Travel is expensive, and it’s easy to spend a lot of money on gear. If you’re looking for affordable luggage, there are dozens of options out there, but so many of them are cheaply made and won’t last more than a few trips.
I believe it’s worth investing in high-quality gear that will stand up to the abuse of frequent travel and serve you for years to come. I don’t think you need to spend your life savings to do that.
I typically travel exclusively with a carry-on bag, so I have a lot of insight into what makes a good carry-on. I’ve sifted through dozens of affordable carry-ons to help you get the absolute best value for your money on the market.
Good affordable carry-ons should hit the right price point without compromising on build quality or durability. You shouldn’t expect the fanciest features, because that often just means more that can break. Instead, look for simple, proven designs that use sturdy materials.
The suitcases on this list are great for people on a budget who still want high-quality gear that can last a lifetime of travel.
- Best Affordable Carry-On Luggage Overall: AmazonBasics 21” Hardside Spinner
- Best Affordable Softside Carry-On Luggage: SwissGear Sion
- Best Affordable Hardside Carry-On Luggage: eBags Fortis Pro
- Best Affordable Rolling Carry-On: Travelpro Maxlite 5 International
- Best Affordable International Carry-On: LEVEL8 Textured Carry-On
1. AmazonBasics 21” Hardside Spinner: Best Affordable Carry-On Luggage Overall
You are likely familiar with AmazonBasics: Amazon’s in-house brand that’s known for selling affordable products from batteries to button-up shirts. AmazonBasics offers a wide range of luggage at fantastic prices.
You shouldn’t expect premium materials or innovative designs from AmazonBasics luggage, but if you’re looking for a simple, functional suitcase for a low price, you can find some great options.
Affordable carry-on luggage doesn’t need to be flashy or have lots of high-end features. Your top priority should be finding quality luggage with adequate interior space and well-built handles, spinner wheels, and zippers that won’t break while you’re traveling.
The AmazonBasics 21” Hardside Spinner is a simple but well-thought-out little suitcase that is surprisingly well made. It’s the most affordable suitcase on this list, and it provides just the right amount of features for a functional suitcase that will stand up to frequent use.
This bag is built with an ABS outer shell that is textured for scratch resistance and has a wavy, rippled design. This isn’t just for show, as the rippled surface actually increases the strength and impact-resistance of this case.
The organization is simple, but effective. This bag has elastic compression straps, a zippered divider, and three zippered pockets. Splitting the main body into multiple compartments with the divider helps you make the most of the packing space.
What this suitcase is lacking is external pockets. Having pockets that you can easily access without opening the main compartment is a huge benefit, so make sure you evaluate whether that’s a feature you need.
If you are looking for a basic suitcase that’s cheap and well-built enough for frequent travel, I highly recommend the AmazonBasics 21” Harside Spinner.
AmazonBasics21″ Hardside Spinner Specs:
|11.4″ x 18.3″ x 26.7″
2. SwissGear Sion: Best Affordable Softside Carry-On Luggage
The SwissGear brand comes from a 125-year history of Swiss design and manufacturing, including the makers of the original Swiss army knife. Nowadays, SwissGear is actually owned by Victorinox, and is marketed as the more affordable brand of the company.
The SwissGear brand sells a wide range of travel and work gear, from watches to laptop bags to luggage. They emphasize delivering high-value products and have much better quality testing than most budget-oriented brands. This makes for some of the best soft side luggage at the price point.
Softside luggage has the advantage over hardside luggage when it comes to exterior pockets and accessibility. This is especially a benefit for carry-on bags where you may want to easily access electronics, books, or documents while traveling.
The SwissGear Sion is a soft-sided expandable carry-on that makes the most of this advantage with multiple external pockets that make it easy to keep important items at the ready while you’re on the go.
This soft sided luggage is made of a thick nylon fabric and has sturdy wheels and telescopic handle. You can count on this bag to hold up well to the abuse of travel.
I really love that it has handles on the top, sides, and bottom. When you’re lifting a bag into the overhead bin, extra handles are a huge help.
It is also expandable with a wrap-around zipper that can give you a few inches of extra space. This makes it that much more versatile for trips where you need a more spacious interior.
