The Case For Spinner Bags

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

There are few things in the frequent flyer world as controversial as luggage. Everyone has a preferred brand and style, so whenever I’m asked for a recommendation I’m always a bit reticent.

Especially because I am basically a suitcase pariah — I use a spinner suitcase, which, depending on who you ask, is an even worse crime than checking luggage on domestic flights or using a Capital One card.

But I do fly a couple hundred thousand miles a year with my spinner suitcase, and it works very well for me.

And depending on your circumstances, a spinner might work well for you too.

Why I use a spinner suitcase

I had originally been drawn to spinner luggage due to a rotator cuff injury that left me unable to pull anything with my dominant arm. Pulling a two-wheeled suitcase with my weak arm was a disaster, so I needed something I could push or walk alongside.

Being able to push the bag and use natural momentum has been great for long-term ergonomics as well, but it’s definitely an adjustment. You can’t use a spinner like a two-wheeled suitcase and expect it to end well.

Spinners are also much more maneuverable in general.

I like to take public transit whenever possible, and being able to flick my wrist and slide a bag through a ticket barrier or along a narrow aisle is fantastic. Pushing the toe of my boot under the bag keeps it from rolling all over the place on a crowded train, and I can easily slide it into corners as needed.

And if you’ve ever tried to manage a two-wheeled suitcase in a crowded ladies’ room, you’ll instantly appreciate the flexibility the 360-degree swivel of a good spinner brings.

Spinner suitcases have some (major) negatives

Ben uses a Tumi Alpha International 20″ as his carry on, and is on record as hating spinner suitcases in general. He flies at least 40% more than everyone I do, and I’m not going to argue with his expertise — a two-wheeled suitcase is generally stronger and more durable, and has slightly more capacity for the size than a spinner.

I’m not evangelical when it comes to luggage, other than feeling everyone should find a solution that works well for them, and there are definitely some reasons why a spinner might not work for you.

Spinners suck at carpet

I was reminded of this as I was schlepping up a carpeted ramp at Phoenix Sky Harbor yesterday. A good spinner has less-obtrusive (and thus smaller) wheels, and they are such a drag on carpet.

So if you spend a lot of time transiting Singapore Changi, or in large conference hotels, a spinner will slow you down.

You can’t go as fast in general with a spinner

A spinner works best when you’re going at your natural walking pace, with the bag alongside you. You’ll never be able to go as fast as you would pulling a two-wheeled bag at an angle, particularly on bumpy surfaces.

But, it’s also easier on your back, so there are tradeoffs.

Other people will complain about your bag

This might just be my life, so YMMV.

My husband and Ben both grumble endlessly whenever they interact with my suitcase (which, the entire reason I have a spinner is so I can deal with my own luggage, so it’s not like I’m asking them for help — they’re just gentlemen, except for the complaining), and take every opportunity to remind me that spinners are the worst thing ever.

But that evens out when I’m able to twist my bag through an escalator or moving sidewalk barrier and they have to stop and adjust. Again, suitcases are a personal choice, and I don’t mind that they don’t like mine.

My spinner suitcase is awesome

The main perk of a spinner versus a two-wheeled suitcase is maneuverability, so if you’re considering a spinner, get the lightest bag possible.

Especially for a carry-on.

Any extra weight means your suitcase is more likely to take itself for a walk and be generally cumbersome. I love Briggs & Riley luggage for checked baggage, but would never consider their spinner carry-on because the darn thing weighs over 11 pounds empty. You’re going to be sore schlepping that thing around.

Personally, I have a Travelpro Maxlite Expandable Spinner. It’s a great bag, especially for the price, and weighs in at under six pounds. I bought a Maxlite 2 in 2011, have flown about 1.5 million miles since, and the bag is still in great shape (granted, I think it’s only been checked three times).

Zippers, stitching, framework — all great despite the heavy use

Because the Maxlite is smaller (at 21″ x 14″x 9″ it’s within the allowed size for the major U.S. carriers, even factoring in the wheels), I’ve never had an issue with sizers or overhead bins.

