Cheap vs expensive carry-on luggage | CHOICE

Cheap vs expensive carry-on luggage | CHOICE
Cheap vs expensive carry-on luggage | CHOICE

Alice Richard

Pru Engel

Pru Engel

Last updated:

28 March 2024

Once you’ve forked out the cost for your flights, your cruise or hotel accommodation, the next item that needs to be ticked off your travel list is sorting out which luggage you’re going to take with you.

Whether you’re a precise packer or a more carefree traveller, the type of luggage you take with you can make a difference to the level of enjoyment and ease (or stress) you’ll experience on your holiday, particularly when travelling to and from your destination. So it’s important to choose wisely and pick a case that’s up to the job.

If your suitcase is on its last legs, you’re probably dreading having to spend money on a new one instead of on more margaritas on the beach. And with prices ranging from as low as $40 up to many hundreds of dollars, how do you know how much you really need to spend? Does paying more really get you a better suitcase?

Our experts recently reviewed over 30 of the latest carry-on and check-in suitcases from brands such as Antler, Samsonite, American Tourister and Kmart, assessing them on everything from how easy they are to roll and move, how easily they are damaged and how they fare if they get stuck in the rain.

This means we can help you solve the case on whether cheaper suitcases stack up to the more expensive brands.

Luggage reviews

“You could buy the $39 Kmart carry-on plus return flights from Sydney to Melbourne and you still wouldn’t have spent as much as the most expensive suitcases in our test, such as the Samsonites,” says CHOICE luggage tester Matthew Tung.
Some suitcases may cost more than an actual flight, but is the RRP a good indicator of how much you should spend? Not really, says CHOICE expert Kim Gilmour.

You could buy the $39 Kmart carry-on plus return flights from Sydney to Melbourne and you still wouldn’t have spent as much as the most expensive suitcases in our test

CHOICE luggage tester Matthew Tung

“Expensive suitcases are almost always on sale, so there’s rarely any reason to pay full price,” she says.
“While hard-shell suitcases from the big brands still aren’t cheap even with a hefty discount, if you shop around you should be able to find a price that’s well below the RRP.”
Keep an eye out for good deals coming up in the End of Financial Year Sales or around Black Friday and Boxing Day. 

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What are the differences between cheap and expensive suitcases?

When you’re trying to squeeze in under the weight limit for your budget Jetstar flight, every gram counts. This is especially important if you’re travelling just with carry-on – you don’t want most of your allowance taken up before you’ve even started packing.

You also want your bags to be as light and manageable as possible if you’ll be lugging them on and off trains and buses, or dragging them across multiple airports and transfers.

You’d imagine that expensive suitcases might have the edge over cheaper ones in terms of weight due to the more expensive materials used, or special designs that can reduce weight.
Indeed, the two lightest carry-on suitcases we tested were from Samsonite:

  • The Samsonite C-Lite 55cm hard case weighs 1.93kg and has an RRP of $699
  • The Samsonite 73 hours H Spinner 55cm soft case weighs 1.91kg and has an RRP of $399

But the $40 Kmart carry on case weighs only 2.2kg and is roughly the same size as these two Samsonite suitcases, so the extra money doesn’t necessarily buy you a significantly lighter case.

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Style and features

There’s no denying you’ll likely get a more sophisticated design and more options for colours, styles and sizes with more expensive luggage. And a brightly-coloured or distinctive case is easier to spot in a sea of luggage at the baggage terminal. 

More expensive suitcases usually come with features such as luxe linings, extra pockets, good-quality zippers, locking mechanisms and handy compartments that you might not find in cheaper products. 

Pricier suitcases also often come with a TSA lock which allows you to lock your luggage while permitting security authorities to inspect it without damage. The carry-on suitcases we tested that cost under $100 from Kmart and Big W did not include this feature. 

Two pricey Samsonite cases we tested even came with in-built USB-A ports you could connect your devices to for on-the-go charging, and some have linings made from recycled materials. 

But it depends what’s more important to you: a swish suitcase, or more money to spend on your holiday?

CHOICE experts use specialised equipment to run durability tests on carry-on and check-in luggage. Suitcases get dropped, rained on, dragged around and generally knocked about under test conditions so we can find the best quality brands. 


Suitcases can take quite a beating when they’re being tossed around by luggage handlers between flights or dragged on and off trains, so it’s a good idea to choose a case that’s durable.

To test how each suitcase stacks up in this regard, our experts use a range of specialised equipment and tests to drop them, drag them and generally knock them about to see how they perform. In our ‘lift and drop’ test we load suitcases with clothes, then drop them wheels-first from a height of 90cm onto a concrete floor 300 times. 

We load suitcases with clothes, then drop them wheels-first from a height of 90cm onto a concrete floor 300 times

The vast majority of suitcases we tested, including the $39 Kmart carry-on case, scored a perfect 100% in this test, which means they all came out unscathed, but there were a few that only received a borderline score due to sustaining major cracks or even broken wheels.

The advantage of investing in a more expensive suitcase is that they will usually come with warranties of up to 10 years, which means you can get a repair or replacement if the suitcase is faulty (although this doesn’t cover normal wear and tear or damage inflicted by an airline, for example – ensure you check the terms and conditions before you buy). 

With more investment into technology and design, and generally higher-quality materials, premium luggage may last you longer than cheaper brands. 

The cheapest and best carry-on suitcases under $200

CHOICE members can access detailed reviews from our luggage test to discover which suitcases impressed our experts the most. 

Become a CHOICE member or sign in to see the results from our latest carry-on luggage test, including the CHOICE Expert Rating; results for the lift and drop test and puncture test; and other features that make these three suitcases stand out options for anyone looking to spend less on luggage, so they can spend more on their holiday (or margaritas).

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Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.

Samonsite Octolite suitcase which, at $335 (RRP), costs almost 10 times more.

With four wheels and a zipper head that can be locked with a padlock (that doesn’t come with the suitcase), it’s also very good at keeping contents dry in the rain, so has the basics covered.

Read the Kmart Anko Carry-on Hard Case 4 Wheels review.


Swiss Alps Candy Small Trolleycase, $65.

2. Swiss Alps Candy Small Trolleycase

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 81%
  • Lift and drop test: 100%
  • Puncture test: 91%
  • Weight: 2.4kg
  • Price: $65

This Big W buy looks sleek with its hard shell available in a few trendy colours – white, lavender and spearmint – to help you find it at the baggage carousel. It’s cheap price tag, along with features such as four wheels, three digit combination lock (not a TSA lock) and 100% score in our lift and drop test make it an enticing bargain buy.

Read the Swiss Alps Candy Small Trolleycase review. 


Nere Stori 55cm Exp Hard Case, $200.

3. Nere Stori 55cm Exp Hard Case

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 85%
  • Lift and drop test: 100%
  • Puncture test: 96%
  • Weight: 3.2kg
  • Price: $200

Although this carry-on number is about a kilo heavier than other carry ons we tested, it is recommended by our experts due to its performance in all our tests and is a good step up from the buys from Kmart and Big W if you have a bit more to spend but want to stay around the $200 mark. Available in 10 colours, with a TSA lock, 4 wheels and expandable size, it also comes with a 10 year warranty.

Read the full Nere Stori 55cm Exp Hard Case review.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.


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