Consumer Reports: How to pick luggage that lasts a lifetime

Your checklist for a good piece of luggage is probably pretty simple -- it should hold what you need and be tough enough to survive the baggage claim when you have to check it.

Baggage can take a real beating getting from here to there. Luggage salesman Sal Carino says durability is a top priority for his customers.

“People are willing to pay a premium for a product that will arrive intact," Carino said.

Split seams, or broken zippers, wheels, or handles can mean the next trip for that bag is to the garbage dump.

If you want a bag that will last, Consumer Reports members can help.

A Consumer Reports survey of more than 38,000 members reveals which brands to pick before you pack by revealing important information about the luggage they own.

Briggs & Riley and Eagle Creek were two of the top-rated brands for durability for both checked and carry-on bags. They also got high marks in the Consumer Reports survey for ease of packing and stowability. Another bonus with these brands -- they are among those that offer lifetime warranties.

“Lifetime warranties can offer some peace of mind. But you need to remember that they do come with limitations and that ‘lifetime’ may not mean your lifetime," said Kevin Doyle.

For instance, with Eagle Creek, the warranty applies to what the company says is the lifetime of the bag. Also with some manufacturers, including Away, the warranty will not apply if you are not the original owner. Cosmetic damage is also generally not covered.

“Even if the bag is covered under warranty, the company will likely repair it. If they do replace the bag they may give you a different color or even a completely different model from the one that you purchased," Doyle said.

In addition to durability, Carino said it’s important to consider the size and weight of the bag. Some airlines require carry-ons to be 18 pounds or less for the lowest priced flights.

No matter how sturdy your luggage is, over time it will start to show its age with little dings and scrapes which are generally not covered under lifetime warranties. Two ways to keep your checked bag looking like new is to either have it wrapped in plastic for the trip or use a removable cover. Keep in mind though that officials may unwrap the bag if they decide to inspect it.

Deciding what you need

How Do You Travel?

Do you mostly fly, drive, or go on cruises? For airplane travel, familiarize yourself with the luggage rules of the airlines you plan to fly on. If you go on road trips, look for bags that are pliable enough to maximize your trunk space. For cruise ships -- which stack baggage in the boat’s belly before departure -- flat, rigid luggage is best.

How Will You Store Your Luggage?

Once the luggage gets home, where will you put it? Hard-sided bags are the most unforgiving; you can’t squeeze them into a storage space. Soft-sided, structured bags have a little forgiveness on the front and back. If you have no place to store a stand-up suitcase, you may have to limit yourself to duffels or bags.

What Size Luggage Do You Need?

This will depend mainly on the length of your trip and, if you are flying, airline luggage restrictions. It also depends on what you’ll need while you are away. If you mostly travel for business, you’ll need enough room for business attire; for vacations, you’ll have more leeway on what to bring.

For more on how to buy the best luggage, from which types to the anatomy of a bag, click here for Consumer Reports’ Luggage Buying Guide.