What’s new in travel bags?

The luggage industry has been hit hard this past year, with most of us stuck at home and not traveling.  Buying new luggage is the furthest from our minds. Samsonite, the world’s largest luggage maker, had nearly a one billion dollar loss in the first half of 2020, but showed a small improvement later in the year. According to the company, its net sales in September 2020 was [only] 60% less than the year before, compared to 63% for August and a 70% drop in July.

Sales at the on-line luggage company Away fell 90% in the first quarter of 2020.  Away is known for it’s direct to consumer model and their line of well-designed plastic hardshell suitcases with a built in charging battery. They are good values at $250 compared to a Tumi or Briggs & Riley product that costs twice the price, but a mediocre one compared to what you can find in a Costco and elsewhere for under $100.

But with more people returning to traveling this year, I checked to see what’s the latest in luggage and if there are any bargains, considering the industry’s poor sales. While you can pick up a decent carry-on suitcase for well under $100, many of us are willing to spend much more. As business travelers we often obsess over our luggage. And it’s an industry where innovation sells, whether it’s a built-in battery, more wheels, or new materials. In my case, over the years I’ve paid a premium for Tumi and Briggs & Riley because they are durable and well designed.

If there’s a Rolls Royce of luggage, it’s Rimowa, the luggage maker founded in Germany in 1898, best known for it’s fluted aluminum suitcases that have become prized by the wealthy or those that want to appear to be. In fact, the company is now 80% owned by Louis Vuitton, the luxury brand.  In spite of their slow sales, the company’s suitcases are as expensive as ever, beginning at about $1000 for its aluminum carry-on model and about $700 for its plastic models. While there have been no price reductions or sales, the company has actually gone the other way and expanded their line to include some expensive hand bags, such as a new “personal belongings case” for $2400:

RIMOWA has teamed up with luxury fashion house Dior for a memorable one-of-a-kind collection that celebrates the best of the two brands. A debut design, the Dior and RIMOWA Personal in blue is a portable personal belongings case made from the finest aluminum that includes a cross-body strap and a calfskin interior equipped to carry keepsakes and accessories.

My first visit to a local Tumi store at a local mall in more than a year was uneventful and noticeably quiet. Tumi, now a part of Samsonite, offers the same wide range of bags and suitcases that I remember before the pandemic. Their carry ons, once only available in ballistic nylon, are now available in a range of materials, colors, and designs, all selling for $600 and up. The “king” of their suitcase line, as the salesman described it, is an aluminum hard-sided suitcase designed to compete with Rimowa. It has its own fluted pattern running at 19 degrees and called appropriately “The 19 Degree Aluminum.”  It looks to be as premium as the Rimowa, but perhaps a bit more stylish and with a more refined interior. But expect to pay a similar price as the Rimowa, $995.

Away, which originally specialized in just polycarbonate (plastic) hard luggage, now offers a version in aluminum (blog photo) that looks much like the Rimowa. Without examining it in person, it’s hard to judge how it compares to the Tumi and Rimowa, but reviews are gushing and the company has said it’s been hard to keep in stock. It costs $500 and is a bargain by comparison.  The company has a 100-day return policy, and, based on my experience with their original polycarbonate suitcase, this seems are a good value.

Writing the column reminded me to bring out my old reliable Briggs & Riley 22-inch ballistic nylon carryon to repair the handle that was coming apart. I knew it had a lifetime warranty, but never utilized it, thinking I’d have to ship it back or find a local repair facility. In fact, it was surprised how easy it was. I found the handle on their site and a video showing how to repair it myself. I ordered it for a $10 handling and shipping fee.

The good news is that these companies have managed to survive and continue to allow us to obsess once again  over our next suitcase.






by Phil Baker