These days it’s more important than ever to have a not just good but great carry on luggage.
Ever since airlines charging more for baggage and even excess baggage fees, traveling with just your carry on, especially on smaller trips has become the smart thing to do.
Efficient packing methods and a high-quality carry-on bag can make sure you never have to check in baggage unnecessarily again.
For frequent travelers, things like a lifetime warranty that even covers airline damage can cost you more but save you a lot in the long run. Some of the options on our list will comfortably allow you to pack for even 3-4 day trips as well.
10 Best Carry-on luggage in 2018
Typical carry-ons are between 19 to 22” and we’ve combed through a whole bunch of them and picked out the best carry-on suitcase for international travel as well as domestic. Some of them have matching sets too!
1. Best Overall: Travelpro - Platinum Elite 21"
- No major cons – Some users did prefer a bit more packing room & for it to be slightly lighter
The Platinum Elite 21” recently launched by Travelpro easily takes the top spot on our carry on luggage list. The robust construction, leather detailing, lifetime warranty covering airline damage, the USB pass-through for a power bank, user replaceable parts & the price are the main reasons why we highly recommend the Platinum Elite 21” to pretty much any kind of traveler.
Buying a carry on luggage for many is almost a one-time purchase. If you aren’t in the habit of checking in the suitcase meant to be carried on, you can very easily expect it to last many a year (decades in some cases). Irrespective of whether you are a frequent flyer, business traveler or someone who travels occasionally, it is almost impossible to go wrong with the Platinum Elite 21” luggage. Coming in at around half the price of a TUMI or our business traveler pick the Briggs & Riley (at the time of writing) the Platinum Elite’s impressive list of features are hard to beat.
Let’s begin with the wheels, this is something Travelpro repeatedly excels at. The MagnaTrac wheels which were a feature on the Magna 2 are retained here. The wheels self-align without locking into place so it’s extremely easy to maneuver. In an unlikely scenario where the wheels are damaged, you can easily swap them out yourself with Travelpro’s replacement parts. The wheels are probably the best we’ve seen on a spinner and the difference can be seen even on rough surfaces.
The main power scope handle feels extremely sturdy and has 4 stop heights (at 36”, 38”, 40” and 42.5”) as well. It has a contoured design & a textured grip which makes it more comfortable to hold. Not something that we really gave importance to but it’s definitely something that adds to the overall quality.
The handle is mounted on the inside rather than the outside which means you lose a fair amount of packing capacity. Having said that you can still easily pack 1-4 days’ worth of stuff in the Platinum Elite. If you need more packing space then the roller board version or the Briggs & Riley which is next on our list is your best bet. The quality of the zippers and the leather detailing on the side & top handles make the aesthetics extremely impressive. The handles also have a double screw mounting on each side so they are super robust.
The interiors are quite refined with a tie down packing system which also has accessory pockets. There is a removable suiter & a removable wet pocket for toiletries.
Reading this you might wonder as to what the difference is between the Platinum Elite & the Magna 2. The two suitcases are quite similar but the Elite is 0.5 lbs lighter and has 2 outer pockets instead of the 1 on the Magna 2. One of them is a power bank pocket with a USB pass through, a feature in common with the Crew 11 by Travelpro. The pockets have a good depth meaning you can actually put things without having to stuff them. Another difference is the type of zippers used. The Platinum Elite uses SUPRA zipper heads that resist damage rather than the YKK.
The limited lifetime warranty needs you to register within 120 days to be activated & it covers cost of repair due to airline damage as well. Travelpro has also introduced a new trusted companion promise which even covers shipping cost for repair. You can check out exactly what you get here.
2. Best for Business Travel: Briggs & Riley - Baseline 22"
- Premium features take its toll on the weight
- Suiter can't be removed
If you are looking for the best carry-on luggage and are a frequent flyer then the Briggs & Riley Baseline is the one to go for. Quality-wise everything is top of the line from the Nylon exterior to the wheels to the zippers. It also comes with a lifetime warranty that covers airline damage.
The positive traits that the Briggs & Riley possesses are quite extensive. Many users who have traveled over 100K miles have reported the suitcase to hold up very well and does not wear very easily. Airline damage is unfortunately still existent today and accidents can happen, this is why the warranty that covers airline damage really makes it worth the price. The suiter that is present can comfortably hold 1 and maybe 2 suits so business travelers can really take to this. The downside here is that it's not removable. The baseline is ideally suited for 3-4 day trips.
The CX expansion & compression capability is a huge hit with us and other users alike. The luggage can expand to increase packing capacity by up to 25% and shrink down to the original size when stowing away into the overhead compartment. The carry on bag only stays expanded to the extent needed & not to the extent you determine. This allows for a very compact suitcase. Getting used to the CX system can be tricky for some but the benefits are well worth the effort.
The Baseline 22” that we have selected is a rollerboard which may not be as easy to maneuver as a spinner but will definitely be able to handle rougher terrain better without any breakage. The carry on is also well supported and isn’t prone to tipping over. It is made from 1680D ballistic Nylon which means it’s quite good at resisting abrasion, wear & even water. It’s important to note that it’s not waterproof as such.
The Baseline 22” is specifically meant for domestic travel within the United States and travelers can have issues on some airlines outside the United States. The packing capacity is quite large on the Baseline. When you add the fact that this is a roller board version it amplifies its advantage greatly over the Platinum Elite & the Werks Traveler. The aluminum grade handle stops at 4 different heights and is placed on the outside of the bag which is where it gains the majority of its space advantage over the Platinum Elite. Whilst the Werks Traveler is cheaper than the Baseline, the superior construction and luxurious feel are hard to beat.
The main downside is more to do with the weight. Coming in at over 8 pounds when empty the weight of the B&R can really dissuade some people. However relative to brands like TUMI the B&R still fares better on the weight & price department.
3. Runner up: Victorinox Werks Traveler 5.0 WT 22"
- Can tip over when another bag is placed above it
If you are not quite sure about opting for a TUMI or a B&R then the Victorinox might be the way to go. The Werks Traveler 5.0 is an exceptionally well-made suitcase with a host of premium features at a much lower price than the Baseline (our pick for business travelers), for instance.
The WT 5.0 has a whole host of features to rave about including their Pack more system which helps you take advantage of the space on offer effectively. Before we carry on its important to note that the case size is 22” and the overall is 23.5” this was still completely okay on most airlines & is usually the case with many carry on options in the market. You can always opt for the 20” version which you can find here.
The interiors look impressive and have a removable suiter on the top cover. The packing room in the main compartment is slightly more limited when compared to some other designs but still does the job for us. There is a divider that helps you separate your clothing and keep yourself organized. The tie down straps are rather basic which is a bit disappointing for us but the divider can be used to make sure your clothes don’t wrinkle easily. Pricewise & other features puts the WT 22” in a similar bracket to the Magna 2 by Travelpro but the WT has a slightly different warranty & a less sturdy frame.
There are handles on 3 sides of the suitcase and the main handle can be locked into different positions ensuring you have a comfortable experience. The exterior is abrasion resistant and rarely gathers dirt. The dual wheel system on the WT 5.0 is one of the best in the market today. This carry on rolls effortlessly on pretty much any surface. Victorinox also claim that it’s easy to place bags on top of this one for consolidated travel but many users reported that the bag tends to tip over in this scenario.
4. Best Lightweight: Travelpro Maxlite 5 - 21 Inch
- The overall size might be an issue when flying on some budget airlines in Europe
- Seams can tear if checked in regularly with heavy items.
For those looking for an ultralight carry-on option then the Maxlite 5 will definitely do the job. The Maxlite 5 succeeds the Maxlite 4 on our list and boasts similar durability traits and is 0.5 lbs lighter than its predecessor.
Positive traits are numerous in number with the build quality being sturdy. The spinners rotate 360 degrees and roll quite well on all surfaces we tested it on. The Maxlite 5 is also water repellent and resists abrasion well. The size is quite alright for most domestic travel. With the wheels included it does tend to be slightly on the larger side coming in at 23" overall. Nonetheless, this still shouldn't be an issue for travel within the United States.
The Maxlite 5 is actually 0.5 lbs lighter without there being any sacrifice from the durability standpoint. Despite not being as robust as our top pick which is the Platinum Elite, the maxlite 5 when not checked in regularly, will last you a long time. Its checked luggage counterpart (the 25" model) is one of our favorites as well. The Maxlite 5's pricing is very affordable too & is a no-brainer in our opinion if you just want something that is light and won't quit on you for many years.
This suitcase is made from Polyester with a Duraguard coating which ensures its extremely light whilst being stain resistant. The interiors are as basic as they come with tie-down straps and 2 zippered compartments. The handle feels sturdy but is also light and will stop at 38" and 42.5". The handles on the side & the top are sturdy but not as sturdy as the Platinum Elite. The Maxlite 5 also comes with a limited lifetime warranty and a new "Trusted Companion Promise" being offered by Travelpro which even covers cost incurred for repairs due to airline damage during the 1st year alone.
5. Best Hard sided: Delsey - Helium Aero 19”
- Marginally small if packing for longer trips
The Helium Aero spinner by Delsey is an excellent choice for international travelers. This compact yet finely built 19” spinner suitcase exudes quality. The outer shell is pure polycarbonate and does not scratch as easily as some of the other hard shell suitcase out in the market.
This luggage has all the typical bells and whistles one expects in a great carry-on like a TSA lock, straps for holding your clothes together etc. The feature that stood out the most for us and other users is the front zippered compartment for easy access items and a padded sleeve as well for 15.6-inch laptops or less. We quite liked this feature as it is a rarity, especially in hard sided models. The build quality of the zippers and wheels were quite good and it does roll on multiple surfaces smoothly.
A slight down side as reported by some ardent frequent flyers is that the sleeve is on the outer side so one needs to place the luggage on the ground on the side of the handle in order to avoid some items spilling out. Another point to note is that due to the polycarbonate shell and the handle being on the inside it’s a tad less roomy compared to other carry-on suitcases out there. If you are packing for shorter trips or are looking for a luggage to combine with your checked baggage then this is the one for you.
6. Runner up: Samsonite - Freeform 21"
- Can accumulate scuff marks but are not easily visible
- Handles aren’t present on all sides
- Pretty basic interior
It’s not often we associate Samsonite with stylish luggage but the Freeform is certainly one exception. The sleek aesthetics & lightweight design make this one excellent carry-on for travelers to consider.
The Freeform hardside is an impressive offering from Samsonite. Coming in at 6.5 lbs it’s one of the lighter carry on suitcases in the market. The dual wheel system seen on brands like Travelpro is used here and the freeform’s wheels are a lot more durable as a result. It also comes with a neat little ID tag so you can skip buying a luggage tag altogether.
The modern is a refreshing change to the more functional designs employed by Samsonite. Like the Delsey this model is also expandable which is a positive for us. The luggage has plenty of packing capacity regardless and the lightweight nature can only encourage buyers to take advantage of the space. The interiors are pretty basic though which we were slightly disappointed by. There are mesh pockets for organization but the tie-down straps to keep your clothes in place is extremely basic. The handles are well built although they are not present on all sides so it can be annoying in some situations to place & remove this from cars.
Some buyers did mention being confused about opening the suitcase initially as the TSA locks are preset to 000. Clear instructions about this would definitely be better. This wasn’t a concern of us however. The only downside are more to do with the scuff marks these can accumulate when handles in a rough manner. The white color we’ve picked isn’t particularly more susceptible to scratches relative to the other colors. If you travel casually then this offering by Samsonite is definitely worth considering.
7. Best Budget: Samsonite - Aspire Xlite 20"
- Marginally on the heavier side
- Advertised as a 20” the overall size is slightly larger but DOES fit on most airlines
As far as budget carry on suitcases is concerned we think the Aspire Xlite by Samsonite is definitely worth considering. This simple yet functional carry on is one of the cheapest options on the list that fits into overhead bins easily.
You can easily pair this with its larger counterpart the Xlite 25” for check-in purposes since the larger option is also reasonably durable. The Samsonite is quite simple in terms of build with a few internal & external pockets. It doesn’t have dual wheels like some of the other models but it rolls reasonably well but can be a bit tight when upright & fully packed.
The inside is pretty basic with tie down straps and the top has a mesh pocket and another for toiletries. The outside has an easy access compartment for clothing too. The handle is really well made and will last you a long time. There is a handle underneath too which is a bonus for us. Considering the price, we think the Aspire Xlite is an excellent budget carryon luggage for the casual traveler.
A couple of downsides is that it’s very slightly on the heavier side at 7 and a half pounds but is still much lesser than premium cases around. The frame is quite weak which means while it serves really well as a carry-on, its durability might not be the same if checked in. The major sticking point according to many users is the suitcase’s size. Advertised as a 20” its overall size is closer to 23” but it does fit on the sizer on most airlines and wasn’t too much of an issue for us.
8. Runner up: Rockland - Melbourne 20"
- Needs better quality control
- Handle is a bit flimsy
As the quality & durability of the ABS improves many such as the Rockland become a realistic option for travelers. Our budget runner-up the super affordable Rockland Melbourne is an interesting alternative to the Samsonite Xlite.
The Rockland Melbourne’s interiors are as basic as they come, fully lined with just 2 zippered compartments. Packing space, however, is quite generous allowing you to pack even 4-5 days’ worth of items. The spinner wheels are not special but they certainly get the job done. On rough surfaces, it’s better to handle the Rockland with care. The Rockland can also be used for international travel making it a more versatile option than the Aspire Xlite that we chose.
The main selling point is its price tag. You might be wondering why the Aspire is ahead despite the Rockland’s significantly lower price tag. The answer is mainly related to quality control. We felt the quality control on the Samsonite was a bit better and the issues you face along the line with different parts are much lower. Many users reported the telescopic handle to be a bit loose for their liking.
Another upside to buying the Melbourne 20” is its weight. This carry on suitcase is quite light at 6.5 lbs. In terms of protection, the Rockland does have an edge since it is made from ABS but the wheels and handles definitely are not meant to be subject to repeated abuse. The Rockland is also available in a whole host of colors you can choose from which is something lacking amongst most brands. Definitely, one that has left many pleasantly surprised by how long it lasted rather than the other way around.
9. Most Stylish: Delsey Chatelet Hard+ 21"
- Quite heavy
- Scratches are easily visible on the lighter version
The 2nd Delsey features on our list solely because it’s one the more stylish looking carry ons on the inside and the outside. To add to the looks, the Chatelet Hard + also has a braking system for its wheels which is quite unique.
Whilst we have chosen this suitcase as our most stylish option, the Chatelet Hard+’s durability is also what caught our eye. It’s made from a polycarbonate variant that is great at providing top of the line impact and temperature resistance. TUMI’s Tegra certainly still leads in this department but its price is a major factor in us not including it on our list. The Chatelet Hard+ can very easily take the title of most durable hard side luggage in our list.
Coming to the wheels, the Delsey does roll well & the braking system is quite handy too. The front wheels on this can be locked through a push of a button and you can roll the luggage with the 2 back wheels if need be. This prevents it from rolling away and its usage as a two-wheeled option helps you to navigate tougher surfaces easier. The suitcase comes with a TSA lock for better security too.
The faux leather accents & stylish interiors further enhance this carry on’s appeal. There are plenty of zippered compartments that help you stay organized. In the case of zippers, the ones used on this model work extremely well and there have been little to no reports of zippers failing. The packing space is slightly limited by the fact that the handles are present inside rather than on the exterior.
Whilst this carry on can put up with a lot of abuse, the Champagne version (lighter color) can really put the scratches on full display. The Chocolate variant fares better aesthetically in the long run. Another downside is that the premium features like the front breaks make for a very heavy luggage. At over 9.3 lbs you are much better off using this along with a check in bag, rather than as a standalone for a 3+ day trip.
10. Best for adventurers: Osprey - Ozone 22"
- The handle takes up a fair bit of room in the main packing compartment
- The main handle isn’t as comfortable as those on regular suitcases (when packed with heavy items only)
The Osprey Ozone along with the load warrior (which we will touch on as well) is ideal for those who simply love the outdoors. The Ozone’s versatility is perfect if your trip involves road trips, train rides, air travel & the likes. There is ample packing space that will suit even business travelers who like to do some sport as they move around.
The organizational features are what really makes the Ozone 22” stand out. There are plenty of easy access mesh pockets at the front and the back of the bag to store quick access items like your phones, wallets, keys, passports & the likes. There is also a top pocket for quick access to your toiletries too. There are compression straps on the inside and the outside to make sure your clothes really stays in place.
Note: This is not a backpack or convertible.
The main issue with these kinds of bags is that they tend to tip over a lot but the Ozone has a metal foot that prevents that from happening even when packed completely. This is a bit different than the rubber foot that we see on most models including the Load Warrior which we touched on too. The durability of the Ozone is what really impressed us and its many users. It can very easily handle demanding trips and display little to no wear at all. Osprey’s construction quality is exemplary.
The wheels are built for handling even the roughest of terrain as well. The handle extends to a comfortable length which makes it easier to move around. The handle/ frame of the bag does take up a lot of packing space since the handle is internal & not on the outside. One thing we didn’t like about the handle was that when it’s packed completely & is heavy, the bag was actually harder to turn without putting enormous strain on the handle. Overall, the Osprey is quite a super light & stylish alternative to a regular suitcase that is certainly built to last.
Carry on Luggage Comparison
|1. Travelpro Platinum Elite 21"||Case: 21" x 14" x 9"|
Overall: 23.5" x 14.5" x 9"
|2. Briggs & Riley Baseline 22"||Case: 22" x 14" x 9"||8.9 lbs||Domestic|
|3. Victorinox Werks Traveler 5.0 WT 22"||Case: 22" x 14" x 10"|
Overall: 23.5" x 15" x 10"
|4. Travelpro - Maxlite 5 21"||Case: 21" x 14 x 9"|
Overall: 23" x 14.5" x 9"
|5. Delsey - Helium Aero 19"||Case: 19" x 13" x 9.5"|
Overall: 21.25" x 14.5" x 11.25"
|8.2 lbs||International & Domestic|
|6. Samsonite Freeform 21"||Case: 19.5" x 14.5" x 10.0"|
Overall: 21.25" x 15.25" x 10.0"
|6.5 lbs||International & Domestic|
|7. Samsonite Aspire Xlite 20"||Case: 20.5" x 13.5" x 9"|
Overall: 23" x 13.5" x 9.5"
|8. Rockland Melbourne 20"||Overall: 20" x 13" x 9"||7 lbs||International & Domestic|
|9. Delsey Chatelet Hard+ 21"||Case: 20.25" x 14.25" x 9.5"|
Overall: 23.5" x 15.25" x 9.75"
|10. Osprey Ozone 22"||Overall: 22" x 14" x 9":||4.3 lbs||International (Limited) & Domestic|
Important Carry on Luggage Considerations
Picking a carry on luggage is never easy since you have multiple types, sizes and traits to sift through. In order for us to give you an accurate review, we considered the following factors or criteria as such to ensure all the luggage we picked meets or exceeds certain standards. These criteria outlined below can formulate the benchmark for one’s decision-making process when buying the best carry on suitcases.
Size & Weight
The size and weight aspect are the ones where a lot of variance is experienced brand wise, even more so than practicality aspects. As we mentioned earlier generally these fall between 19” and ~22”. Depending on how you like to pack and how long the weight plays an important role. Generally, hard shells are heavier, duffle bags and some soft sided options like the Osprey Ozone & the Travel Pro Maxlite 5 are the ones to opt for if you like to pack a lot of things.
The reality is that the external dimensions of a lot of the bags in the market slightly exceed the 22-inch mark but airlines generally ignore this as long as they fit in the overhead compartment. If you want to completely avoid the hassle of having to check your baggage in occasionally then try to pick one that adheres to the strictest rules out there. The Delsey is a good option for international travelers especially.
What size carry on luggage are you allowed to carry?
Within the United States, the maximum dimensions for a carry on bag are currently 22” (height) x 14” (width) x 9” (depth). This is subject to change so please check with your airline, especially if you fly infrequently.
Do the size limits vary regionally or airline by airline?
Yes! In our experience, budget airlines across Europe tend to be very strict with respect to sizing. Most US carriers are fairly generous and do accommodate a cm or two at times.
What is the maximum allowed weight for carry on luggage?
This varies from airline to airline even within the United States. It is probably best if you check with your airline when you fly or when you book your ticket.
Does the maximum weight for carry on luggage vary from country to country?
If you are into the habit of travel through Asian countries you will know that they allow much less for carry on. For example, if you are traveling through Thailand then your carry on cannot weigh more than 7kgs.
Does my laptop bag count as a carry on?
Laptops, small briefcases, purses, wallets & the likes are considered “personal items” and their weight is usually not included when calculating the total weight of your hand luggage. Although, in some rare cases airlines might include personal items in their calculations.
Hard-sided or Soft sided Carry on
Although the list above contains almost an equal number of both we prefer soft sided options over hard sided ones. It is important to consider how you intend to use your carry on. If you are thinking of regularly checking it in then a hard-sided variant might offer better protection. Also, carry on luggage aren’t typically exposed to luggage carousels & baggage handlers so the trade-off shifts in favor of soft-sided variants since you can get away with slightly less frame integrity. You can check out the differences between the two in the table below:
|Variants||ABS, Polycarbonate||Polyester/Nylon Variants (Ballistic, Ripstop)|
|Aesthetics||Brighter & darker color options but can scratch easily||Mainly darker colors with better abrasion resistance|
|Overall Durability||Very good (Model Dependent)||Very good (Model Dependent)|
|Weight||Very Light||Light (feature & brand dependent)|
|Protection||Excellent (Ideal for fragile items)||Good|
|Organizational Features||Very limited||A wide variety|
|Price||Cheaper||Varies based on features|
|Note: When talking about durability we considered the handles, zippers etc., not just the material alone. Whilst the polycarbonate on its own is quite durable, many softside models have sturdier wheels, handles etc. (overall package)
Aluminum luggage such as the ones by Rimowa are not so common but are the best in terms of durability.
Tegris by Tumi is a polypropylene thermoplastic composite that has excellent impact resistance but is extremely expensive. Tegris is also 100% recyclable and is certainly one to watch in the future.
While this may seem rather simple at first the wheels & their quality are the most important factor. Cabin luggage doesn’t get tossed around as much as their checked counterparts. The part of the suitcase that is really put through its paces is the wheels. There’s usually nothing worse than when a wheel breaks off and your luggage’s functionality is effectively done for. Try to opt for a 4 wheeler if you are looking to reduce stress on your shoulder.
If maneuverability is of paramount importance to you then a two-wheeler holds the edge here. 4 wheelers are sometimes larger since their wheel mounts are fully external whereas the 2 wheelers are embedded into the bag a bit more. Gradients are another thing to factor in, whilst you can rest a suitcase with 2 wheels against the gradient a 4 wheeled option can roll away if not placed on its side.
When we looked at the practicality, we were looking at things like the number of external pockets, quality of the zippers & handles, the length of the handles, Suiter availability, compartments etc. Whilst external pockets are good a limited number of them is ideal otherwise it becomes counterproductive since the expansion results in your bag not passing the sizer allowance. Self-repairing zippers which you can put back into place were highly valued.
The number of handles is also important. Ideally, there should be a handle at the top & the side and both should be easy to grip. Another feature to look for is handle length. Since these are much shorter than check-in items, your shoulder can feel a lot of discomfort if the handle does not extend to help you out. Suiters are an essential item for business folk it’s always handy to have them. Suitcases like the B&R excel at having a good balance of all the necessary features.
Most luggage come with a limited warranty that usually does not cover airline damage this will serve you well in most scenarios but if you are a frequent flyer, having a suitcase that does cover airline damage gives you greater peace of mind in the long run. If you cover some serious mileage then opt for the Victorinox or the Baseline to ensure you are not disappointed. It’s important to further read reviews on your purchase platforms to see how good manufacturers are when fulfilling their warranties. This is something we looked at closely.
Smart features & others
As far as luggage features go the latest fad is electronic capabilities. Things like in-built power banks, location tracking, digital locks, scale and more are becoming more popular. If features like these matter for you always ensure that the core functionality is not compromised. You can alternatively look at things like the TILE tags amongst others to augment your normal luggage to ensure it always stays safe.
Img: Bluesmart connected Carry on by Maurizio Pesce – cc by 2.0.