Cheap luggage or expensive luggage?

It's spring! Don't you just feel like hitting the road? Well, maybe you do if you don't travel for a living.

Either way, luggage. I've had my fair share of experiences with luggage over the years. Lost luggage, broken luggage, matching luggage — you name it. Currently, I travel with a non-descript, black roller that I can barely distinguish from anyone else's. I bought it for $49 at Target in 2008. It replaced a smaller roller that lasted two trips and cost all of $19. (No wonder, right?)

I can get away (haha) with a $49 roller because I don't travel a lot these days. If anything, it's a weekend jaunt to visit family and friends every six months or so. I expect I will have to buy something new later this year because one of the wheels is shot and it wobbles when I walk too fast. (It doesn't just wobble, actually. It starts to wobble. And then if you don't slow down or stop, the wobbling gets more and more violent until it actually flips itself over! It's really fun when your flight was delayed and you have 10 minutes to get to your next flight on a different concourse.)

To Wobble or Not to Wobble?

Since I don't expect to be traveling any more frequently than I do right now, I'm not likely to spend a lot for a replacement.

But if my job required it or my vacations were a little more involved like Holly's family vacations, I think I would buy more expensive luggage. My husband, Terry, travels a lot for work — and he swears by his expensive brand.

I have to admit that more expensive luggage has its advantages. Of course, it tends to last a lot longer. Terry bought his set in 2012, and it still looks like new. That, and it is just well-designed for the business traveler. The important, frequently used things you travel with are within easy reach and there is no wasted space.

Still, he had to convince himself that it was the right way to spend his money. His work has always involved a lot of travel. And before he decided to invest in the expensive brand, he would spend about $80 to $100 every year replacing his worn-out luggage. The expensive brand cost about $500 and came with a lifetime warranty. I don't think he will ever go back to cheaper luggage now.

Luggage always tells a story. It used to be that you'd plaster it with stickers from the places you had seen. Even empty, it was heavy and sturdy. Sometimes it was musty from being on the rafters in the garage too long. Before then, people traveled with a trunk. Holy cow! Now, it's designer luggage or hard-sided, spinning luggage or super hero luggage (my personal favorite). My kind of luggage has no story to tell, no personality whatsoever. What a waste! Maybe I should wait for luggage that hovers over the ground so you only have to move your hand slightly to the right or left to get it to move with you as you run to the next plane. I had best start saving now! 😉

Do you buy cheap luggage or expensive luggage? How much do you spend, and is it worth it? Tell us your luggage stories in the comments below!

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nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
5 years ago

Expensive-ish (Samsonite) luggage on online Black Friday sales. Totally worth it. Especially when bought by a relative as a present. We did have some great luggage from Target that we got as a super-cheap set, but it finally broke down and we haven’t been able to find decent quality cheap luggage to replace it. Although the kids have some pretty nice kid-sized luggage from Target. Cheap luggage tends to be hit or miss. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. Expensive luggage is also hit or miss, but at least you can get hits by checking out online reviews and… Read more »

Jerome
Jerome
5 years ago

I have travelled the world for my work for 12 years. Of those 12 years, the first 2 years where full-tiime travelling between Europe, USA and Japan. After that I travelled about 50-70% of the time. I started with a set of Samsonite Oysters and a cabin-bag. The Oysters served me very well, were very sturdy and protected the content very well but looked well travelled (=tatty) after a while. In my experience though deciding what you take and what you do not take with you is more important. I started travelling with 2 suitcases and 1 bag, and the… Read more »

Beth
Beth
5 years ago

It helps to look at it from a cost per use perspective. I spent $150 on a good quality suitcase I had for 12 years and used several times a year. If I used it just five times a year — that’s 60 uses — that’s $2.50 per use. Based on my needs, that’s better value than Linda’s $19 suitcase that she used twice ($9.50 per use). I also think “cheap” versus “expensive” is a false dichotomy. There’s a spectrum of prices and quality. I aimed for somewhere in the middle — something that was good enough quality that it… Read more »

