Searching for the best value in durable luggage

The internet is the best thing to happen to consumers in decades. Pick a product or service — cars, computers, TVs, cookware, homes, insurance — and chances are you can find tons of ratings, information, and deals to help make an informed decision and save money.

This makes it all the more frustrating when planning to buy one of the handful of products that has eluded internet-induced transparency. I discovered this several years ago when buying a mattress. The internet was largely useless against the industry’s bewildering “specs,” dizzying array of models (many of which are unique to a particular retailer), and creepy throwback salesmen who seemed even creepier because of the information asymmetry inherent to our encounters.

The same frustrations have come up in my recent search for luggage. Smart decisions are tough when facing units of measurement and materials that seem made up (“denier,” “Tricore ballistic nylon”); retailer-exclusive models (making comparison shopping harder); and a dearth of authoritative information (Consumer Reports’s website has a single, subscription-required ratings roundup).

Luggage goes on sale every other week, but as with everything else, holiday sales are usually some of the best of the year. I’ve spent some time scoping out Macy’s (in anticipation of a big sale today, Nov. 18) and other luggage sellers, and I think I’ve come up with a few good options. Of course, now I can’t decide which to get.

The biggest luggage-purchasing decision is whether to get cheaper, less-durable polyester bags or spring for ones made of tougher “ballistic” nylon. (This ConsumerSearch feature provides the best overview and review roundup I could find.) Since my current cheapo luggage ripped and/or lost zippers after an average of two flights, I restricted my search to nylon luggage. As with kitchen knives, the best strategy is to buy individual pieces rather than a set that likely contains pieces you’ll never use.

As a 29-inch suitcase has proven to be comically oversized for us, I focused on 24- to 26-inch suitcases, though we may also get a 20- to 22-incher for solo travel. (Luggage height is also confusing: The Delsey Helium Breeze 2.0 25-inch upright suitcase is labeled as a 26-incher on the tag — and it’s the exact same height as the Victorinox Werks 3.0 “24-inch” upright.)

My pick for best value is the Delsey Helium Breeze 2.0 25/26-inch upright. At $128 during Macy’s sale, it’s the cheapest suitcase of this size that has 1682-denier ballistic nylon fabric. (The suitcase is available for $117 from Ace Photo Digital via Amazon, though I’d stick with Macy’s for potential returns.) Melanie and I also thought this suitcase was more comfortable to handle and had a more useful interior than pricier suitcases.

Click to view a chart comparing luggage prices.

Another good value for a 1680 ballistic nylon bag is the 26-inch Travelpro Walkabout Lite 3 (Duraguard coating versus the Breeze’s Stain Guard coating), for $132 at Amazon. Melanie liked the spinners on the Samsonite Silhouette 11 26-incher ($219 at Amazon, $230 at Macy’s), but we didn’t think the spinners — plus “Tricore” ballistic nylon fabric, whatever that is — are worth $100 more than the Helium Breeze 2.0 suitcase.

The other suitcases high on my list carry lifetime warranties or guarantees: the 25-inch Eagle Creek Tarmac, on sale for $245 at Amazon, and two L.L. Bean suitcases: the Large/26-inch Ballistic Rolling Pullman ($260) and the Large/26-inch Sportsman’s Rolling Pullman ($240). Eagle Creek offers a “no matter what” lifetime damage warranty — if the bag is damaged for any reason, ever, they’ll repair or replace it for free — and L.L. Bean has a strong 100% satisfaction guarantee.

L.L. Bean has stores in my area, which is a plus; an Eagle Creek customer service rep told me that in the case of repair/replacement, the bag owner pays to ship the bag to Eagle Creek but the company pays for shipping back. (REI also has a 100% satisfaction guarantee, and while my brother has used the policy to return both unused and used/damaged items, it seems to me more squishy than the Eagle Creek and L.L. Bean policies.)

The big question is whether a lifetime guarantee is worth an extra $115-$130, or whether the Helium Breeze’s ballistic nylon fabric would prove durable enough. When it comes to electronics and appliances, the typical advice is warranties/service plans aren’t worth it. Here’s Consumer Reports’ reasoning regarding appliance warranties (subscription required):

  • Appliances usually don’t break during their warranty period, typically three years. …
  • When breakdowns occur within the extended-warranty period, the average cost of repairing the appliance is not much more than the average price paid for the warranty.
  • Extended warranties often contain loopholes, such as not covering problems caused by normal wear and tear.

The luggage scenario is a little different. The warranty period is forever, and there are explicitly no loopholes in the Eagle Creek warranty. L.L. Bean’s guarantee isn’t phrased as explicitly as I’d like, but I trust it since their reputation is largely based on the guarantee and customer service.

But say the Helium Breeze and a similarly priced replacement together lasted 15-20 years. Would I realistically use the Eagle Creek/L.L. Bean warranties more often than that? Will the companies even be around in 20 years?

At this point, I’m leaning toward the Helium Breeze. But the risk-averse part of me wants to go with one of the lifetime warranties. So now is where I open up the floor and say: “Halp! What should we do?”

UPDATE: I bought the Helium Breeze 2.0 suitcase! We couldn’t convince ourselves that the lifetime warranty suitcases were worth almost 100% more than the Helium Breeze. Plus we’re not flying again until February, so if L.L. Bean or Eagle Creek have crazy black Friday sales we may reconsider and return the one I bought. Good times.

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4 responses to “Searching for the best value in durable luggage

  1. Eagle Creek Luggage Sale of Wheeled Luggage & Spinner Tote Bag from Bergman Luggage. Eagle creek luggage of the lightest luggage online, most durable Spinner Tote Bag that can go the extra mile

  2. So, now, years after this post, what did you think of the luggage? I’m actually looking at some of the same pieces that you mention in your post (Samsonite Silhouette, Travelpro Walkabout, and Desley Helium Breeze). Most reviews I read online are from people who had just bought the luggage….I’m curious about how the luggage has lasted over the years.

  3. It’s been great! We don’t travel a ton, but it has stayed in great condition through a honeymoon in Europe and a couple trips a year for each of the last couple years.

  4. Hey thanks for the follow-up, I’m planing our honeymoon and I realized that bringing everything in our cheap polyester walmart’s luggage through a 10 hours flight was a recipe for disaster.

    Think we’ll try the Desley too, they’re reasonably priced and they got some good reviews from user.