The best high-end carry-on luggage

The first wheeled suitcase was the brainchild of Bernard Sadow of US Luggage and was initially offered at Macy’s in 1970.
The first wheeled suitcase was the brainchild of Bernard Sadow of US Luggage and was initially offered at Macy’s in 1970. (BestReviews)

Frequent travelers try to cut down on the amount of time they spend at the airport, which is why many now opt for luggage that’s small enough to be used as a carry-on, eliminating the need to wait at the check-in counter and baggage claim. If you want the best of the best, you’ll find that some high-end options offer innovative features and long-term warranties that aren’t available from budget brands.

The top pick in this space is the Tumi Alpha 3 Expandable International because it maximizes internal organization, features a dedicated laptop compartment and has helpful additions like an integrated USB port and the Tumi Tracer program. Depending on what kind of traveler you are, certain high-end features may be more attractive to you than others, so it's a good idea to think about exactly what you want before making your selection.


What to know before you buy high-end carry-on luggage

Hardside vs. softside

The two main types of luggage are hardside, or hard-shell, and softside. Hardside bags have the advantage of tough exteriors that can protect your belongings, but they're generally heavier, making them tougher to put in the overhead compartment. They're also designed in such a way that in order to get anything out, you have to lay the suitcase on the ground and open it entirely. For those reasons, softside bags are generally preferable for those who want access to their items during a flight or at the airport. However, if you're also taking a laptop bag or backpack, you might not need to open up your suitcase at the airport, and may therefore prefer a hardside case that offers a bit more protection. As you can see, there's plenty to consider when shopping for carry-on luggage.

To wheel or not to wheel

The next time you’re waiting at the gate before boarding, look around. You’ll likely see that the majority of passengers now take rolling suitcases as their carry-on luggage. This is because everyone wants to avoid the baggage claim and maximize what they’re getting out of their carry-on allotments. If you want a suitcase with wheels, your best option is a spinner configuration, four independently moving wheels that can be pushed in any direction. Garment bags often have inline skate wheels, a two-wheeled configuration and much longer telescoping handles. There are also some quality duffel bags, backpacks and non-rolling garment bags out there, so don’t just assume you have to go with a rolling suitcase.


Keeping clothes wrinkle-free

Garment bags are useful for business travelers or anyone going to a formal event because they allow you to keep dress clothes from getting wrinkled. However, the drawback of many garment bags is that they don’t offer much storage capacity for items other than suits. If you also want to bring shoes, toiletries and casual clothes, you might struggle to fit everything. That’s why rolling suitcases with included tri-fold suit compartments, or suiters, are so valuable: they provide the design benefits of a garment bag for your suits while still offering enough space for everything else you want to bring.

High-end carry-on luggage features

Laptop compartments

Some people don’t mind bringing a wheeled suitcase as carry-on luggage along with a briefcase or laptop bag that can be stowed under the seat in front of you as a personal item. However, if you don’t want your feet to get cramped, some high-end suitcases offer dedicated laptop compartments. These external pockets can protect your computer and allow you to pull it out when going through security, meaning you can avoid a second bag solely for your laptop.

TSA-approved locks

If you’re spending a lot on a bag, you’ll want to keep your belongings safe, but it’s hard to lock four different zippers at once. Many of the best suitcases out there come with integrated TSA-approved locks that prevent zippers from moving. This keeps pickpockets from rifling through your bag when you’re not looking, and since they’re TSA-approved, they can still be opened by security agents if your bag is misplaced or you’re forced to check it. That way, government representatives can get inside without having to break the lock.


Most rolling suitcases feature telescoping handles that can be pushed in (and sometimes zipped into their own compartments) when the bag is being put in the overhead bin. One thing to look out for is how many stops there are on the handle, as extremely tall or short users may have different handle height needs. Many bags also have top, side or bottom handles to help you pick them up and put them in the overhead compartment. Duffels and garment bags might have shoulder straps, and it’s a good idea to find one where the shoulder strap is detachable so you can take it off before putting the bag in the overhead bin, or else the handle could get caught on something and cause problems.

High-end carry-on luggage cost 

Because these are high-end choices, they’re all at least $250. Despite their size, the best carry-on bags can cost as much as $1,000 if you want all the top features. Duffels and garment bags are usually less expensive, and there are definitely some quality rolling suitcases available for under $300.

High-end carry-on luggage FAQ

Is high-end carry-on luggage more likely to fit airline size requirements?

A. Most luggage is built with domestic carriers in mind, where 22 inches is the standard size limit. International airlines have different rules, and many European carriers have smaller size limits. There are also many airlines that now limit the weight of carry-on bags, which is another mark in favor of softside options as they are generally lighter. It's best to research the airlines you're planning to use, and pay attention to both the height and width of the bag you're looking at. Even if the bag fits in the overhead compartment, if it doesn't fit inside the dreaded measurement box at the gate, you'll have to check it.

Is high-end luggage that much better than cheap luggage, or is it just a fancy brand name?

A. There are certainly many designer brands that charge a high price due to style but offer little in the way of substance. This can be especially true with duffel bags, where high-end brands don't have a lot of features that budget brands do not. However, when it comes to rolling suitcases, there are some cutting-edge options that are only found among the best of the best. Tracking systems and lifetime warranties are not likely to be offered by budget brands, so you're definitely getting something for your money.

Which high-end carry-on luggage should I get?

Best of the best high-end carry-on luggage

Tumi Alpha 3 Expandable International: available at Amazon and Macy's

Our take: Packed with cutting-edge features like TSA-approved locks, spinner wheels and an integrated USB power port, this innovative case will be worth it for business travelers and those who spend much of their lives in airports.

What we like: The dedicated front laptop compartment is convenient for going through airport security. The Tumi Tracer program can help locate lost luggage. The interior is expandable by 2 inches and features a built-in garment sleeve.


What we dislike: While the USB port is nice to have, the power bank is not included and must be purchased separately.

Best bang for your buck high-end carry-on luggage

Delsey Paris Chatelet Hardside: available at Amazon and Macy's


Our take: A perfect combination of appearance and functionality, the Chatelet comes in three colors and offers hardside protection while costing far less than most high-end brands.

What we like: It's equipped with a braking system that locks two of the wheels to keep it from rolling away when you let go of it on an incline. The case comes with a tracking device and is backed by a 10-year limited warranty. The interior boasts several zippered pockets to help you keep garments separate from toiletries and shoes.

What we dislike: It's quite heavy even when empty, which can be a problem if you're traveling on an airline that limits the weight of carry-on bags.

Honorable mention high-end carry-on luggage

Briggs & Riley Baseline: available at Amazon

Our take: Anyone headed to a wedding or conference will appreciate the Baseline's built-in suiter that can prevent hanging garments from getting wrinkled, and the compression system means you can pack a lot in this small case.

What we like: In addition to the 22-inch version, there are 19- and 21-inch variations as well. The brand offers a lifetime guarantee that covers repairs without proof of purchase required. The ballistic nylon material resists dirt, moisture and abrasion.

What we dislike: Because the suiter is built into the lid, the interior zippered pockets are at the bottom of the case, making them hard to access without taking out all your clothes.

Gregg Parker is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

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