Insider's Guide to Buying the Best Bags

Advice from travel professionals on buying luggage and laptop bags

Luggage and laptop bags are important -- and sometime expensive -- purchases. We need them to reliably protect our belongings, be easy to carry, and withstand all of the torture we put them through. With those tough requirements, and the vast (perhaps overwhelming) array of options available, deciding which bag(s) to buy can be difficult.

So I contacted several travelware professionals from well-known luggage and business bag brands, and also hasseled one of the managers at a major luggage retailer, with questions about buying luggage and laptop cases, such as:

What Luggage Bag or Laptop Bag Should I Buy?*

Everyone responded that the type of luggage or business case you buy will depend on your purpose and usage. Are you a heavy traveler (in which case durability is key) or a more infrequent traveler (price or style may be a more important consideration)? As with other products, you usually have to make a compromise between price, quality, and convenience.

Sometimes, when you're choosing between brands of the same quality and price range (or even within the same brand, between product lines), it just comes down to a matter of style. Do you want one that exudes professionalism or one that's more sporty or casual? Some bag styles may be more appropriate for business vs. leisure. (Duffle bags, for example, are popular but better suited for casual travel, whereas the cases selected in the Top 7 Rolling Laptop Bags are great for business users.)

For business cases and laptop bags, consider what you'll be carrying on a daily basis. Marcus Williamson from McKlein, for example, noted that you need to "make sure the bag you like has enough space for your laptop and other paperwork" and SOLO's Nerita Howard added to keep in mind "the external hard drive, personal files, iPod, keys, cell phone, and maybe even your wallet" and the kinds of organization you may need for these. Sometimes when buying a laptop bag we only think of the laptop fitting and forget all the other stuff we need to bring along as well.

In addition to how often you travel and for what purpose, whether you carry your luggage onto the plane or check it in will also determine the type and size of bag you need. If you fly a lot, before buying a laptop bag look for one that's checkpoint-friendly, making it easy to remove from the bag or even stay in the bag and zip through security.

Is a More Expensive Bag Always Better?

Cheap luggage is often so poorly made that it's not only a waste of money but bad on the environment (is there or should there be such a thing as disposable luggage?). On the other hand, "designer label" business cases that are over-priced are also common, capitalizing on designer label brand names. TravelPro's Scott Applebee advises buyers to stick with brands that are focused on producing high quality luggage and business cases first and foremost, because they offer the best quality and value (TravelPro, designed for flight crew members, are made for perhaps the ultimate road warriors). Of the reputable luggage and laptop bag brands, I do find that it is worth paying more for a case that will last you a long time and be a joy to use every time, rather than making you suffer for an entire trip only to be thrown out or gather dust in your attic.

What Should I look for in a Quality Luggage Bag or Laptop Bag?

When it comes to luggage there are a whole lot of buying criteria and quality indicators besides price including: "durability, aesthetics, storage capacity, ergonomics, weight, wheel and handle quality," according to Applebee. Some things he and the other bag representatives mentioned to look for in quality luggage bags or laptop bags include:

  • Type and durability of fabric
  • Replaceable sealed ball-bearing wheels
  • Ergonomic zipper pulls and self-repairing zippers
  • Sturdy handle design
  • Extended warranty and extra features like being able to use cases with other rolling luggage

To better understand some of the features that separate a quality bag from a poorly designed one and know what to look for, check out this illustration of 10 Ways to Spot the Best Rolling Bags.

What Advice Would You Give Someone Shopping for a Bag Online?

Because it's a major purchase, do your research online of not just product reviews and information from the manufacturer's site, but also of the online retailer's reputation and guarantee as well. I definitely found that researching bags on different sites is very helpful, not just for price comparisons, but also because different sites (including the manufacturer's site) vary in the product photos available, and it's best to look at the bag from different angles if you're not able to see it in person. Naturally, with this type of major purchase, researching the bag online and then inspecting it in person for the criteria above would arm you with the most useful information for deciding which bags are best for you.

* Yes, this was an unfair question, akin to asking someone at Best Buy what TV they should buy

Many thanks to the folks at TravelPro, SOLO, McKlein, and Innovation Luggage (Steve Draz in particular).