Rail
Rail
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Since I’m a “Rail”(railroad employee) and am employed as a locomotive engineer in over the road freight service I am basically on the road every day. Our “grips” as we call them are put up to tremendous abuse as we literally live out of them for 20-40 years. Some Rails will buy Goodwill stuff or cheap junk and keep buying new grips fairly regularly. I’m in the camp of buying quality made grips that are designed for railroad use and have the features and functions that make things handy. Buy quality, buy once, and use the tax write off. P.S.… Read more »

Melissa
Melissa
5 years ago

I think, more important than cost, is the quality of suitcase matches the type of travel you do. I backpack when I go to Europe, so I have an expensive but sturdy backpack that suits my needs. My rolling luggage (Delsey hard-side) on the other hand is excellent quality, but was purchased at a warehouse sale price because it gets used less often and is rarely checked, so the sturdiness was less important. I will note, however, that 4-wheel spinning luggage will change your traveling life.

Ankit
Ankit
5 years ago

My family and i traveled to India every 2-3 years and we prefer not so expensive bags.. usually after 2-3 trips we end up replacing them.. so we tried to go with cheaper bags with intention of using them only 2-3 time at max.

Hannah
Hannah
5 years ago

I buy all my luggage at TJMaxx/Marshalls – name brands at very discounted prices. I have 3 sizes of HEYS polycarbonate suitcases that have lasted for years of work travel – and I paid probably about $120 for the three.

Andrew
Andrew
5 years ago

Bags? Where we’re going we don’t need bags. I second the advice of Jerome to work toward a single carry on. When I travel to really travel, I will take only a small backpack, a lesson learned from hiking bit sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s amazing what a comfort it is to be able to have everything with you, all the time, and for it not be be a burden. And when the amount of stuff you carry is negligible, any old school rucksack will do. Honestly, I’ve bought little luggage, i’ve used stuff from thrift shops and… Read more »

Drew
Drew
5 years ago

I always go with the strategy of finding a decent suitcase at Goodwill, have purchased 4 or 5 nice suitcases for my family there. Pay $10 for a mid to high end suitcase with some cosmetic issues, but still solid. Gives you the best of both worlds.

Doug P.
Doug P.
5 years ago

It’s like most anything else. If I need a tool only very occasionally I might buy it at Harbor Freight (generally cheap, lower quality, poor craftsmanship, etc.). However, if I am going to need it regularly, depend on it for work, use it to protect or provide for my family, etc., then I am going to buy quality (which often correlates with ‘expensive).

Sara
Sara
5 years ago

The Christmas before I left for college, my mom’s big gift to me was a really good set of luggage. 10 years, 6 countries and dozens of flights later, it looks as good as the day it was bought. The wheels work great, despite the fact that they have rolled down cobblestone streets and up dirt roads, and the zippers still hold no matter how many pairs of shoes I shove in. Absolutely an investment worth making!

Jean
Jean
5 years ago

I think Melissa has a good point. I remember Martha Stewart saying, “Buy well, buy once.” That goes back to Beth’s comment on cost per use. I know that our crew members (I work for an airline) spend about $300 on their rollerboards and they’re used roughly 15 days/month – but they’re soft-sided, so I don’t know how often they have to replace them. Again, it goes back to cost per use. I’d rather spend a little more money to have something that’s going to last longer, especially on something that will get used a lot. If you have to… Read more »

June
June
5 years ago

It’s not that I recommend cheap, it’s just that cheap has served me SO well! I bought a forest green (excellent–not black! easily spotted!) rollerboard at Target which was marked down and had a 10 year warranty. I think it was either $7 or $10. Yes, that’s correct! I’ve used it for about 12 years (not heavy travel, but it’s been used a fair amount) and it’s falling apart. Sad. THEN I was shopping at a second hand store and saw the IDENTICAL suitcase for $12. Damn! More than I paid for it new! But it looked pretty new, so… Read more »

Claire
Claire
5 years ago

Before our honeymoon, we invested in 2 quality bags that had a lifetime replacement warranty. Unfortunately, that company went out of business (and there goes the warranty) right before one of the bags broke. Argh! (Stupid baggage handlers.) The other bag is still fine though and keeps working well after 7 years, numerous road trips, and a few plane trips.

