“It means increased costs and less inventory at the retail level,” Pittenger says.
Andy Krantz, chief executive of luggage manufacturer Paravel, says the shortages are severe, “akin to those we saw in home fitness and bicycles last summer.” But it’s also increasing consumer awareness of the materials used in luggage. Krantz says more people are buying carry-ons made from recycled material. (Paravel’s $295 Aviator Carry-On Plus has a lining made from upcycled plastic water bottles and a handle made of aircraft-grade recycled aluminum.)
So what’s new? There’s nothing groundbreaking in this year’s new luggage, but manufacturers have made small, incremental improvements. The suitcases are lighter and sturdier; they roll better; and they can accommodate more of your belongings. Best of all, these features are no longer limited to high-end luggage, so there’s more money left in your pocket for your vacation.
Even though Samsonite’s Outline Pro ($179.99) is the least expensive of the new carry-on bags, it still checks most of the boxes. Its interior lining is made from recycled plastic bottles, and it features antimicrobial handle technology, which should please nervous pandemic travelers. It’s also ultra-minimalist luggage. You can remove the panel dividers and use every inch of the Outline Pro, which you’ll probably want to do if you’re trying to fit a week’s worth of your belongings into a spinner.
The Away Carry-On Flex ($255) is also a standard nearly 22-inch carry-on. But for your return trip, it expands to add an extra 2¼ inches of space for your souvenirs. Note that the manufacturer recommends that you check the bag if you’re using the flex feature, which you may not want to do. I prefer to think of it as an enormous luggage cube. You pack with it “unflexed,” then compress it and close the second zipper. It works with lots of clothes, but I wouldn’t try it with electronics or fragile items. I’ve always liked Away’s wheels, and this year, the company has improved the 360-degree spinner wheels to offer an even smoother ride. (It was out of stock at the time of publication — those supply chain issues I was talking about — but Away expects to have it by early next year.)
On the Monos Carry-On Pro ($275-$305), the standout feature is a built-in front compartment. Traditionally, hard-sided carry-on luggage doesn’t have any exterior compartments. That means you have to carry your laptop and travel documents in a separate bag, or, if you invest in wearable luggage like the Scottevest (nine to 42 pockets, $129-$224), you can try to slide it into one of your many pockets. Monos also has a set of innovative cubes that you can use to squeeze your belongings into a smaller space, but I’ll have more about those in a few weeks.
Samsara’s Smart Carry-On ($299) reminds me of the second-generation smart luggage I wrote about a few years ago. The curved design makes it stand out, so even if you choose the black model, you’ll always know which carry-on belongs to you. The Samsara also contains a USB-C port that’s cleverly built into the luggage, so you can charge your electronic devices. There’s even a light, so you can access the bag in the dark without having to fumble around. The top of the bag doubles as a desk, so you can work on a laptop while you’re waiting to depart. But the wheels are a real standout on this bag; they’re smooth and allow you to make turns effortlessly. If you want even more gadgets, you can preorder the Samsara Next-Gen ($279), which comes with its own WiFi hotspot and integrates with the Samsara app.
The Travelpro Platinum Elite Compact Carry-On Expandable Hardside Spinner ($349.99) combines some of the best features found in all the new bags. It has smooth, self-aligning spinner wheels, like the Samsara. It expands like the Away bag. It has external USB ports with a dedicated power bank pocket. It’s also one of the sharpest-looking of the new bags. Sure, you’re paying a little extra for the Travelpro name. But then again, it’s the brand that helped make wheeled luggage mainstream. When I became a travel writer, I went out and bought a Travelpro bag. I used it until the wheels came off, and I had zero regrets.
I live out of my luggage. For the first time in recent memory, I wouldn’t hesitate to take any of these new carry-ons on the road with me. They roll better, they’re sturdier and they cost less than the pre-pandemic versions. You may need to look a little harder to find one this year, but the search will be worth it.
Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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