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Flyer Advice

Things to Consider Before Buying a New Carry-on

Things to Consider Before Buying a New Carry-on
Ariana Arghandewal

Shopping for a new carry-on can be overwhelming. There are so many articles out there about “the best” bags, without much advice about what to look for. I guess you could just splurge out on a $1,000 Rimowa bag and call it a day. But if you’re in the market for a carry-on bag that is affordable and high-quality, consider the following while you shop:

Hardside vs. Soft Side Luggage

Hardside luggage is all the rage now, thanks to increased durability and storage space. There was
a time when the expandability of soft side carry-on bags was preferential to the rigidity of hardside luggage. Neither of those are concerns anymore, since hard side luggage is made more durable and expandable.

I chose a hard side bag because they’re easier to clean and just look nicer. However, I was hesitant about giving up that front zipper, where I often store my laptop and power cords. There aren’t a lot of companies that make hard shell bags with front pockets, but I found a reasonably priced one from a company called 90FUN. The 90Fun Passport carry-on cost me around $120 and turned out to be the perfect fit.

Going International

The standard domestic carry-on size is limited to 22 x 14 x 9, including wheels. An international-sized carry-on refers to a bag that is fewer than 21 inches tall, which will ensure that your bag is accepted by every international carrier. If you’re a frequent international traveler who plans on checking their bag, you’ll want to consider getting one that conforms to these dimensions. Of course, you are giving up a little more space, but that’s not a problem if you know how to pack efficiently. Think about whether it makes sense for you to occasionally check your bag or whether you’re good with a smaller size year-round.


It’s important to keep checked bag weight restrictions in mind when shopping for a new carry-on bag, especially if you’re like me and only travel with a carry-on. Chances are that you occasionally overpack, so if your bag is already on the heavier side, it essentially gives you less space. I think a good weight for an international-sized carry-on bag is 8 pounds or under.


Transiting through Charles de Gaulle Airport is what ultimately convinced me to get a spinner. Dragging my heavy, wheeled luggage behind me was exhausting and it left me sore. Spinners are incredibly easy to maneuver and I can’t imagine being without one. Of course, the downside is that the wheels can break or get lost, and then they defeat their own purpose. It’s bound to happen eventually. When you’re shopping for a new carry-on bag and looking at spinners, be sure to walk it around the store a little and make sure the wheels are nice and sturdy. I’ve had my Samsonite spinner for about six years now and the wheels are still perfectly intact.

TSA lock

No matter where you’re traveling to, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and lock your bags. You don’t want some underpaid baggage handler to go shopping in your snazzy new luggage, do you? You can buy a TSA lock off Amazon for about $12, or get a carry-on bag that comes equipped with one. That’s the case with my new Passport carry-on, which has a built-in TSA lock. These locks keep thieves at bay while still enabling TSA agents to open and search your luggage.


Quality is the most important thing to consider when shopping for a new carry-on bag. But that term can be subjective. Obviously you’ll want to assess the quality of materials and consider its durability. Sturdiness is really key. I’ve come across a lot of bags that looks really nice and sleek, but the handles feel loose, like they’re about to come off. That’s not a good sign of quality. Think about every way you’ll handle the bag (rolling it around the airport, lifting it into the overhead, etc.) and test for durability. The same goes for what’s inside the bag – the zippers, especially.

What advice would you give someone shopping for a new carry-on bag?

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (11)


  1. FlyingNone

    December 30, 2018 at 3:55 pm

    What advice would I give?……If it expands in any way beyond 9 x 14 x 22 then it is no longer a carry-on. One should always assume there will not be room in an overhead bin. Ergo, if the bag (UNEXPANDED) is at these maximum measurements or smaller, it will be able to fit under the seat in front of you.

  2. Beano

    December 30, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    I agree quality is most important ..a broken zip or wheel is a real hassle when on a trip.

  3. sfoeuroflyer

    December 31, 2018 at 8:38 am

    This is quite a confused article. Some of the advice applies to carry on; some applies only to checked bags.

