Do You Care About Your Luggage, or Just the Contents Inside the Bag?

Luggage, to me, protects the contents and makes them portable. Ideally a bag is durable, easy to maneuver, and the right size — if it’s a carry on bag then it should fit in airplane overhead bins (ideally even large regional jet bins).

Your bag should be sturdy enough to withstand the beating it gets from continued use and the abuse of being overstuffed. If checked it should be able to withstand the abuse it gets from baggage handlers, weather outside on the tarmac, and the TSA. Zippers, even, shouldn’t just break off.

However luggage itself shouldn’t be so valuable that you’re worried about the bag itself rather than its contents.

In fact the last thing I’d want is to walk through the airport with a bag that’s so valuable I’m a mark for scammers, thieves, or other unsavory characters spotting me arriving in a foreign country. Tie a ribbon around your bag to identify it if it’s generic enough you won’t spot it easily at the carousel. But otherwise it’s better to blend in than stand out.

So I’ll never understand why anyone wants exceptionally expensive luggage that stands out in a crowd? Put another way why does anyone want Louis Vuitton luggage anyway?

I understand not wanting to risk checking the contents of a bag, and not wanting to wait around interminably at baggage claim for luggage that may or may not ever arrive — but being mostly concerned about the risk of loss or damage to the bag itself?

When I was younger and traveled less frequently I was a fan of the $30 bag from the discount store that was more or less disposable. As I aged I developed a preference for making sure the bag was the right size and maneuvered easily through the airport; had the right balance so it wasn’t an encumbrance checking in, connecting, and getting out of the terminal as smoothly and efficiently as possible. That meant a better, more functional bag. But it’s still just a bag.

How do you feel about bags: cheapest possible, pay more for something agile, or invest in designer luggage?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. For 3 years (and about 450 segments) I had a cheap POS roller bag I picked up at a thrift store used for $35. Worked fine.

    “Luggage? Meh.” I thought.

    Then two years ago my wife bought me a Tumi spinner.

    Holy. Crap. The difference was night and day. That Tumi bag is so nice and so useful it makes me regret the 3 years of using a cheap bag.

    In the precision rifle world we say “cry once or cry many times”. In other words, buy good gear and cry once or buy cheap gear and cry when it repeatedly fails.

  2. Designers are a waste of money. Travel Pro is just the right size for a carry on. Lightweight, recessed single set of wheels and two forward pockets designed to fit an iPad or small laptop. It’s lightweight and holds a weeks worth of dress clothes. I’ve had it three years and it’s been all over the planet. I’ve gotten my $95 worth out of what I paid for it.

  3. I agree, but I do believe in a higher quality bag that will last. I’m personally a fan of Victorinox for their warranties and quality but I’m sure others have their preferences.

  4. I travel mostly with Tumi as I just like them, but I also have limited edition LV keepall bags which I almost never use. (Bought them because I was in Paris and just wanted random stuff with the VAT discount). But if you’re going to travel with them, know they can get damaged. That’s how it works. If you can’t afford to damage your LV bag, you shouldn’t buy it.

  5. Paying for quality is one thing, paying for a brand in the name of vanity is another. Anyone who buys a Louis Vuitton anything is well above the income:IQ regression line.

  6. I’m clearly hypocritical about it. If an airline were to tell me after they damaged my bag that luggage is designed to protect its contents as an excuse not to pay for damage caused by their negligence, I would be irritated. On the other hand, luggage worth more than the contents seems like lunacy to me.

    As with Alex, Travel Pro fits the bill for me. Light weight. Durable. Replaceable wheels. And the choice of not a spinner. It’s not just that I hate spinner bags; it’s I hate people with spinner bags – slow walking obliviously through the airport with their spinner right beside blocking everyones path.

  7. Briggs and Riley 20″ wide body works great for me for the last 6-7 years. Lifetime free repairs too. I think I paid $200-250 for it. However, I just checked and the price has doubled. I probably wouldn’t pay over $300 for a new bag.

