Be it international business travel or pleasure, owning high-quality carry-on luggage should be right up there on your list of priorities. A piece of good cabin luggage should be lightweight and able to hold all your essentials whilst meeting certain airline standards. This is extra important when you realise how much it costs to check a case in nowadays!
With so much choice out there, it can be hard to figure out whether to go for a hard or soft shell, a 2 or 4-wheeler, and something compact or roomy and expandable. Lucky for you, we’ve put together a guide to figure it all out, as well as a list of the best budget and designer buys on Amazon and John Lewis from leading brands like Samsonite and American Tourister.
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There’s a fair few things to consider when buying new luggage such as the size, fabric and number of wheels. Our buying guide will talk you through all of these points and help you make an informed decision on exactly what type of carry-on you should be purchasing. Why not scroll down and have a look?
Just as no two cases are made equal, not all luggage restrictions are made equal either. Different airlines have slightly different rules on the case dimensions they allow flyers to take as a carry-on, so it's important to check.
For example, Ryanair only allows luggage up to 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm whereas British Airways have a more relaxed restriction of 56 cm x 45 cm x 25 cm.
It's also important to be aware that these measurements aren't just for the body of the suitcase, but include any parts that stick out too, such as handles and wheels.
Plus, with soft shell cases, the case may expand and bulge if you overpack just a bit too much. Sites often don't take these things into consideration with their measurements so it's best to check yourself before you travel!
Just as all airlines have different size restrictions, some also have weight restrictions for carry-on luggage. Although EasyJet have no weight restrictions, Ryanair enforces a strict limit of 10 kg. British Airways, meanwhile, offer a more generous 23 kg.
If you'll be doing a lot of travelling, this is definitely something to be mindful of. You might prefer to go lighter anyway, so as not to have an unnecessarily heavy suitcase taking up weight that could be used for your belongings instead!
Before you try to pack that extra pair of shoes, it's also important to note that the capacity of your case is how much you can potentially pack inside, whilst the stated weight measures the empty suitcase. The overall luggage weight will be the combined weight of your belongings on top of this.
With the size and weight sorted, the biggest question you'll have to face when trying to purchase a carry-on is whether you want a hard shell plastic case or a soft shell fabric case. No one is better than the other, as they both have their pros and cons.
Hard shell cases are made of hard plastics like polypropylene or ABS, and are considered to be more durable due to their rigid exterior, as well as offering better protection for your items.
It's very unlikely for something or even someone to penetrate through the hard shell to damage, or get to, your belongings! If security is important to you, look for designs with combination locks or fastenings.
The downside to hard shell cases is that, no matter how lightweight they are, they are often still heavier and more expensive than soft shell suitcases.
Soft shell cases, on the other hand, are the most lightweight option as they are made from fabrics such as polyester or nylon.
Not only are they able to withstand a few bumps and grazes, but they're a lot more expandable than hard shell cases due to their flexible fabric exterior. This works in your favour if you have any odd-shaped items, or you just like to squeeze in as much as possible!
That said, soft shell cases are less sturdy and offer less protection for fragile items. A sharp item can penetrate through fabric a lot more easily than plastic! In terms of cleaning, they require more work to maintain as the case can absorb liquids, dirt, and smells that might be difficult to wash out.
The final thing you'll have to consider on your luggage buying checklist is whether you want a carry-on with two wheels or four wheels. Here are the details for each style to help you decide.
Having two wheels on your case might be considered a bit old-fashioned by some, but there's a reason why they're still beloved by many travellers. They can be sturdier and more reliable than 4-wheelers, as they don't stick out as much from the body, meaning they're less likely to snap off your case.
However, you do have to always pull the luggage behind you which can make it difficult to navigate through crowds – especially if you have multiple pieces of luggage!
Conversely, 4-wheeled cases are a lot easier to transport around as their wheels spin 360º, so you can push them beside you or even in front of you if you like. Plus, you can wheel them around upright rather than tilted, making them a lot more balanced than 2-wheel cases.
Sometimes there can be such a thing as being too easy to wheel around – there's no way to stop the wheels on these cases, so if you're on uneven ground, your luggage can very quickly roll away from you!
What about the design choices of your luggage? If you prefer a subtle shade, most brands usually offer black, grey, or neutral tones. Although you might run the risk of not being able to spot your case easily on the carousel, selecting a distinguishable pattern can get around this.
Of course, a brighter colour like pink or blue is an easier way of discerning your case from the rest of the crowd. Plus, you get to make a fashion statement and match your case to your clothes, if you're particularly style-conscious!
However, lighter colours are more likely to show up dirt or smudges, so you might have to be extra careful with them.
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Briggs & Riley
Sympatico 4-Wheel Expandable International Cabin Suitcase
A Stylish, Hardwearing Suitcase That Will Last You a Lifetime
Soundbox Spinner Expandable
A High-Durability Case That Will Stand Out in the Crowd
Maxlite® 5 International Expandable Carry-On Rollaboard®
An Ultra Light and Durable Case That Accommodates Users Of All Heights
John Lewis & Partners
Girona Cabin Case
An Affordable Case With a Sleek Design and a 10 Year Warranty
Flux Spinner Expandable
The Next-Generation Hard Shell Case With Practically Hidden Expandability
Stylish Denim Carry-On Made From an Innovative Foam and Fabric Hybrid
Tegra-Lite® Max International Expandable Carry-On
The Luxury Hard Shell With a Multitude of Extra Features
Velocity Expandable Luggage
A Cheap and Cheerful Choice in a Variety of Colours
Beau Small Suitcase
A Designer Suitcase Perfect for Fans of Adorable Accessories
Pyramid Hardside Spinner Luggage
A Light, Reliable and Well-Built Case Brought to You by Amazon
There's no need to worry about finding another suitcase ever again with this Briggs & Riley carry-on. For a stylish suitcase that will last you through all your travels, the Sympatico 4-Wheel suitcase is so durable it comes with a lifetime guarantee that even covers airline damage. The capacity is also huge for a carry-on.