Kayla @ Femme Frugality
Kayla @ Femme Frugality
5 years ago

I don’t travel too often and I bought my first luggage set in 2011 when I had several travelling occasions for job interviews, etc. I paid just over $150 for my set and it still looks and works great. I don’t travel too often though, but when I do it’s nice to know that my luggage will withstand the abuse. 🙂

Lacey
Lacey
5 years ago

I identify the features I need, and then look for a sturdy suitcase at a reasonable price (less than $50 for one bag). I only carry-on, which means it takes less of a beating. I like 4 wheels and hard sides. I read recently that 4 wheels means if you DO check your bag, handlers give it a push to roll it from the front of the plane to the back, instead of chucking it like the two wheelers.

Alexis
Alexis
5 years ago

Expensive luggage all the way! If your cheap luggage breaks, you might have to waste half a day of your vacation, paying a premium to buy whatever luggage is affordable.

Not only did my Victorinox come with a lifetime warranty, it is incredibly sturdy and light. The wheels work well. The zipper is dependable. I’ve had it for 5 years and it still works like new. There’s a bit of dust on one side.

Kevin
Kevin
5 years ago

2 trips a year? Go for inexpensive (but not cheap). Or have your husband talk to his co-workers/business contacts and ask if any of them are looking to upgrade their luggage soon. They might sell you a good set of serviceable pieces at a nice price.

Kai Jones
Kai Jones
5 years ago

It’s all very well to recommend one bag, but people have different needs. I have chronic illnesses and I can fill up a cabin size bag with just my prescription meds and the CPAP required for sleep apnea. And all those things must travel in the cabin (pressurized compartment). A second carryon brings my laptop, phone, and charging cables (not willing to trust my laptop to checked baggage). Then I always check one bag for clothing and toiletries. As for expense-I’ve found cheap luggage that lasted 10 or more years and expensive luggage that didn’t last 2 years. I try… Read more »

againstthegrain
againstthegrain
5 years ago

My family’s typical travel habits require sturdy luggage that isn’t going to fail mid-trip. My husband travels domestically and overseas for his profession (research science) and we occasionally accompany him. Our extended families live either on the other side of the US from where we live, or overseas. Sometimes we combine our family visits with my husband’s work trips. More often than not our travels are long-distance, multi-city or country, not only by air but also utilizing a variety of public ground transportation options. Cheaply made luggage from Target and TJMaxx, etc., just hasn’t held up up well with the… Read more »

JK
JK
5 years ago

I travel a lot. 50,000 miles already this year. For business, I use a nicer carry-on in the $200-300 range. But not something flashy or nutty expensive. Needs to look presentable since often run into people I know at the airport or travel with colleagues. For vacations and private travel we go the TJ Max and buy what looks sturdy, usually they arent expensive. Needs to be “check-in compatible” – i.e. nothing that could tear off, no loose gimmicks etc. They tend to survive 3-4 air travel vacations, then they die. In my experience more expensive brands dont do any… Read more »

Jess
Jess
5 years ago

Yes and no – we bought a very expensive name-brand set (small/carry on size, medium, large suitcases plus matching shoulder tote) for less than $200 on woot.com. I’ve gotten nothing but compliments on them, the suitcases nest perfectly (as well they should!), and each case came with a small plastic toiletry case. The buckle to one of the straps inside one of the bags broke, but I think my husband was a little aggressive with his buckling, TBH. I don’t have many complaints – the cases roll on four wheels (stand-up instead of pull-behind-you) which is a little annoying on… Read more »

Julie
Julie
5 years ago

For some reason I really liked this topic and would enjoy seeing more posts along this line.

paul
paul
5 years ago

I agree with the reliable / presentable / but not flashy carryon. I have a nice leather one bought on sale at TJMaxx. Like having a decent emergency fund, there is a certain value to knowing that you’re not going to be looking at your underwear and sweater coming to meet you on the baggage carousel separate from your less durable bag that gave up the ghost at the hands of baggage handlers.