  8. If someone is paying that kind of money for a LV bag, the odds are quite good that they don’t have to worry about it being damaged or stolen by an airline.

    It’s going into the hold of their own private jet.

    And I’ve known of jets that put cloths on the floor and sides of the cargo bin, just to help protect those special bags.

  9. My large Samsonite spinner (checked bag) cost around $300 eleven years ago and is still going strong. It looks a little beaten up but that’s fine as it doesn’t stand out as “special”. But that’s only for long vacations.

    For carry on, yet another vote for the TravelPro. Mine (cost $120) has lasted 4.5 years and I can take a week’s worth of clothes on a business trip and still be under the 7kg carry on weight limit imposed by many overseas (mostly Asian) airlines.

  10. You guys, I can’t believe your heartless utilitarianism. I LOVE my luggage, whatever it happens to be. I just have a weakness for pretty much anything you can put other things inside of. (Things I can’t resist at yard sales – luggage, storage containers, covered sugar bowls shaped like animals, and of course Russian Nesting Dolls). I got my first rolling carry-on back in the 80’s, shortly after they first appeared on the commercial market. It was a sleek little Ciao brand – not especially expensive but really good quality, a nice design, and WHEELS. I loved that thing to death, overstuffed it constantly, and took it everywhere until it finally got so worn out that the zipper just burst apart in the middle of the airport and I had to give in and buy a new one.

    I’ve gone through a couple since, but the one I have now is irreplaceable – a weird overpriced smart roller bag called G-Ro with oversized wheels, 2 charging ports and a removable battery. I inherited it from a dear friend that had a weakness for Kickstarters. It has its good points and its not-so-good points, but I love it and would be devastated if the airline destroyed it. I’m not sure they even sell them anymore. But if the question was, “Is your luggage just an anonymous thing container?” you can guess what my answer is.

  11. I want the lightest durable hard side possible. So both my wife and I have a set of 3 polypropylene spinners. They’ve gone with us to over 60 countries.

    The large one (32”) weighs 6.3 lbs. Weight is everything, especially when going international where bags are almost always weighed. Pounds or kilos in the luggage means less pounds or kilos in the inside.

  12. Everything I pack goes into an Eagle Creek backpack that supports a detachable day pack. The entire ensemble is carry-on.

    I’ve always worried more about losing the bag itself than losing the contents, especially now that Eagle Creek doesn’t seem to make a comparable pack. That thing is genius and I wish there were similar alternatives.

  13. Luggage is a lot like cars: the best value isn’t in the premium product. Once you get much beyond Walmart luggage, you’re mostly buying yourself status. Which is OK: most humans are programmed to be proud peacocks, so let them flaunt their taste and wealth.

    The features of the bag are more important than the brand. I hate spinners. Many (most?) people love them. Some people need light bags. Some people like large outside pockets. Some have a preference for a mesh pocket inside. After awhile, you tend to discover what works for you. I tend to think that paying less is better than paying more. If a more durable bags costs 2x, it’s not likely to last twice as long, so it’s usually better to buy the cheaper, more disposable bag.

  14. I agree with your post. The thing I will disagree with others on is spinners versus the 2 skater wheel style. Part of that is my travel. I find myself in gravel, cobblestones, snow etc. Spinners just don’t cut it. The cheaper 4 wheel bags don’t have good enough wheel quality for sure. To me unless you never leave suburbia and the airport I thing your better off with larger two wheel varieties. I usually buy decent branded Samsonite, Delsey or Travelpro and they last me 5 to 7 years before I retire them .
    I don’t have anything against nice luggage but mostly it’s vanity or a wanna be. I agree that having a flashy bag is asking for theft, scam artist and trouble. The other way I look at the Twitter post is if a guy is so important or rich enough to really afford a LV bag why wasn’t he paying for a seat with better boarding class or flying private.