Whether you're travelling for business or pleasure, the interior of the case is equipped with adjustable garment compression panels with speed buckles to ensure flat, wrinkle-free clothing when you unpack. Exterior-wise, it's fitted with a secure lock, 4 double swivel wheels for easy transportation, and a polycarbonate shell that will survive any bumpy flight, train or car ride.
If you're someone who loves to stand out from the crowd, the American Tourister Soundbox Spinner is the perfect fit for you. Inspired by the design of vinyl records, this retro carry-on looks like it rolled straight out of the 60s and onto the (plane) runway.
It's not just looks, though – it's constructed from the highest quality polypropylene with twin compartments and a mesh divider pocket for all your little items. This piece of carry-on doesn't compromises on durability or weight either, weighing in at only 2.6 kg to give you more room to pack that extra outfit.
Whether you're traveling within the country or internationally, this soft shell carry-on is the best and most affordable option for old-school travellers who prefer a soft 2-wheeled case.Made from a stain-resistant, water-repellant nylon exterior, this suitcase is equipped with multiple front and side pockets for access to all your important bits.
Not only does this suitcase expand to make space for more packing, its unique PowerScope Lite handle accommodates travellers of different heights by having two locking positions. Best of all, it's the lightest case on our list, for those concerned about weight restrictions while travelling.
High-quality luggage often costs an arm and a leg, but this John Lewis case gives you just that at a fraction of the cost. Even better, it comes with a 10-year warranty, guaranteeing an excellent suitcase that will last you for years to come.
Made out of a durable ABS hard shell exterior with a unique sleek design, this case looks and feels deceptively expensive. And the quality build doesn't skimp on the details either, with elastic compression straps and a mesh zipped divider so you can easily access all your small essentials while you travel.
Flux is the perfect carry-on suitcase for those who want flexibility and durability. Featuring hidden expandability, this piece of luggage expands up to 4 cm and allows up to an extra 7 litres of capacity for all your packing needs. A lifesaver if you've accidentally bought too many souvenirs on holiday!
The ultra-sleek smart design is apparent throughout the whole case, with multiple interior pockets for organised packing and ultra-silent easy-rolling double wheels. All of these features are sure to guarantee smooth sailing throughout your travels.
Here's one for the stylish readers! This Eastpak carry-on is a fashionable case that's sure to get you plenty of compliments in real life and on your Instagram feed. It comes in a number of unique colourways, and has large, dual compartments as well as an extra side handle.
Although this is a hard shell case, it's made from a foam and fabric hybrid rather than plastic. This innovative material preserves its sculpted shape and is durable, ultra-light and water-resistant, ensuring protection from the elements during your travels.
This TUMI carry-on is a rare find in that it's a hard shell suitcase with an extra outer compartment. Not only does it come with a front pocket to keep all your important bits, but it also has a plethora of features including multiple interior pockets and a hanger bracket for suits and longer garments. Perfect for any business travellers out there!
There's no denying it is of exceptional quality, even down to the smoothness of the double spinner wheels and the secure locking system. However, due to the sheer number of great features in this carry-on, it is also the heaviest suitcase on our list, weighing in at a whopping 4.65 kg.
Although the outer is made from ABS polymer, it is not the most sturdy piece of luggage and some reviewers claim the zippers aren't the most reliable either. They also cannot be locked. If you're only doing some occasional light travelling, this is fine, but if you plan on travelling more, it might be best to get something more heavy-duty.
For those who like their accessories on the cute side, this suitcase by Ted Baker may well be the perfect carry-on for you. Coming in soft baby pink, cool navy and an elegant black and rose gold colourway, it has a lightweight polycarbonate shell and an equally stylish interior, optimised for your packing with separate compartments.
As cute as this design is, it's not for everyone, or every budget. If you prefer something a bit more subtle and understated, there are plenty of other better-suited carry-on luggage pieces on our list!
This suitcase is also equipped with a fully-lined interior and multiple zipper pockets for all your bits and bobs, so you'll never lose track of them. Unfortunately, the brand doesn't state the capacity of the suitcase so if you're concerned about having lots to pack, it might be best to pick another.
With the restrictions on international travel changing all the time, it's been a little trickier to get away this summer. That said, planning a jaunt to a corner of the UK you've always wanted to visit can be just as exciting! Here are a few more products you might find useful for a shorter trip.
There we have our best carry-on luggage buying guide and ranking list. We hope you’ve found a suitable case for all of your travelling needs, whether you’re a frequent business traveller or a once-in-a-while holiday type. All that’s left to do is to figure out where you’re going and get packing!
Author: Dodo Wang
No. 1: Briggs & Riley｜Sympatico 4-Wheel Expandable International Cabin Suitcase
No. 2: American Tourister｜Soundbox Spinner Expandable
No. 3: Travelpro｜Maxlite® 5 International Expandable Carry-On Rollaboard®
No. 4: John Lewis & Partners｜Girona Cabin Case
No. 5: Samsonite｜Flux Spinner Expandable
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