Belle
Belle
5 years ago

I have spent way more time than I would like to admit trying to nail down the solution to this problem and don’t feel like I’ve gotten any closer to the solution. We travel all the damn time. I’m lucky enough to be in a job where we live internationally for reasonably long periods of time — which means we have to get there (an enormous undertaking involving maxing the baggage allowance for our family because whatever we schlep with us is what we have to live with for the next 3-5 months) and then travel as much as we… Read more »

Jeanbe
Jeanbe
5 years ago

I have two Ricardo of Hollywood luggage pieces. The 20″ and a 28″ (I think) and use the 20″ the majority of the time. I find the 28″, aka “the condo” to be too large for the majority of my needs and purchased it for a cruise. I also travel with a backpack that holds a days worth of clothes, laptop and meds should my bag get lost. Yes, I do usually check the 20″. Both are about 15 years old and were purchased at Stein Mart and both for way under $100. Absolutely love them. Since I’m a pretty… Read more »

vince
vince
5 years ago

Ummmm. I don’t even own luggage. I guess I have not officially entered adulthood yet haha. I just use a duffle bag and it can be a pain lugging it around sometimes. I wish I had that wobbly wheel of yours haha.

Olga King
Olga King
5 years ago
Reply to  vince

I only own a duffle bag, never check it in, can go for 2 weeks, have it over shoulder, it fits in a smallest of space, and much easier to carry when in a hurry than trying to run to catch a plain with a wheeled thing. Keep it simple.

Beth
Beth
5 years ago
Reply to  vince

I used a duffle bag throughout university – it was great! However, I bought luggage with wheels a couple of years later following a shoulder injury and now ! wouldn’t go without it!

Olga King
Olga King
5 years ago

Pack ultra-light. The luggage won’t matter much. Unless I am going backpacking for a week (not car camping), I never even check in. That includes abroad travel. And traveling with kids (now in the past).

Perception Finance
Perception Finance
5 years ago

I always pack more than I need to, so I bought a smaller bag that means I have less stuff.

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

Most of my luggage are either hand-me-downs or purchased at Ross/Marshall’s. My favorite is a small, older American Tourister suitcase that stood the test of time. I’ve never been a light packer. Between the medication that I have to take on board and check in with TSA (sometimes syringes and liquids) and beauty/hair products in amounts that I need to check in because its over the limit, I usually have one checked in luggage and one carry on. If its only a couple of nights, I only need a carry on. Call me high maintenance if you want. 🙂

Janette
Janette
5 years ago

Traveled 280 days a year.
Went for a “top line” bag. It was destroyed by baggage handlers the second trip. Went back to my old (and I mean old) soft sided Samsonite. it lasted the rest of my three years on the road.

Melissa
Melissa
5 years ago

I actually don’t buy super expensive luggage, but maybe that’s because I buy during sales (either Black Friday or I track the price changes on Amazon). I do buy good luggage though – I learned my lesson when I traveled to Spain and wanted to die carrying my 50 lb. bag on cobble stone streets. Die.

Since then, I buy sturdy, well-made pieces that have thick wheels and wheels that can move in all directions. I have enough to deal with when traveling – my luggage needs to accommodate me, not the other way around! 🙂

Patti
Patti
5 years ago

I bought a set of TravelPro nearly 12yrs ago. Medium in price from QVC. It made untold business trips, 3 deployments to the Middle East which included trips back to the US every 3mos in not so ideal conditions. Sometimes they were loaded on a pallet, they could be on the bottom or top, with other cargo and then dumped in the desert for me to find and drag to catch the next mode of transportation. When in the ME I used them to store things that I had to ship to myself, Puffs, vicks, aspirin, extra towels, etc,to make… Read more »

Claudio Breazeal
Claudio Breazeal
5 years ago

I travel several times a year, but we’ve had the same cheap ($150 for a set of three) pieces for a several years now. They’re flexible polycarbonate, bought at Costco and Target. It’s true that zippers will eventually fail, but they can be tested before purchase. Large, heavy-duty zippers last well. And according to me good luggage worth buying. Thanks for sharing.

Michelle
Michelle
5 years ago

I am a big fan of the house brand from the outdoor store REI. It isn’t “cheap” like Marshalls/TJ Maxx but in my opinion the price is quite reasonable for the quality, and they offer 20% off member coupons several times a year. It isn’t over the top expensive designer luggage or real tech-y looking stuff…kind of no-frills looking, but it is durable, functional and practical. I have been very happy with my wheeled luggage and travel backpacks purchased there, they have lasted for years.

