LUGGAGE FOR LESS
Ready to restock those worn, old bags? Now that the summer travel rush is over, it's easier to land a deal on everything from small tote bags to larger uprights. Although quality luggage does not come cheap, there are certainly some pieces out there that are easier on the wallet. Cheapism.com has identified eight luggage options, from carry-ons to four-piece sets, with price tags under $150. Don't expect designer names or too many bells and whistles, but these bags offer sturdy enough construction and conveniences such as wheels and well-placed handles. We looked at hard-shell bags and soft-siders, traditional two-wheelers and convenient spinners. Relying on expert and user reviews, we considered durability (especially for those high-use carry-ons), portability, and overall value. Although the lifespans of these models may not be quite as long as those of $300 bags, inexpensive luggage can serve less-frequent travelers quite well, and a low price tag offers at least a little consolation in the event of airline loss or unexpected damage.
ROCKLAND SONIC 3-PIECE SET
Hard-sided bags can be surprisingly lightweight and offer a little more protection for their contents, but they sacrifice convenient exterior pockets and expandability. Travelers who don't mind these trade-offs have a solid choice in the Rockland Sonic 3-Piece Set (starting at $120). This set, which comes in a variety of vivid colors, consists of 28- and 24-inch uprights as well as a smaller 20-inch upright that is carry-on compliant and feather-light at just 6 pounds. The bags have convenient spinner wheels that allow them to roll in any direction. Be forewarned, this low-cost set is made of ABS plastic instead of pricier, more rugged polycarbonate, and some users report cracked shells.
BEST CHEAP LUGGAGE SET: AMERICAN TOURISTER FIELDBROOK II 4-PIECE
It can be hard to find one decent bag for $50, let alone four. Reviewers say the American Tourister Fieldbrook II 4-Piece Set (starting at $50) is indeed a great value that provides travelers a lot of versatility and several colors of soft-sided luggage to choose from. The set consists of a large 25-inch upright, as well as a 21-inch carry-on, a 23-inch rolling duffel, and a tote bag that can slide onto the handle of the upright for easier trips through the airport. Despite the low price, reviewers say the bags roll smoothly on their traditional inline wheels. The fabric is also reportedly tough enough to survive a bit of rough handling. The most frequent complaint: Each bag could be a bit roomier, some owners say.
TRAVELER'S CHOICE TRAVEL SELECT AMSTERDAM 4-PIECE
Travelers on a tight budget who need more room in their bags are not out of luck: The Traveler's Choice Travel Select Amsterdam 4-Piece Set (starting at $81) proves not all big suitcases have big price tags. This set includes two large uprights, a 29-inch and a 25-inch, as well as a 21-inch carry-on and a tote bag that can easily piggyback on one of the bigger pieces. Reviewers say all four bags already have ample room, but the uprights can be expanded further for anyone who needs even more space. The inline wheels roll smoothly, but a handful of consumers claim they broke under normal use. The handles also aren't the sturdiest, some say.
KENNETH COLE REACTION OUT OF BOUNDS 20-INCH UPRIGHT
The Kenneth Cole Reaction Out of Bounds 20-Inch Upright (starting at $55) is no longer being made, but it's still available from major online retailers, and user reviews declare it an unbelievable value for anyone who wants a hard-sided carry-on. At just 7 pounds, it's very light, allowing travelers to breeze through the airport. It also has spinner wheels for effortless maneuvering and a roomy interior. While it's not made of polycarbonate, users give the casing reasonably good marks for durability. However, there are a few complaints about busted wheels and zippers, and some wish the designer had thought to add a few more interior pockets to better sort travel sundries.
SAMSONITE WINFIELD 2 FASHION 20-INCH SPINNER
Frequent travelers who want to invest in a durable polycarbonate carry-on have a reasonably priced option in the 20-inch Samsonite Winfield 2 Fashion 20-Inch Spinner (starting at $90). Spinner wheels make it ideal for snaking through serpentine security lines, and at just 6.7 pounds, it's fairly light for its kind. Reviewers also say the case's divided sides and mesh pockets make it easy to stay organized, but they miss a couple of features: There are no exterior compartments, particularly lamentable in a carry-on, and no handle on the side for hefting the bag out of a trunk or overhead bin. Owners do commend the appearance of this hard-sided bag, complimenting the "brushed" finish and upscale aesthetic.
ROCKLAND RIO 2-PIECE SET
Luggage doesn't get much cheaper than the Rockland Rio 2-Piece Set (starting at $38), which includes a carry-on-size upright and a tote bag. Both bags in this set are fairly small, but some say the compact sizing of the 19-inch upright makes it particularly well-suited for travel overseas, where onboard baggage regulations tend to be stricter, and the width can be expanded by about 2 inches if necessary. Users also praise the easy access and convenient size of the upright's two outer pockets, while the tote provides bonus room and slips nicely over the larger bag's retractable handle for easier carrying. Unsurprisingly, there are some durability complaints, but the bags should work well for occasional weekend jaunts. Their small size, light weight, and huge range of colors and patterns also make them a popular choice for kids who want an upgrade from the usual duffel bags.
BEST CHEAP CARRY-ON FOR COSTCO MEMBERS: KIRKLAND SIGNATURE UPRIGHT 21.5-INCH CARRY-ON
Add the Kirkland Signature Upright 21.5-Inch Carry-On (starting at $100) to the list of great buys at Costco. Despite its relatively low price tag, this is a bag that can last, according to reviewers, including more frequent travelers. Users particularly compliment the thick, tear-resistant fabric and large, reinforced inline wheels. This bag is also hard to tip over, even when it's absolutely stuffed. But some travel experts warn that it might skirt some airlines' carry-on size limits by about an inch. It also looks slightly bulky and, at over 11 pounds, it's among the heavier carry-ons out there. Still, the price-to-performance ratio is right.
BEST CHEAP CARRY-ON: TRAVELPRO MAXLITE 4 22-INCH EXPANDABLE ROLLABOARD
Most travelers look for a few crucial things in a carry-on. It should be light, easy to roll, and small enough to avoid the dreaded gate-check. Reviewers say the 6-pound Travelpro Maxlite 4 22-Inch Expandable Rollaboard (starting at $110) is all those things, with one big bonus: It's expandable enough to fit last-minute souvenirs. Reinforced corners and well-padded handles help this soft-sided, two-wheeled bag stand up to occasional rough handling, although it may sometimes tip when it's overstuffed. More important for some is the sleek, streamlined styling. A tapered shape and aluminum handle make this bag look anything but cheap.