We tested 11 small suitcases costing $39 to $749 that would fit enough gear for a long weekend away and should nestle into an overhead locker on an aircraft. But which are cleared to board?
Snapshot: The Kmart 45.5cm hard case 42483892 has 4 swivel wheels. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Kmart 45.5cm Soft Lightweight Case 42343561 has 4 swivel wheels. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Basics 4 Wheel Hard Suitcase 50cm has 4 swivel wheels. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Samsonite 72 Hours Dlx 55cm is a soft case with 4 swivel wheels. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The American Tourister Applite 3.0 55cm soft case has 4 swivel wheels. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Samsonite Cosmolite 3.0 55cm hard case has 4 swivel wheels. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The American Tourister Curio 55cm hard case has 4 swivel wheels. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Delsey Montmartre Air 55cm soft case has 4 swivel wheels. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Samsonite Octolite 55cm Spin Suitcase is a hard case with 4 swivel wheels. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Antler Oxygen 56cm Carry On Spinner soft case has 4 swivel wheels. But how does it perform?
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Then we stuffed the bags with newspaper and put them under a simulated 10-minute downpour, to see how wet the contents become.
Each bag was weighed and measured, to see if they met airline cabin baggage restrictions.
Then we really went at them. Each bag, filled with 4kg of clothes, was picked up by its handle and dropped 300 times on to a concrete floor from a height of 90cm. They landed on their wheels, bounced and fell over. We looked for scuffs, scrapes, cracks and broken wheels or zips.
Finally, we dropped a pointed cylinder on to the bag in several places and assessed if it damaged or punctured the surfaces.
Despite many of them being sold as carry-on cases, none of our recommended models met the published size criteria for the 5 major airlines flying from New Zealand airports (see our baggage allowances table. Airline size allowances include protruding wheels, whereas many luggage manufacturers supply dimensions excluding the wheels.
The weighed between 1.8 and 3.0kg. That doesn’t leave much allowance for your belongings before you reach the 7kg carry-on baggage limit.
We packed up a case weighing 2.4kg for a typical long weekend away: a couple of changes of clothing, wash gear, towel, shoes, a book, an iPad and chargers. When loaded it wasn’t completely full, yet weighed 8.3kg.
So beware, if you pack one of these carry-on sized cases to capacity you’re likely to exceed the weight limit and you’ll need to check it into the hold, even if it meets the airline size criteria.
Four spinner wheels are the norm for small suitcases. You can pull the case behind you using two of the wheels or push it on all four. Four-wheel cases are easier to manoeuvre than models with two fixed wheels. However, the wheels take up space, which cut into packing space.
All our tested bags have an extendable and lockable handle. Look for one that locks into a position suitable for your height and has a comfortable grip. The lock/release button should be easy to access one-handed.
All bags had a fixed handle on the top, but not all had one on the side. The side handle can make the case easier to lift and carry.
Hard-shell cases usually open in the centre of the 2 “shells”, while soft-sided cases have a top “flap” opening. You may prefer one or the other for ease of access and loading. Hard-shell cases can be awkward to open when both sides are fully packed.
Look for good-quality recessed or protected zips. Exposed zips can get damaged through general use – once a zip fails, the bag is useless.
Zip locking tabs allow a padlock or cable-tie to be fitted to prevent the case being opened or the zips working themselves open in transit. Models in this test either had lockable zips or came with a built-in TSA-certified combination lock on the main compartment. The TSA bit is relevant if you are flying through the US as it lets security open your bag without destroying the lock.
All bags tested have internal straps to secure loads in a partially filled case. Each half of a hard-shell case also has a zipped cover to keep contents in place.
Soft-sided cases usually have external pockets. These are useful for storing items you want to access easily, but check the zips can be locked if you use them for valuables. You usually miss out on convenient pockets with a hard-shell case.
Some soft-sided cases are expandable: sections unzip to create extra packing space. While this space can be useful for squeezing in a few last-minute items, the extra fabric and zip make the case heavier, and an expanded bag is unlikely to meet cabin bag requirements so will need to be checked in.
Travelling with toddlers? Mountain Buggy’s Bagrider is a suitcase on wheels with a detachable seat — it lets you transport your toddler and their belongings through airport terminals in one compact package.
How do you know how heavy your bag is? One method is standing on bathroom scales with and without the bag and calculate the difference in weights. But to be more accurate, you could use a dedicated luggage scale. We’ve tested 8 models.
There’s no standard allowance for carry-on baggage across the major airlines flying from New Zealand airports:
|Airline||Number of bags||Weight (kg)||Dimensions (cm)||Size (cm)||Small personal item|
|Air New Zealand||1||7||not stated||118||in addition to the weight limit|
|Emirates||1||7||55 x 38 x 20||114 for a wheeled case||in addition to the weight limit|
|Jetstar||1||7||56 x 36 x 23 A||115||as part of the weight limit|
|Qantas||1||7||56 x 36 x 23||115||in addition to the weight limit|
|Virgin Australia||2||7 (combined for both bags)||48 x 34 x 23 each bag||105 each bag||in addition to the weight limit|
GUIDE TO THE TABLE A = reduces to 48 x 34 x 23 on regional flights with Q300 aircraft.
Beware of exceeding these rules. Airlines are cracking down on passengers who push the limits of carry-on size and weight. If you are asked to check in your oversized or overweight cabin bag at the gate, you’ll be stung with a hefty charge.
For domestic flights, Air New Zealand and Jetstar charge $60 (the Jetstar charge is waived for bags oversized on new regional flights but within the size and weight limits for other Jetstar flights). That charge becomes $120 and $75 respectively for trans-Tasman flights.
For both airlines, it is cheaper to pre-book an extra checked bag before you travel if you think you might exceed your carry-on allowance.
Check out more of our reviews, articles, news and surveys in our Money & travel section.
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