When expanded, my Travelpro doesn’t quite fit in the luggage storage drawers of the Etihad Apartments, but that’s a very specific use-case, and it’s not like they made me check my bag — the drawer just didn’t close.

In addition to being lightweight, the Travelpro Maxlite has multiple stop-positions for the handle. This means I can set the handle at the natural height for my hand, and can walk my suitcase with my arm at my side.

If your spinner is the wrong height for you, it’s harder to control

The biggest concern with any spinner is the wheels — you have double the chances of things going wrong with four wheels, and many manufacturers mount the wheels almost as an afterthought.

With the Travelpro Maxlite, the wheels are inset a bit, and well-protected.

These wheels have seen more than their fair share of cobblestone alleys

I’ve put the wheels in some pretty demanding situations over the years, and while they’re getting a little beaten-up, I haven’t had any problems with the wheels in general.

Bottom line

I’m not going to advocate that everyone switch to a spinner bag for their carry-on. In fact, most road warriors are going to be better off with a traditional two-wheeled bag.

But for some people, and some situations, spinner luggage can be the way to go. Especially if you find the right suitcase.

Where do you fall in the spinner vs. two-wheeled debate? Any bag recommendations?

  1. I ise a Rimowa Classic Cabin Multiwheel Trolley and I’m very happy with it. Bur its a bit pricey…

  2. One note, I have the Briggs and Riley carry-on spinner. The link you have about its weight is incorrect. You list its shipping weight, which includes the box it comes in. The actual weight is 9 lbs. much more reasonable.

    I’ll agree there are upsides and downsides to spinners, it just depends on how you travel.

  3. Perfect timing @Tiffany! I literally just got home from luggage shopping with my friend. He was the one needing a new suitcase, he got a spinner. He loves it. I have a 2 wheel which I love. I spend way more time on the road than he does. We are both happy with our choices.

  4. If I had my way all “carry on” luggage would be just that. People, which granted, is nearly everyone but me, with small bags with wheels drive me round the bend. Stopping at the bottom of an escalator to extend the handle and you end up walking into the back of them

  5. If I had my way all “carry on” luggage would be just that. People, which granted, is nearly everyone but me, with small bags with wheels drive me round the bend. Stopping at the bottom of an escalator to extend the handle and you end up walking into the back of them

  6. I have a Rimowa Salsa Deluxe Cabin multiwheel and it is one of the best luggage purchases I’ve made. So easy to get around except on carpet, like you say.

  7. I bought two spinners that broke on first use. One was a Travelpro, and getting them to agree to repair it was one of the most trying experiences of my life. So I’m sticking with 2-wheelers from now on until I can get one of those suitcases from the Jetsons that fits furniture and stuff in a purse-sized bag.

  8. +1 for the Spinner Suitcase Master Race, Tiffany! I live in NYC and when possible, prefer taking the subway to the airports, and having a spinner is wonderful when you’re rushing through the turnstiles. I lower the handle, kick the bag under the stile so that it rolls through gracefully, and then follow through myself. Seems like a small thing, but when there’s a queue forming behind you of angry, rushing New Yorkers, it makes the whole process much smoother!

  9. My biggest peeve about spinners is it tends to make slow people (i.e., anyone I’m behind and trying to get past) even more of an obstacle because they roll the bag alongside, making themselves nearly twice as wide as if they pulled a bag behind.

  10. A big problem is spinners often break losing a wheel and THAT is a disaster. Every few days I see someone else with a broken-off spinner dragging it through traffic. OK if you’re only going from your hotel to a taxi and no sidewalk or crosswalks etc.

    2-wheeled roll-aboards have much bigger and more durable wheels.

  11. my carry on is an ebags TLS Weekender backpack. No wheels. Fits in pretty much every overhead, even on ATRs. Also keeps you from overpacking it since you have to carry it. (Although it is nice when you’re in an airport with free luggage carts to lighten the load)

  12. Tiffany,

    I like spinners, especially on smooth surfaces. But, mine (I have 22″ and 24″ sizes) are not so good on uneven surfaces or carpet, and sometimes they are a little too mobile on trains, shuttle buses, etc. when standing upright.

    Nevertheless, I want to replace my larger bag, and wondered if your recommendations for a spinner to check would be different. I have always thought that the lightest bags were less durable, so for a bag I will check, I try to find a good balance between weight and durability. I do have an ultra lightweight (~4 lb) 20″ two-wheel rolling bag I use for carry-on only purposes, especially on non-US carriers that have low weight limits for carry-ons

  13. In my opinion, spinner users tend to be oblivious to others around them as they slowly meander around the airports like a cell phone user in a Tahoe driving 40 in the left lane. As noted by REM above, because they’re dragging their spinner with the nearly broken wheels next to them, they can’t be passed creating an even bigger log jam. On escalators, they keep the bag at their sides instead of behind them thereby prohibiting walkers from passing. On the plane, invariably they don’t put the bag in wheels first, because they’re afraid (probably correctly) that a wheel will be damaged.

    So yeah, Tiffany, you’re being judged.

  14. I’ve used a carryon spinner since 2008 without any issue with the wheels. About half the time it is checked coming home. I am not flying 200K per year but I average six round trips per year from San Diego to Europe. I’m on my second hard side spinner only because the newer ones went down in weight a few years ago. Even in a worst case scenario, my spinner would work on any three or two wheels if something were to go wrong. I easily pull my spinner (and often do in tight places) as a two wheel bag. And there is no problem with carpets. I have been through PHX with my spinner and my arm didn’t break! The wheels on the spinner in the photo are smaller than mine. I have the double wheel on each corner (total 8) arrangement and they are much bigger. These larger wheels roll very easily over all surfaces. I roll my spinner over the stone streets in Europe without ever suffering a break up. And my spinner gets lots of mileage as I often walk from train stations to hotels as far as a few miles in a nice day. I also drag it over bridges in Venice without a loss of wheel(s). The only drawback I see with my spinner is that the legal carryon size is smaller than the two wheel bags or the spinner in the photo above, due to the external wheels/larger wheels. I am small woman and the loss of volume is a trade off I can live with. Tiffany’s bag clearly has greater volume, especially with the expansion feature which clearly is worth consideration.

    I know guys love their rollaboards but don’t be afraid of trying a spinner. I love mine!

  15. I prefer rollaboards. But its because I travel with my 89 year old mother fairly frequently. I pile the luggage on top of her wheeled rollator walker. Then push the luggage through the airport while Mom is pushed in a wheelchair.

  16. I burn through Spinners pretty fast and usually get them at TJMax for 69 bucks the samsonite brand. You can’t go wrong as you don’t feel bad ditching it if or when it breaks.
    I do hate Singapore airport and always wonder why it wins #1 so often… But if you’re a serious traveler you’re not checking a bag and really who gives a crap about it when there are upgrades to focus on.
    I just want to get as much stuff from point A to point B without checking. Never stand at the carousel!
    Someday I will get a Rimona and I bet the bugger will break quick enough!

  17. I used to be a die-hard Travelpro 2-wheel fan. When my favourite checked bag finally wore out after 12+ years and a million+ miles I was gutted. Recently bought a Delsey hard shell spinner as replacement. It actually has a knob to lock the front wheels (gienius on public transit!). It is also designed to roll as a 2-wheeler would on carpet or cobbled streets. Best of both worlds! Plus baggage handlers are more gentle with spinners as they can roll the bags easily vs having to lift/shove/drag/throw them…

  18. Interesting article. For carry-on luggage I dont have a bag with wheels at all, instead it’s just a simple overnight bag that has a shoulder strap and I either use that or just hold it by the carrying handle! It’s always under 10kg in weight given the allowances anyway so I find it easier just to walk around with it.

  19. I find the knuckledraggers that use 2 wheelers annoying. They talk about how spinner users take up more room, by having the bag beside them rather than behind. However, peoples arms are not located in the middle of their back, but on their side. So 2 wheelers have their bag along side as well. And to make matters worse, they drag their bag with the full wide width clearing a path. Spinner users at least have theirs turned sideways.

  20. It’s the Whiteheads that cause the trouble but on the Tube or flts I stay to the right and or stop till they go by .

  21. Nice balanced post!

    Count me as someone with many miles under his belt and is happy with the switch to spinners about two years ago. Carry-on is a Kirkland, very light. Checked bag is a Briggs and Riley spinner. Great bag. I’ve had better luck with Costco bags than Tumi.

    Agree regarding carpets, but then I just treat it like a two wheeled bag and live with the torque on my shoulder and spine (for me, spine torque is worse).

    The only valid point for me is you can get a little more in a two wheeled bag of the same dimensions.

  22. You completely ignored the third option: no wheels at all. Shoulder bags are lighter, make it even easier to get around when stairs/escalators/taxis/subways etc are involved, and give you more room for actual stuff (no wheels or expanding handles taking up space.

  23. Some people (I am part of this group) have no choice but to check luggage every time they fly. I have a skin condition that requires various treatments/creams/ointments. They all come in much larger jars than the TSA limits and a single treatment (these are done twice a day) requires more than the TSA limit. I have asked whether I can carry these on since some of them are doctor-prescribed and have been told NO most emphatically. There seems to be a moderate degree of disrespect for travelers who check luggage. Perhaps someday you, too, will find yourselves in this group. Try to rein in your disdain and realize that we are freeing up more overhead space for your excessive (sometimes abusive) amounts of carryon luggage.

  24. Spinners for me. I travel hand carry only and with one spinner and a smallish tech stuff bag can do at least 7-10 days. I use public transport extensively, almost exclusively , and the freedom and speed is liberating. Never had a problem with broken wheels or getting in the way of others.
    Delsey, Samsonite, Antler : all great and while I view them as disposable as yet not a single problem.

  25. Backpacks are more trouble .I carry mine by handle around people MOST don’t and have been hit once a trip.

  26. I don’t much care about my carryon. I recently bought one that fits under the seat so I can stop worrying about how much overhead space is left. Once you make your peace with checking bags, the stress is over.
    Now, my checked bag IS a 4 wheeler, and while I do love it, I had to spend 2hrs of my life fixing a broken wheel last month on a brand new bag. (Avoid London fog luggage.)

  27. If you have a small child, a spinner is the way to go! I took my 3 year old to Europe for 8 weeks and every time we switched hotels, went to the airport or walked to the train station with our suitcases, he could ride on top of my spinner. He even fell asleep on my spinner during a 30 minute walk to the train station in Budapest.

  28. I use Rimowa’s Topas Cabin Multiwheel 56, which is slightly larger than the IATA size 52. it still fits in most overhead storage bins. It is almost indestructible, but it will get scuffs and dents. The wheels are super smooth. Everything on bag is reparable when needed, they have a 5y warranty. I will not get any other suitcase brand in the future. And yes I did go through TJmaxx Samsonites in the past. Still use some of them if I have to check luggage. They all break after a short while…

  29. I have both spinners and a two wheeled bag, but I haven’t even touched the two wheeled bag in ages. I actually use a hard-sided spinner bag that I got at Costco, and have never had any issues with size or wheels. Best part of buying luggage at Costco: if it breaks, I can take it back! (I’ve never had to do so though.)

  30. Genius Pack 2 wheeler for my carry on. Love it.

    Those using spinners should have to pass a driving test, been taken out by one on several occasions!

    Although I have noticed the bottom of my case is getting a bit bashed up which a spinner would prevent, but that’s more due to me bashing it down curbs and not carrying it over them!

  31. Be careful as many cheap brands are not rigid enough between the wheels and a heavy weight in the suitcase will cause the wheels (on a spinner especially) to bend outward causing the bottom of the bag to touch the ground. Test a suitcase by putting 50 lbs pressure on top since that’s usually the weight limit for a checked bag.

