Earlier this year, we trumpeted that the era of the checked bag has returned.
With more ways than ever to avoid checked bag fees, and more travelers wanting to take the schlep out of their journeys by limiting carry-on baggage, the large suitcase has returned with a vengeance.
There are, however, so many options available that it can be difficult to choose. Are zippers better than clasps? Is it better to have a clamshell open or a side zip for a deeper bag? Is hard shell or canvas better?
With this in mind, I recently took two popular check-in size models for some road testing on relatively long journeys. In the end, I found it difficult to recommend one case over the other, because both brands are known for quality construction and materials, and both have legions of fans in the traveler communities.
MORE Travel Technology
Unable to choose between the bags myself, it’s better to present the key differences to travelers so they can make their own decision. Whichever bag one purchases or gives as a gift, buyers can be confident that they’ve chosen from among the best in travel bag technology.
Arlo Skye: The Check-In
Arlo Skye, the luggage company founded by Louis Vuitton and Tumi alums, rocked the luggage world with the introduction of their original carryon size bag. Silky smooth anodized aluminum, along with clamshell open and clasp closure with TSA combination locks with an integral battery charger, quickly won hearts among frequent travelers with an eye toward aesthetic.
The Check-In is a more recent introduction. It’s made of a more durable polycarbonate and dispenses with the charger, but the large bag retains most of the popular features of the original. The interior compression system, which can be tightened with the force of a single hand, has been retained on one side of the bag. The other half has a completely enclosed zipper open compartment that’s ideal for loose items, laundry and damp swimwear.
The clamshell open takes getting used to for consumers who are transitioning from a zippered bag. It didn’t take me too long to get used to packing on two equal sides of a bag rather than one deeper space. However, without exterior pockets or the ability to access the bag via a partial unzip, it’s more of a chore to put last-minute items in the bag at the ticket counter. To be accessed, the bag has to be opened and laid out flat—rather less discreet than the ability to unzip and slide last minute items in.
That said, the hard shell exterior gives greater peace of mind when checking fragile items, or items that would be susceptible to exposure to elements such as rain.
The TravelPro Platinum Elite
In contrast to the Arlo Skye clamshell, I also tried the check-in size from TravelPro’s top-shelf Platinum Elite collection. A more traditional canvas spinner bag, this model has luxury trimmings like leather handles and chrome zipper pulls.
In a rare feature for a zippered bag, it also has integral locks. The zipper pulls latch into a TSA compatible lock, which also helps minimize the likelihood of damage to the zipper pull.
The 29-inch model has an exceptionally roomy interior, and an optional pull-out suiter and plenty of internal pockets and organization features. The suiter, when folded, fastens into place inside the bag with considerable ease, making it the superior bag for traveling with clothes sensitive to wrinkle or crease.
There are also two external zippered pockets for easy access for last-minute items. The bag also has a zip-closure expansion for when more space is needed, a flexibility that doesn’t exist with a hard-sided bag.
With a sturdy frame and a similarly quiet, maneuverable glide, the bag is an even match for the Arlo Skye case. Although without the durability of the hard shell exterior, the canvas is hardy and resistant to scratches and scuffs, where the lighter colored models of the Arlo Skye Check-In tend to show scuffs and wear after a handful of trips.
In the end, it really boils down to personal preference, but travelers can purchase either model with confidence that they’re getting a quality product that will well serve their needs.