The Best Carry-On Luggage 2018
I bought my first luggage set in middle school and it was a pink/purple Diane von Furstenburg set that faithfully stood me by for about 10 years! The distinctive color made it easy to spot on the luggage carousel and its sturdy construction withstood the pull, tug and throws of many international trips.
It wasn’t until I started traveling extensively for personal vacations and for work business trips (every other month) that I realized how advanced today’s luggage sets have become and how tired I was of pulling a 2 wheeled suitcase, so I decided to upgrade.
In the time since, I’ve tried not just one or two but many, many different pieces of luggage – from classic brands to hot, new start up brands. Here’s my comprehensive guide to buying the best carry on luggage for your buck in 2018!
10 of the Best Carry On Luggage Brands Reviewed
In no particular order, here are my top picks for the best carry-on luggage. I’ve tested these throughout 2016, 2017 and the beginning of 2018 – these are solid suitcase choices for business travel, sleek fashionable options for the stylish traveler and everyday affordable luggage options under $70 as well. There’s a mix of both hard case and soft-top suitcases to suit either preference. My hope is you’ll find the perfect carry on luggage option for you, regardless of your travel style!
Samsonite Omni Hardside Spinner 20″
19.0″ x 14.5″ x 9.75″ | 6.8 lbs | $$
This is Amazon’s best selling carry-on luggage for business travel – for good reason!
Samsonite Luggage Review: Lightweight with re-engineered spinner wheels, this suitcase offers easy mobility and comes with a TSA lock. Its available in 10 colors, but most business travelers will likely choose black. The outer case features a micro diamond, brushed exterior that hides scratches and dings so it still looks pretty “new” after a couple long-haul trips! I’m subtracting points for the lack of a side handle.
Calpak Carry On
19.0″ x 13.0″ x 9.0″ | 8.4 pounds | $$
Calpak makes the perfect carry on piece for those looking for attractive hard shelled luggage options at an affordable price.
Calpak Luggage Review: This is my top pick for affordable hard luggage that can take a beating. They offer lots of matching 2 piece and 3 piece sets, all with TSA approved locks and mesh pockets to dive the interior. I recommend Calpak’s packing cubes as well, which are perfectly sized to fit the interior and machine washable. The outer hard cases will get small nicks and scratches but have held up for me on trips all around the world! Check out their adorable hat boxes too.
Raden A22 Smart Carry On Spinner
20.5″ x 14″ x 9.0″ | 8.4 pounds | $$$
Raden is a sleek, smart carry on for 2018. The hard outer shell is deceptively flexible and perhaps its coolest feature, as it’s made from polycarbonate. You can literally jump on this suitcase and it will absorb shock and gently bounce back into shape. For the checked size, that’s quite nice! Raden’s carry on piece is the lightest I’ve ever tried and best of all, they have a wide range of glossy + matte colors. I chose black but really, the color options are impressive.
Raden Luggage Review: Raden luggage is more expensive than comparable carry on luggage because it has a couple of add-n features: First, the Raden phone app syncs via bluetooth to weigh your bag so you don’t have to worry about overweight charges at the gate. It has built-in GPS to locate your bag anywhere in the world as well as built-in chargers for your phone and laptop. But, the (removable) battery pack makes Raden’s interior the smallest I’ve tried.
Delsey Luggage Helium Aero Carry-On Spinner
20.5″ x 14.5″ x 10.0″ | 10.4 lbs | $$
Delsey is a high quality French luggage brand that offers a 10 year worldwide warranty – you know you’re buying quality!
Delsey Luggage Review: The Helium carry on comes with a 100% polycarbonate shell that resists cracks and breaks. I especially like the metallic finish, which looks sleek, shiny and much more expensive than it actually costs! Of all the carry on luggage pieces listed here, Delsey luggage has the best wheels for easy mobility. Other positives: the shell is expandable (rare for a hard case) and comes with a TSA approved lock.
Incase Eo Travel Hardshell Roller
23.0″ x 15.0″ x 8.0″ | 10.4 lbs | $$$
Incase is an ultra stylish option for business travelers who value functionality and form.
Incase Luggage Review: This roller is quite distinctive and a good pick for those who want the sleekness of a hardcase with the flexibility of a soft case, as the exterior is made of a cotton/polyester/rubber blend. For business travel, the Incase Luggage is one of my top picks, as it has a dedicated technology pouch that fits up to a 17″ laptop as well as an assortment of smaller pockets for wires, cords, hard drives etc. The one downside is the exterior scratches easily.
Travelpro Maxlite 4 Expandable 22″
21.0″ x 14.0″ x 9.0″ | 7.5 lbs | $$
An affordable soft-shell carry on for the old school traveler, who prefers lightness and 2 wheels.
Travelpro Luggage Review: This is a classic soft suitcase, with 2 wheels and a deep main compartment (so not a sandwich suitcase). That being said, the front lid is roomy enough to fit a couple shirts and pants and overall, there are lots of zipped compartments for organization. The Travelpro is quite light and transitions well for business trips to European vacations.
Tumi Alpha Expandable International Carry-On
22.1″ x 14.0″ x 9.1″ | 12.9 lbs | $$$$
Tumi is always a classic choice. I especially love the light grey/brown color combination.
Tumi Luggage Review: I love the classic look of Tumi and it’s a favorite brand for business travelers. This is a “sandwich” type soft carry on, with 2 equally sized compartments. One compartment has a zippered cover, which works well to contain dirty clothes. The outer lid has two zippered compartments which I find handy for storing a manila folder of papers and my phone/passport on the go! Overall, a solid carry on but definitely a little more expensive due to the Tumi brand.