  4. shawbridge

    December 31, 2018 at 10:23 am

    Criteria assuming international flights:

    Quality. (zippers and wheels both matter)

    Size (can you fold a suit inside if you need to and still be carried on}/


  5. mot29

    December 31, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    I got a Tumi V3 international expandable carry-on as y 2MM gift from Delta about 18 months ago and haven’t used it yet.
    I still do all of my traveling with an ebags Weekender motherlode convertible. Actually my 3rd one, but I only paid for the first, ebags replaced on when the airline ripped a handle and a second when a plastic clip broke (these have a lifetime warranty).
    I like that that the bag itself weighs in at just under 4 lb. And I almost never check any more, so loaded my bag is usually about 10 kg or 22 lbs total.

  6. IanFromHKG

    January 6, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    The main reason I don’t like hard shell carry-ons is that they don’t open part-way, and they double in size when opened, so getting something out is a complete pain. With my soft-sided bag I can place it on my seat and open it without encroaching on anyone’s space. When I want to take out my liquids or laptop (or replace them) at the security check then I can just open the zip along the top, and push my hand (or items) in without having to put the bag on the floor or carousel. That alone means I will only use soft-sided carry-on bags. Add to this that they often have external pockets for smaller items (as mentioned in the article) and I much prefer them. As it happens I prefer soft-sided luggage too as again it is easier to open and close.

  7. eng3

    January 7, 2019 at 9:26 am

    “If you’re a frequent international traveler who plans on checking their bag, you’ll want to consider getting one that conforms to these dimensions.” If you are checking the bag, then the carry-on dimensions don’t apply. I’m not sure what you mean by hard sided bags being more durable, they seem to all have the same issue. They are flimsy and have a weak point at the zipper in the middle. As for a spinner bag, you have to hold them in place on a bus or train because they will roll all over the place and they don’t roll well on carpet. The wheels take up precious space and make it harder to get in an overhead bin. The baggage workers use the wheel as a handle. I think the two wheel bag is still superior. You just have to balance the weight over the wheels and not over the handle. Do you ever see crew members carry spinner bags?

  8. freeflyin

    January 7, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    My favorite is Ebags Motherlode. I have the Weekender Convertible and also the wheeled version,which is hardside on the back side and soft on the front and sides.Between these two products, I can easily carry on for a 2 week trip

  9. kkua

    January 9, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    I vote for Briggs&Riley carry-on. It’s travelled 1 million miles with me and I only have replaced the telescope handle once. At its heaviest point, it carried 30kg expanded.

    Spinner wheels are too fragile in design to hold up the weight of a full carry-on case.

  10. jrpallante

    January 9, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    In preparation for an upcoming round-the-world trip, I have researched this topic extensively. It is frustrating to observe that there are significant variations between size and weight requirements among the various airlines. It is difficult to understand why the airlines have not come to agreement on standard carry-on allowances, especially since most aircraft come equipped with the same overhead bins. Based on data compiled from 20+ airlines, the carry on size that meets all airline requirements would be 21.65″ x 13.78″ x 7.87″. Good luck finding a bag that actually satisfies these limits! On most international airlines, the bigger obstacle is the weight limit, with 15 pounds being the most common limit. When flying domestic in the US, you would be hard pressed to find a single carry on bag that weighs under 15 pounds. The author recommends an empty bag weight of 8 pounds or under, which would leave you just 7 pounds for contents. My laptop alone weighs that much! LOL Many travelers just roll the dice and take larger or heavier bags, and they may very well get through. However, all it takes is one gate agent with a burr under his/her saddle to slap you with a $50-100 penalty. In a perfect world, the airlines would cooperate to determine reasonable standardized limits.

  11. GiantOilMaggot

    January 11, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    If your bag has TSA locks, always take your key. I’ve never locked my luggage so I didn’t take the key. I arrived at my hotel after midnight to find TSA had locked my suitcase. The desk clerk found a few tools but we had no.luck forcing the lock, so I had to go to a luggage store after work the next day to have them force the lick for me. The suitcase never latched properly after that.

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