If you’re on a budget and are looking for a well-built softside suitcase, you won’t be disappointed with the SwissGear Sion.
SwissGear Sion Specs:
|22.8″ x 14.3″ x 10.3″
3. eBags Fortis Pro: Best Affordable Hardside Carry-On Luggage
eBags has been building luggage since 1998 with the goal of creating durable and functional products that make for a better travel experience. My favorite thing about this brand is their commitment to listening to customer feedback.
eBags places a big emphasis on surveys, reviews, and conversations with travelers to learn where luggage can be improved. I love this commitment to continual improvement.
Hardside luggage is protective and secure, and it offers great peace of mind that your belongings will reach your destination safely. If you want an affordable hardside suitcase, you should look for one with good interior organization and a durable shell that won’t crack or dent.
The eBags Fortis Pro is a well-designed carry-on spinner that packs in a surprising number of convenient features while hitting an affordable price. eBags redesigned this case in 2019 based on user feedback to make it lighter weight and more user-friendly.
This suitcase has a very unique compression system that integrates two organizational compartments. These can be used as shoe bags or storage for other items you want to keep separated and organized.
There is also a removable bag specifically for dirty laundry. It is water- and odor-resistant to keep the rest of your clothes clean.
The four spinner wheels are 360-degree Hinomoto ball bearing wheels. They roll smoothly and silently and make it much easier to maneuver through the airport.
Overall, this is a fantastic hardside bag at a great price.
eBags Fortis Pro Specs:
|22″ x 14″ x 9″
4. Travelpro Maxlite 5 International: Best Affordable International Rolling Carry-On
Travelpro is one of the best luggage brands in the business. Started by an airline pilot, they originally built bags specifically designed for flight crews and other travel professionals. That expertise now carries over to some of the best quality luggage you can find.
The Travelpro Maxlite 5 International is a well-built rolling suitcase that gives frequent travelers all the features they need for international travel without any unnecessary complication.
Unlike most of the bags on this list, this suitcase just has two wheels. This simpler design has many benefits for international travel. It’s more durable, rolls better over rough surfaces, provides more packing space, and even has improved ergonomics.
This bag has a large front pocket with a padded laptop sleeve. This makes it easy to access electronics or anything else you may need in the airport.
The water-resistant polyester exterior fabric is highly durable and is reinforced at the corners. You can count on this rolling suitcase to protect your belongings and survive the abuse of travel.
Travelpro Maxlite 5 International Specs:
|21.8” x 15.8” x 7.8”
5. LEVEL8 Textured Carry-On: Best Affordable International Carry-On
LEVEL8 builds sleek, modern luggage with intentional designs that are meant to streamline and simplify the travel experience. They focus on eliminating unnecessary frills and delivering a minimalist product that gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t.
One of the biggest differentiators for luggage specifically for international travel is the difference in carry-on size restrictions. Domestic flights in the US typically limit carry-ons to 22” tall while international carry-on size is limited to 21.5” for many airlines.
International carry-ons needs to fit these strict size restrictions while still maximizing interior space. Durability is also even more important during international travel. It’s worth knowing how to measure luggage to be sure your suitcase will fit.
The LEVEL8 Textured Carry-On is a stylish, streamlined carry-on spinner that packs in high-end materials and construction at an impressive price.
The durable polycarbonate shell is reinforced at the corners textured for scratch-resistance. Polycarbonate is much stronger and more resilient than the ABS and polypropylene materials used in most budget hardside suitcases. This shell can absorb impacts and rough use without cracking.
The spinner wheels are very well built and feature an innovative anti-shock design. This means they can withstand impacts from rough use and still roll smoothly.
This suitcase has a sturdy telescopic handle, TSA-approved lock, and great interior organization. You won’t find yourself short on features with this case.
If you want easy-access external pockets, you may be better off with a softside rolling luggage like the TravelPro Maxlite 5. Overall, though, this is a well-built, sleek suitcase that’s perfect for international travel.
If you’re looking for more options, check out our full list of luggage for international travel.