Briggs & Riley Baseline Carry-On Expandable Upright
22.0″ x 14.0″ x 9.0″ | 11.3 pounds | $$$$
A beautifully flat bag with an extra roomy interior that stands the test of time.
Briggs & Riley Luggage Review: I was introduced to this brand through C and really love how functional and light weight their luggage pieces are. The interior is extra roomy and the exterior is a soft shell with structure. I’m one of those people that over packs and struggles with carrying luggage up and down stairs, thus nicking the bottom half the time, but the Briggs & Riley still looks like new despite the beating.
I didn’t quite realize how expensive their luggage is (as it was C’s before we met) but he’s had his Briggs & Riley for 6 years now and it still looks amazing – the quality is absolutely fantastic and they offer a lifetime guaranty – which I think is a true testament to the durability.
SwissGear Travel Gear 21″ Spinner
20.0″ x 13.5″ x 7.5″ | 8.0 pounds | $
Available in a range of colors and under $80, the SwissGear is my affordable carry on pick.
SwissGear Luggage Review: A well made carry on that’s light and has no trouble fitting in airplane over head bins. It’s a great budget option and one of the most popular for the price on Amazon! Compared to more expensive brands, the wheels and handles felt slightly looser and more flimsy but it’s also a fraction of the price. Overall, Swissgear is a good affordable buy for short domestic trips.
Samsonite Aspire Xlite Expandable Upright 21.5″
21.5″ x 14.5″ x 8.0″ | 11.3 pounds | $
The perfect carry on piece for those looking for attractive hard shelled luggage options at an affordable price.
Samsonite Luggage Review: If you like the Samsonite brand but want a classic carry on with just two wheels and one deep pocket, this is the bag for you. It’s light, strong and holds a lot making it good for both business and personal travel. On the lid, there’s a mesh pocket for smaller items like undergarments or socks as well as a plastic compartment for toiletries. The Samsonite Aspire is under $100 and another of my affordable carry on favorites!
Must Have Accessories for Carry On Luggage
Attachable Luggage Tote
Nothing beats the ease of traveling with shoulders free. Whether you’re a woman looking to put down your handbag or a man traveling with a business briefcase, you need a travel tote that will beautifully attach to a carry on roller’s long handle.
Lipault makes my favorite travel tote bag. The sleek black exterior resists stains and looks sharp while the interior can comfortably fit a 15″ laptop, DSLR camera, notebooks, a change of clothes and the necessities. My favorite feature is the large zippered pocket on the exterior which slides right over your carry on luggage handle so that you can wheel both together with ease!
Once you get a packing cube set, you’ll never go back to free range luggage. Packing cubes help maximize space inside your luggage by neatly organizing clothing and separating your dirty worn clothes from freshly laundered ones.
Amazon carries a wide range of packing cube sets and brands at different price points. Personally I use Calpka’s set which are made to perfectly fit their luggage. They’re durable, even after I’ve thrown them in the wash over and over!
Best Carry On Luggage 2018 – Summary Comparison Chart
To summarize, here’s a handy chart to compare each of the different luggage brands so you can easily identify which carry on luggage option is best for you! I’ve grouped my 10 luggage picks by hard shell and then soft shell.
What to Look For in Carry On Luggage
Size | The best size for carry on suitcases in 2018 is a 22″ piece – this is max dimensions for most airlines across domestic and international flights. I have found that when I expand a carry on, flight attendants tend to claim its “oversized” so I would try to make sure you can depart with the suitcase in its tightest form (zipped up).
The full specs for carry-on bags for reference are: 9 in x 14 in x 22 in (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm) including the wheels and handle.
Wheels | Four wheels is the new standard. Ditch any two-wheeled carry on piece as you’ll be struggling the entire trip with lugging, pulling and tugging. Four wheels provides the flexibility of pushing the luggage upright while still being able to pull it behind.
Handles | Ideally a carry-on will have a short top handle and side handle for lifting as well as an extra sturdy telescopic handle that can both push and pull the luggage with ease. The best telescopic handles are tall enough to allow you to pull your luggage at a comfortable arm length while also contracting mid-way.
Construction | Nowadays, you have 2 choices for carry on luggage interiors. One type has a deep compartment with an outer flap. The second type is called ‘sandwich’ construction where the suitcase is split into 2 equal halves. It’s personal preference which you prefer.
While I like that sandwich construction luggage allows me to better organize (say clothes on one half, shoes + toiletries on the other), I have found that many hotel room luggage racks are built for the original, 1 compartment. The racks are generally not wide enough to support both halves so it can lead to a messier travel experience.
Hard or Soft | This is more a matter of personal preference. Soft carry-on luggage allows you to really maximize storage and squeeze in that extra inch of room. Typically there’s an outer pocket where I store papers and odds and ends. Hard carry on luggage is sleeker and has a more distinctive, luxurious look. Whichever you choose, make sure there are plenty of internal pockets for organization.
Smart Luggage or Traditional? | There are new brands like Raden Luggage generating lots of interest because they offer charging ports within the luggage shell case.
New for 2018: The Smart Luggage Ban
Several American airlines (currently, Delta, American, Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines) have banned smart luggage as of January 15, 2018. Other airlines may implement the ban as well.
Smart luggage means carry on or checked bags that have non-removable lithium ion batteries (to help you recharge your phone or laptop).
Both AWAY luggage and Raden luggage have removable battery packs so technically you can still use these as carry on pieces (you have to remove the battery pack if you plan to check the suitcases). I’ve kept these two brands on my list of favorite carry on suitcases for the time being.
Read More in my travel packing checklist series: