What’s The Best Value Carry On Bag?

I’m not interested in the best at any price, or the cheapest. What I’m interested in is your thoughts on the best value overall – combination of quality and price – for someone who travels quite a lot. On many issues I have firm opinions. Here I will share my tentative thoughts.

For a carry on bag I want four wheels. I used to be a 2 week guy, because I’m resistant to change. But I find four wheels much better for navigating around airports easily week after week.

  • Bargain: Delsey Helium at $129 or less. The ones I’ve had have been good without breaking the bank. They don’t have the sturdy construction of more expensive bags, but they’re a real upgrade from the ‘whatever is cheapest’ bags I used to buy in my earlier years.

  • Sweet spot: I’ve never had a complaint about Briggs & Riley. I’ve had a well-constructed carry on for a decade. This is probably my recommendation at $500.

  • Luxury: About six years ago I bought a Rimowa Salsa Deluxe Cabin Multiwheel for less than $600. I’d never spent anything like that on luggage before, but as often as I use it I figured it amortized across so many uses it was reasonable. I love the bag, and the wheels are sturdy, but price has gotten much higher and their customer service has become quite bad.

The most important thing for a carry on bag is size. Make sure the measurements you are seeing for your bag include the wheels if you want it to fit into an airline sizer. As a result I like smaller bags, that can even fit into larger regional jet overhead bins. If you travel internationally quite a bit, many airlines in the world weigh carry on bags, so you don’t want the bag itself taking up most of the allowable weight. The weight issue for the bag is true for checked bags as well assuming you’re facing a 50 pound limit and pack a lot.

One thing you won’t find in my hard-sided bags is pockets, and that’s a deal-breaker for some. To me, though, that’s what my laptop bag is for. I love doing one night trips with nothing but my laptop bag, and no need for overhead bin space so I don’t need to board until just before doors close. For a three or four day trip the Rimowa is great, and six days on my Briggs & Riley 20″ widebody.

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