Julien Lamarche
Julien Lamarche
5 years ago

What I can’t believe is how every luggage maker assumes I’ll be taking a taxi or car once I’m at my destination city. I have yet to see a suitcase with large rubber wheels suitable for sidewalks. If you have seen one please let me know in the comments. Thank you!

gizmosdad
gizmosdad
5 years ago

I actually have a mix. I travel 80 – 90% of the time for work, and I have a most-excellent glider that I purchased 5 years ago. Small enough to carry-on, it serves me well for trips 2- 5 days long. Very high quality, and it’s been my constant companion for the past 400,000 miles. However, last week, I went on vacation with my wife to Mexico. I went to Walmart and bought a cheap but giant suitcase to hold all of our excess luggage (things like pool noodles and floatation beds). It cost just $40, and I don’t expect… Read more »

Sustainingthegood
Sustainingthegood
5 years ago

This is a really tough question. I have a hiking-type backpack that I use for travel – maybe 5 or 6 trips a year – and that works for me. I have had this bag for about 5 years and it is in great shape. I think it helps that I don’t check it. Not everyone likes to carry their bag on their shoulders, so roller bags are necessary. I have a co-worker who is a road warrior and goes through 2 suitcases each year. I think he actually keeps a spare at home for when his finally fails. Someone… Read more »

Fred
Fred
5 years ago

About 25 years ago, I bought an inexpensive rolling suitcase (Concourse brand) for about $20. I have travelled all over the US with it, along with trips to Canada, England, France, and Italy. It is still in goo shape and I still use it. I currently see one advertised by K-Mart for $19.99 (don’t know if it’s the same quality).

My only advice is never pick up luggage by its extension handle.

victoria
victoria
5 years ago

We had a four-piece nondescript set we got from Target. It lasted maybe five years before it started falling apart.

We then read a bunch of reviews and decided to get one Tumi carry-on hard case, which we found on a decent sale. It’s spendy, but it gets used at least monthly for business travel (plus the occasional family trip); we expect it to last at least 15 years, and if we need overflow we just use whatever backpacks we have around.

Lori Q
Lori Q
5 years ago

I travel for work nearly every week, and have been doing so, on and off, for 20+ years. I purchased good luggage as soon as I could afford it. My first Tumi Alpha roll-aboard, purchased from a Tumi outlet store for about $300, lasted for over 1 million air miles of travel. Tumi provided repairs when needed, under warranty, with only a $15 service charge. My current roll-aboard, a Tumi Alpha 2 purchased from tumi.com during a 25%-off sale, is holding up well after nearly two years of weekly travel. I’ve purchased cheap bags when I need them. I got… Read more »

Accept CreditCards
Accept CreditCards
5 years ago

For me I would go for an expensive luggage. I’d go for Quality luggage rather than the ones that can be used only twice.

Becky
Becky
4 years ago

Partially it depends on how much you travel. I travel often so I go with quality, and I do think more expensive pieces are generally made better.
For me it’s a little like buying a handbag. Not only do I want it to look nice, I want quality material, hardware, stitching and especially in luggage a decent warranty.

Jeremy Medlock
Jeremy Medlock
3 years ago

anyone looked into buying pelican cases for luggage use? as long as you buy an actual transit case and not their new line of travel luggage it has a lifetime unconditional warranty. expensive but indestructable for the most part

R100
R100
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Medlock

I own many Pelicans for production gear but wouldn’t recommend them for any luggage that isn’t fragile enough to warrant using them.
A) They look like whatever is in them is worth money
B) They a very rigid and don’t fit that much for their size

That said, if you need to protect delicate items, they are great. I recommend the new featherlight series carry-ons. They are fully waterproof and double as a set.

Dom Reidman
Dom Reidman
3 years ago

having a nice luggage can actually work against you especially if you travel international. They look for nice bags to look thru or even try to shake people down at airport. As general rule, try not to stand out when traveling int’l with nice luggage or expensive jewelry on.

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