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How to buy the right suitcase for your next trip

What to consider when you're shopping for new carry-on or check-in luggage.

different sized suitcases on a blue background

When you're busy planning your next holiday, it's easy to overlook the smaller details in the excitement – what kind of luggage are you going to use? Do you need a big suitcase, or just a carry-on? Or do you need both? 

Buying right the first time means you'll have luggage that'll be your trusty travel buddy no matter where you go. Get it wrong and you could be stuck with dodgy wheels, poor handles or not enough space to bring your holiday goodies back home.

You can spend hundreds of dollars on a suitcase, but price isn't always an indicator of quality. It's important to do your own inspections of the suitcase before buying to make sure you end up with the perfect luggage for you. 

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Check-in luggage requirements

Don't get too carried away with the size of your suitcase. Remember: the larger it is, the more you've got to cart around with you. Not only that, each airline has its own size and weight restrictions for luggage, so make sure you check first. 

Generally, your check-in luggage can weigh anywhere between 15kg and 32kg. Stick to the airline restrictions to avoid any additional fees.

Carry-on luggage for Australian domestic services

Each carrier has its own requirements for carry-on luggage. Bags that are slightly larger than the rules allow might fly under the radar, as cabin baggage isn't always checked by airline staff. But is it something you want to risk? 

If in doubt, it's always a good idea to check with your airline before you depart. Here are some requirements for some major airlines correct at the time of writing (double-check before travelling to make sure nothing's changed).

Note: Dimensions are measured by adding together the length, height and depth of the bag.

What about international flights?

Baggage requirements vary with each airline. If you have a multiple-sector journey and are flying with multiple carriers, the baggage policy for the most significant carrier in your itinerary will apply. If you're unsure, check on your itinerary or ask your travel agent.

What should you look for in a suitcase?


Whether you have a small suitcase that you're using for carry-on or a large suitcase that you need to check in, the weight of the case counts towards your baggage allowance. Some suitcases use strong lightweight plastics such as polypropylene.


The wheels and extendable handle take up some of the internal space, so check that the case has the right volume for your needs before you buy. If you want a small suitcase for carry-on baggage, make sure you check the dimensions against the requirements for the airline.

Soft- or hard-sided

Consider how you'll be using it (for flying, driving or cruising) and where you'll be storing it. Soft-sided suitcases are more lightweight and allow you to cram extra items in, whereas hard-sided suitcases provide more protection for your belongings but cramming extra items inside or fitting it in a tight space might get tricky.

Sturdy construction

Look for handles that are firmly riveted to the body of the case. These are less likely to have weak points and break.

Extendable handle

This should be easy to extend and retract, comfortable to grip and should lock firmly in place when extended. It should also extend to a comfortable height so the case doesn't bump against your legs as you pull it along.


This is a very useful feature if you need to squeeze in a few extra items.

TSA lock

A TSA lock is handy and many of the suitcases we've tested come with one. A TSA lock is globally recognised, meaning travellers can lock their luggage while allowing security authorities to inspect baggage without damaging the locks.

Internal and external pockets

These are handy for keeping your belongings organised. External pockets are great for quick access, but check they can be locked if you want to use them for important items.

Extra carry handles

When it comes to lifting, it helps to have carry handles at the base and/or sides of the suitcase.

Internal straps

These help to compress and hold your belongings in place. They should be a suitable length and have quick-release buckles.

Water resistance

No suitcase is completely waterproof and hard cases aren't necessarily more water-resistant than fabric ones. Water can still get through gaps in the extendable handle and zippers. Our suitcase test reveals which ones are best for this.


Suitcases may come in a range of colours or patterns to help your bag stand out at the baggage carousel. If you're using a black suitcase, tie an identifying ribbon or scarf on the handle.


The case should roll easily and not bounce or tip when being pulled along. Four-wheel spinner models spin 360° making them easier to manoeuvre. You can push them alongside you, in front of you or pull them behind you (as you would with a two-wheeler), but some can be difficult to control when pushed across bumpy terrain and if you're on an incline, they could roll away. On the other hand, two-wheel models only move forwards and backwards but are usually better for clearing curbs and rolling on a variety of uneven surfaces. 


Zips should open and shut smoothly. The zip tags should be big enough to grip easily and have holes so you can padlock them, ideally a hole that a padlock can go through when the zip tags interlock.

How much do suitcases cost?

The carry-on suitcases in our most recent luggage test cost as little as $20 and as much as $625, while larger suitcases for check-in can range in price from $55 up to $1200. Price isn't always an indicator of a better product, with some cheaper suitcases outdoing the more expensive models in our rigorous tests, so it pays to do your research.

We've also found suitcases can have substantial discounts on their recommended retail prices (RRP) so it's well worth shopping around to nab a good deal.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.