  15. I’m astonished at the durability, reliability, functionality and company support for the TravelPro Crew9 suiter. Five plus years of use, 700 flight segments and never a problem. I’d pay twice what I paid for that service and functionality, but, fortunately, don’t need to. Like any other product, some folks choose conspicuous consumption over functionality and performance. I guess those folks choose Vuitton. I got a Tumi bag after hitting million miler status and have never used it as it’s simply not as functional as the TP..

  16. I agree with Alex and Woolfie: Travelpro is pretty indestructible, ugly way beyond any desire anyone might have to pinch it, and is as cheap as chips. Perfect.
    Beyond that I’m fond of Delsey, American Tourister, Samsonite, Antler. Very reliable and inexpensive. I wouldn’t buy Tumi in a million years.

  17. Designer luggage is for people who want to constantly replace their luggage as it gets scuffed up. Give me a durable low cost every-day bag over a designer bag any day of the week. Besides designer bags are big “Hey! This person spent money on their bag so there might be goodies inside. Take me” signs for potential theft.

  18. Got two Samsonites that have been treating me well for the past 5-ish years.
    Will buy cheap, but no qualms about spending a little more for quality either. A $300 bag lasting 10 years is a better deal over the long run than a $50 bag that only lasts one.

  19. When I was a college student, I used boxes a lot. Free, doesn’t matter if damaged, big capacity. Airlines often forced me to sign a waiver for damage but not loss. Didn’t matter because clothes and books cannot be damaged except by water.

  20. The only thing that we have ‘checked’ in the last 5 years is cardboard boxes of wine. Protects the wine and disposable on the other end. The weight restrictions for carry on, especially internationally dictates that I have to use the lightest bag that I can find. Fortunately the big name luggage makers haven’t figured that out, so I am able to get light and cheap at the same time. Surprisingly, my most successful bag is the ebags IT 22 inch carry on. It is just pure space, weighs nothing and I think it costs $45. If it crashes, then I will just buy another and move on. The personal bag also has to be light, but the most important feature is the pocket functionality that allows me to form a consistent pattern of where things are and the ability to somewhat secure it when leaving it at a hotel. Delsey does offer a very light 22 inch roller and spinner which I can use when I suspect I will want a little more durability. I like to study what people are dragging and checking at the airports and typically stunned about why they carry such clunky and heavy bags. For me, disposable is the answer.

  21. Let me piss people off buying designer luggage is for people with low self esteem. Buy quality not name.

  22. For the environment, I buy a bag that will last and can be repaired. We bought Briggs and Riley and used for over 30 years with frequent travel and then had to get it repaired.

  23. Like @christine greek — my 25” Briggs & Riley has traveled with me all over the world for over five years and still going strong: no rips, tears, or dings. Army green soft side so I can find it easily on the baggage carousel. And I love the flat interior for more space — no bothersome humps!

  24. If you ever need a giant luggage and what you have isn’t big enough, try Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. If you are worried about your checked luggage getting beat up, the more designer it looks, the more of a target it becomes.
    In the cargo hold and on the conveyor systems, anything is possible.
    For frequent travelers, the internal pockets are key to stress mgmt. Inexpensive luggage will have very few, and good luggage will have many, and those features quickly drive the cost up. The brand name only adds a little cost to a durable functional warrantied bag.

  25. Having a zipper or wheel break in the middle of trip is a major hassle.
    Cheap luggage just is not worth the hassle

    Eagle Creek Bags are light weight and well built. Also they reasonably priced.

    Eagle Creek offers a “No Matter What” warranty so when something is damaged in travel (even if clearly abuse by airline) you can get it fixed. If bag is damaged beyond repair then they will replaced with similar bag or a credit against current model on their website.You just pay shipping to their repair facility in Carlsbad California.

    E-bags often has very lucrative shopping portal offers and good closeout prices on discontinued models.

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