  32. I always look at what the crew packs. They fly eons more than Ben does, and we’re the first to adopt rollaboard luggage (eons ago).

    I have yet to see them using spinners.

    Having borrowed one, I can see why.

  33. Just bought the TravelPro Magma 2 21 inch spinner and so far it’s been awesome. It has the new wheels that almost roll on their own. My five year old can even wheel the bag around without any effort. Just wish the smaller zippered area was bigger.

  34. Spinners aren’t bad, just their users. I have a cheap Delsey spinner and have hauled it onto subway station escalators snd airport walkways without ever blocking anyone from walking past. As for snagging on carpets or stony streets, I just switch to pulling it on two wheels. No damage or extra wear from doing so once on a while. I totally disagree with the assumption that two wheelers are less bothersome for passersby. Plenty of idiot rollaboard owners stand with their bag next to them, blocking escalators and walkways. And the trailing dog nuisance? Even worse than a slippery spinner.

  35. I have a Samsonite spinner as my carry on and I think it’s great, and I got a great deal on it – how’s 70 bucks for a 21 inch spinner? I like Tiffany’s comment about public transit – it reminded me of the time my spinner went for an unauthorized “spin” on a NYC subway car. Fortunately I managed to run it down and grab it without (it or me) hitting anyone. Someone should invent brakes for spinners, like they have for wheelchairs.

  36. Spinners top vote here. Got heavy duty spinner 3 suitcase set at Costco. They have fared better than any two wheeled set I have ever had and they are a dream to handle. I fly about 50 days a year so not a heavy traveler. But Not a problem in 2 years and only $140 for entire set . Actually got second set as I loved them so much. And I have hailed them down cobblestone streets a lot.

  37. hmm nobody here uses Bric’s luggage. Very nice, very durable, and like the lightest spinner on the market.

  38. Hi Tiffany. Mr Silver Springer and I both have the small Rimowas that you can fit into regional jet compartments. We are pretty good at stuffing them but the suitcase is still very light given the polycarbonate material. It is important to me to be able to lift my own suitcase in and out of luggage compartment and also to carry it up and down stairs for midfield arrivals and departures (ugh!)

  39. You left out one of the primary upsides to spinners – schlepping your bag along in line at the airport. Way, way easier to push a spinner along with one hand than tipping and pulling an old-style pull bag. Easier, less work, for hours and hours through your year of travel.

  40. I prefer the two wheel variety if I use a roll aboard. A lot of my flights are in RJs though so I often use a tote bag which fits in any of the overheads. I hate waiting on the freezing jetway in winter for a gate checked bag.

  41. Pros/Cons in my experience:

    Pro: Like Ally’s, my toddler LOVES to sit on top of my wife’s spinner.
    Much easier to handle in lines.

    Con: Getting my toddler OFF the spinner.
    Getting the luggage out of the car and watching the spinner roll down the driveway and tip over into the rain puddle at the bottom.

  42. Since my back operation spinners are the only luggage I use.

    I rely on my Briggs & Riley, hard-shell, carry-on spinner to provide support similar to a cane when walking through airports and waiting on lines. Instead of having to lift part of the weight of piece of two-wheeled luggage, I can lean on the handle of my spinner, sometimes with both hands, taking stress off my back. I would probably be forced to stop flying if I couldn’t use a spinner.

    If luggage manufacturers came out with bigger spinner wheels for rugs and bumps, I would be one of the first to try them out. I would be more than willing to sacrifice some internal luggage space for a more durable, versatile spinner.

  43. I stumbled upon your article while doing some research for a more carpet-friendly bag. I have a four wheeler as recommended for a back injury but I hate the way it rolls on carpet! It seems like it is a known issue and I may not have much luck finding a four-wheeled solution. Why don’t airports and hotels just remove the carpet! Problem solved! Wishful thinking…

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *