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Buying Luggage

5 Tips for Buying the Best Luggage for Your Trip

by Elizabeth Rogers

Purchasing luggage is more than just choosing an accessory... safety is also a concern. Tempting bargains and pressuring salespeople can often be confusing. We talked to Andrea Fitzgerald, a salesperson and manager in the luggage industry for several years, about how to get the most for your money.

Here’s a little help to get you started:

1. Which kind of luggage will best suit the type and frequency of my travel lifestyle?

The first thing a salesperson should ask you is how you travel and how often you travel. Your needs will be different if you’re a frequent airline traveler than an occasional bus rider. If you’re planning to backpack through Europe or Asia, you’ll need different gear than a business traveler.

Think about your needs before you shop. Do you travel by airplane, car or train the most often? Do you go away for weekends or take month-long vacations? What kind of travel will you undertake at your destination? How many pieces do you need, and what is your budget? 

If you're an air traveler, don't overlook hard-sided cases. Recent re-designs now include many of the same features as soft-sided luggage, including extendable handles and wheels. The polycarbonate material is lighter in weight than older polypropylene models and offers more protection than soft-sides cases.

Tip from our expert: Look for all-purpose sizes and styles. For example, an overnight tote works well for a weekend road trip and can double as carry-on luggage.

2. What restrictions (size, number, weight) should I be aware of regarding airline rules?

When it comes to your luggage size and weight do matter. Trains and buses have limited space, and airlines will charge extra if you exceed the size, number and weight limitations. Sales staff should know about standard sizes, including what will fit into an overhead compartment. Check with your travel carrier to find out its luggage policy.

Over-stuffing or over-packing is another common problem that can cause your bag to exceed limits and damage your belongings or luggage. Leave yourself a little "wiggle room". Also, a collapsible tote bag can come in handy for carrying souvenirs.

Tip from our expert: A little comparison never hurts -- size restrictions among airlines can differ by a few inches.

3. How can I protect my luggage from tampering or theft?

Most locks that come with luggage are inexpensively produced and have a generic key. Are additional locks or security devices worth the extra cost? Yes, according to our expert.

“The biggest misconception consumers have is that locks are worthless because someone could just break the zipper or cut the case,” Fitzgerald explains. “It’s true, but a thief is usually more interested in bags they can easily get into without detection. An unlocked bag doesn’t put up a fight, and you can’t immediately tell it’s been tampered with.”

Most government travel advice recommends securing your luggage to protect against tampering, pilferage and theft. Locks, luggage seals and airport shrink-wrapping services all serve as a deterrent to crime.

One note of caution: The Transportation Security Administration warns that airport screeners have the right to cut off locks in order to inspect luggage – without compensation for damages. However, they suggest an alternative: TSA-approved locks. These locks can be opened with a master key or access device held by airport security. Screeners can open, inspect and re-lock your luggage.

For more information about locks, read our article Real protection or extra hassle: Should you lock your luggage?

4. Can I safely lift and transport this luggage?

Your luggage should be manageable even if you don’t plan on carrying it far. You should be able to lift it and transport it easily. The last thing you want to do is struggle with your luggage in a busy airport or station.

Wheels are a boon for any kind of travel even if you’re on a road trip. You never know how far you may have to carry a bag, and wheels can take off a lot of the stress. Many companies now make laptop computer cases and carry-on bags with the same features.

Look for extending handles that lock in place. The lock prevents your luggage from slipping, and gives you the option of pulling or pushing your luggage. Look for a flap or a zipper that keeps the handle enclosed when not in use to prevent damage.

Don’t forget to try it out, suggests Fitzgerald. “Don’t be shy about test-driving. Wheel the luggage around the store, and try lifting and carrying it to see how it feels.”

Some stores even have sandbags or other weights you can try out in the luggage to get a sense of how it will feel when it's packed.

If you’re opting for adventure travel look for ergonomic features such as padded shoulder straps, lumbar support and adjustable straps that fasten around your chest to help disperse the weight. Get a knowledgeable salesperson to help you correctly adjust straps and supports.

5. What guarantees and warranty will I get?

Fitzgerald warns you should thoroughly understand the warranty and guarantees of any piece you buy, and beware of “lifetime” guarantees that only cover manufacturer’s defects for the first year or two.

Make sure you have these questions answered: What does the warranty cover?  Can minor repairs be made in-house or does the piece need to be shipped back to the manufacturer? Who is responsible for repair costs and shipping?

Also, think ahead when you purchase. Look for reinforced stitching, covered corners and sturdy materials.

“Sometimes simple is better when it comes to design,” notes Fitzgerald. “The more pockets and compartments, the more likely a zipper will break or a pocket will get torn.”

Tip from our expert: Find out how to best care for and store your new pieces to ensure longevity.

Well-trained salespeople should be able to address all of these concerns. If they can’t, talk to a manager or walk away. Is the bargain too good to pass up? Ask the clerks to hold the bags for a day while you do some research and comparison shopping.

One last piece of advice: Set a budget before you hit the store and look for a balance between quality and cost.

“Go in knowing what your needs are,” Fitzgerald recommends, “and don’t get talked into buying something that is above, or worst yet, below what you want. A little thought before you shop can save you a lot of hassle.”

For more travel tips and luggage news, check out ROAD & TRAVEL's Airline Rules section, which links to all carriers for specific rules.


By Elizabeth Rogers, Senior Editor, AllSafeTravels

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