LEVEL8 Textured Carry-On Specs:
|21.5” x 14.5” x 9.2″
|26″ x 17.5″ x 10.4″
|29.1″ x 16.6″ x 13.3″
How to Choose the Best Affordable Carry-On Luggage
There are dozens of affordable luggage options on the market, and you want to make sure you get one that is durable and functional for meeting your needs. Here are some of the top considerations to take into account.
Quality and Durability
Trying to buy the cheapest suitcase you can find isn’t worth it if it breaks within a few trips. I definitely think it is worth looking at luggage as an investment: you’ll save more money in the long run by getting something that is well-built.
Zippers are often the first thing to break on luggage. Look for thick, sturdy zippers. YKK-branded zippers are some of the best in the business.
For hardside suitcases, polycarbonate shells will be more durable than ABS. Whatever material you get, look for a suitcase with reinforced corners.
Of course, any suitcase is going to need some maintenance. Read our article on how to clean a suitcase to learn how to keep your luggage looking like new.
Hardside vs Softside
One of the biggest decisions is whether to buy a hardside or softside suitcase. This is largely up to personal preference, but there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to each. Here are some points in favor of each that you can consider:
Softside Luggage Advantages
- More external pockets
- Usually lighter weight
- Single large compartment can be easier to pack
Hardside Luggage Advantages
- More protective for fragile items
- Better water resistance
- Sleek styling
While good affordable luggage won’t have all the fancy bells and whistles of more premium models, there are some key features you should still look for.
Here are a few features to consider when shopping for a suitcase.
- Internal organization features like compression straps and zippered dividers
- External pockets to keep important items accessible while traveling
- Dedicated laptop sleeve if you plan on traveling with a computer
- Water-resistant materials to protect your belongings from rain or splashes
Affordable Carry-On Accessories
This small packable daypack is perfect for almost any type of trip. Whether you’re going hiking or just need a day bag for short excursions from your hotel, this is a perfect fit.
It’s made of lightweight recycled ripstop fabric, it is durable but still can pack down small inside your suitcase. It also can be used as your personal item on a flight.
Many of the affordable suitcases on this list don’t come with built-in locks.
If you still want the peace of mind of securing your luggage from theft, this inexpensive combination lock is TSA-approved and will work with most zippered bags.
Dealing with dirty laundry while traveling can be difficult. This lightweight laundry bag gives you a dedicated place to put your dirties and keep them separate from the rest of your clothing.
The best thing is that this bag has backpack-like straps that make easy to carry for trips to the laundromat.
If you’re like me, keeping your suitcase organized while traveling can be a struggle. It’s so easy for everything to just become a jumbled mess inside, and then you can’t find anything when you need it.
These packing cubes from AmazonBasics can go a long way toward taming the chaos. They are lightweight, open fully with a zipper, come in different sizes, and have a mesh front panel so you can easily see what’s inside.
Why Trust TravelFreak?
The Team here at TravelFreak is dedicated to helping you get out there and have the best experience possible exploring this amazing world. We do that by equipping you with top-notch travel tips and product recommendations so you can be prepared and confident when you head out on your trip.
Our brand is built on our reputation, so more than anything, we are committed to doing the hard work to thoroughly evaluate the products we recommend.
We are all avid travelers and explorers, and everything we recommend comes from from real-world experience. We’ve experienced our fair share of luggage fiascos on our travels around the globe, from ripped zippers to cracked wheels. We’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t.
I’ve traveled all over the globe and have done everything from demolishing a pair of suitcases on the cobblestones of Germany to hauling duffel bags high into the Himalayas. Every product on this list is something I would feel confident taking on my next trip around the world.
Affordable Carry-On FAQs
Is hard or soft luggage better for carry-on?
Soft luggage is great for carry-ons because usually has more exterior pockets to keep your items accessible.
What is a good inexpensive luggage?
The AmazonBasics 21” Hardside Spinner is a great inexpensive compact suitcase.
What kind of carry-on is best?
For carry-ons, a softside rolling suitcase is a great choice because it’s lightweight and offers external pockets.
Is it worth buying expensive carry-on luggage?
For most people, buying an expensive carry-on isn’t worth it because you can get a good one for much less money.
How much should you spend on carry-on luggage?
You can get well-built, durable carry-ons for under $150.