Are you hanging on to that old carry-on bag? Maybe it’s time to upgrade to a new, lighter weight, more efficient one. New technology, new and improved features, and ever-rising checked baggage fees are just a few of the reasons why you may want to consider an upgrade before your next flight. A well designed carry on bag might just save you money in airline checked baggage fees.
But where to begin? What features are most important? How do you choose the right carry on bag? A bag that just might help you avoid those unpleasant checked bag fees? Here’s a few tips and tidbits to jumpstart your own search for a new carry on.
Six Must Have Carry-On Bag Features
Over the years, I’ve had great carry on bags – and some not so great. I’ve learned what’s worked for me, and what hasn’t. And I’ve learned that a great carry on bag needn’t cost a fortune. What it does need, though, are quality, well designed features that will have you sailing through that airport with the greatest of ease. The six carry on bag features I pay extra attention to are:
1. Meets Airline Carry On Baggage Rules
When shopping for a new carry-on bag, make sure it meets the “45 inch rule.” Most airlines currently require a carry-on bag to be no more more than 45 inches in total dimensions – depth plus width plus height. Typical carry-on luggage dimensions are 9 inches (depth), 14 inches (width) and 22 inches (height), for a grand total of 45 inches. If a bag’s dimension exceeds one of these numbers, it might not make it to your seat.
Rule of thumb – Check before you buy. Add together the depth, width and height. Don’t find yourself at the airport checking your carry on because it exceeds the “45 inch rule!”
2. Rugged, Easy-To-Roll Wheels
Well designed wheels are key to a smooth rolling bag. Wheels shouldn’t stick and jam at every turn, and they need to withstand the abuse they are bound to receive. Read the reviews – luggage wheels are often the first complaint consumers will have. Then give the bag a test run. Literally! Run it down the store aisle, turn a corner. Flip the bag upside down and spin the wheels.
Four wheels or two? That depends. Four-wheeled bags can be more stable, but may not roll through an airport as easily as a two wheeled bag. And there are more moving parts to break. A well designed two-wheeled bag can be as stable as a four-wheeled bag, and may cost less. As long as the wheels are well designed, pick the bag that works best for you.
3. Made With High-tech Composite Fabrics
We’ve all seen it. That poor traveler whose suitcase blew up somewhere between start and finish. Don’t let that be you. Look for bags that are made of ballistic-style fabrics and strong, sturdy zippers. Not only are they lighter-weight, they can withstand the abusive attention they’re sure to get. Especially if you have to check that bag. You don’t want it tearing open en-route, spilling your personal goodies all over the luggage carousel!
Hard shell or soft? Each has its advantage. A hard shell bag might better protect its contents, but typically does not have external pockets and weighs more. A soft shell bag can be compacted down for better fit into overhead bins or underneath seats, but can make fragile items inside the bag more vulnerable.
4. Lots of Easily Accessible Outside Pockets
A must for any airline traveler, especially one who’s keeping kids entertained en-route. Well designed external pockets are great places to stash items you might need to quickly access. Boarding passes, books, magazines, snacks, and a bag of handy “clean ’em up” items for those messy kid moments – yep, that’s what’s in my luggage pockets. Well designed external pockets can avoid the need to open up the main compartment, risking spillage on top of unsuspecting passengers.
5. A Spacious, Easy-To-Access Interior
My preference is for carry-on bags designed with a wider body but shorter depth. They’re easier to pack and easier to access the items inside. Also check out the internal pockets – the more the merrier! Internal pockets can help keep your smaller travel goodies from getting lost inside the bag, and they reduce the need to rifle through everything whenever you need something.
Don’t forget to test the zippers too. A failed zipper means a failed suitcase.
6. Smooth-n-Easy Telescoping Handles
The handles go up to pull the bag through the airport. The handles go down to place the bag into the overhead bin. You get the picture. Without a smooth telescoping handle, that bag might just be a pain to bring along. And if you have a family of multiple heights, as we do, you might also want to have handles that can be adjusted to different heights.
My Carry On Luggage Style
It’s all about extra design features! I love outside pockets to stuff snacks, books and boarding passes into, as well as cords and cables to attach smaller bags, jackets and sweatshirts en-route. I want easy access to the items I might use during the flight without having to open the main compartment. I want a bag that’s easily distinguished from other bags. So what carry on bags am I styling when I travel?
The Eagle Creek Ease – My Newest Carry-On
The Eagle Creek Ease Carry-On is our “basic black suited for business” carry on bag. Full retail price is about $300, but you shouldn’t pay that much. Shop around – it’s out there for much less. I purchased my 21″ Ease from Sierra Trading Post for $189. Add in a Sierra Trading Post coupon, and my final price was $123. Cha-ching!
We’ve used the bag twice now. Love it! It’s very stable, even with just two-wheels, and the extra pockets fit all my needs. Oh, and my husband fit a week’s worth of clothes on a recent business trip. Yep, that saved checked baggage fees for sure!
The LLBean QuickLoad – A Cost Effective Carry-On
We have two LLBean QuickLoad Upright Duffle carry-on bags. Our first one is now five years old and still traveling. We added a second one two years ago when my youngest began pulling his own weight. Literally, as in his own bag. This red one to be exact! Easy to spot in a crowded room.
My favorite feature is how the bag opens. It’s easy to live out of the Quickload. No more kids yelling, “Mom where’s my —” Ok, that’s not true. They still can’t find their stuff. But that’s a function of them, not the suitcase! 🙂
Two Pricier Carry-On Bags Worth Considering
In my recent quest for a new carry-on, I test drove several carry on bags. These two bags almost made the cut – The Timbuk2 CoPilot and the Eagle Creek 22″ Load Warrior. Each bag had a feature that stood out from the others. My deciding factor? Price. That was it. I hope to add one of these to my collection one day soon, though!
TravelPro Luggage is also high quality, and is one one you often see flight crews toting along. Worth a look as well. The TravelPro Maxlite 2 Spinner has a near 5-star rating and is on sale at Amazon for $106.
Traveler’s Luggage Tip – If your luggage is basic black, add a pop of color to distinguish your bag from all the other suitcases. I put a piece of colorful duct tape on our “basic black” bags for easy identification.
So what are you packing on your next trip? Let us know in the Comments section.
Images from Temori09 via Flickr, Eagle Creek, LLBean, and Timbuk2.