve 22-inch bag is that it would not fit in some overhead bins. However, as we have noted, a 22-inch bag is only appropriate for full-size planes, not for the smaller, regional jets that are becoming increasingly common. The Victorinox, like the Samsonite, will expand, but again don't expect it to fit in even a large overhead compartment when it's puffed out to its full capacity.
There are reasons that travelers prefer fixed wheels, also known as inline wheels (think inline skates, which we cover elsewhere on ConsumerSearch), or roller wheels over spinner wheels. They are thought to be sturdier and to add less weight to the bag. Frequent fliers say they are easier to pull, because they don't shift as much as spinner wheels and that they move along more quickly if you have to run with it to catch your flight.
Like our Best Reviewed spinner suitcase, our top pick in this category, the Travelpro Luggage Platinum Magna 22 Inch Expandable Rollaboard Suiter (Est. $200), is part of the Platinum Magna collection, and is very similar in every way. It gets raves from experts and owners for its sturdy wheels and great capacity compared to its relatively small size. Owners say it's super easy to pull, even around the city, on cobbled streets, and up and down curbs and subway stairs. It's also light, at 7.7 pounds, and includes side, bottom and top handles. It has a nice organizational arrangement, including a large front pocket. The interior features a large compartment with compression straps, and a small mesh compartment. The lid is a mesh, zip compartment for storing personal items. This suitcase is expandable by two inches.
Again, in this category, because of its premium price, our runner up is the Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic Carry-on (Est. $500). However, as is the case with its spinner-wheel sibling, plenty of experts and frequent travelers say it's worth it the cost for its sturdy construction, great organizational options, hassle-free warranty and smooth pull. However, a number of reviewers -- even those who otherwise love the bag -- point out that it's bigger than advertised and only fits in the overhead bins of larger planes. That's not a problem for those who like to check their bag (and many people do to avoid the possible hassles of gate-checking), so for them this is a top-quality choice.