Tumi Alpha Frequent Traveler Vs. International Carry-On

For the past several years I’ve had the Tumi T-Tech as my primary carry-on. It’s by no means a fancy bag, but given the price it has lasted me well. Back in 2010 I actually had some issues with my Tumi T-Tech, though since getting it replaced it has lasted me for well over three years and over a million flown miles.

Anyway, last week I started having issues with my bag again, and the handle won’t slide in anymore. Here’s the lowest it’ll go:


I’ve now made progress on my plan to live in hotels full-time (stay tuned for an update on that shortly), and it’s time for a new bag.

I know a lot of people recommend just buying a sub-$100 throwaway bag, but the truth is I don’t mind spending a bit extra on a nice carry-on. I’m not much for material things — I’d much rather spend money on experiences — but as ridiculous as it sounds a carry-on is one of the few material possessions that I consider to be part of “me.” I know it sounds silly, but even when I’m at home I live out of my carry-on.

So I’ve been looking at suitcases and am looking at getting a Tumi Alpha. I really should have bought it a few weeks ago when eBags was offering 35 American AAdvantage miles per dollar spent, but unfortunately it wasn’t on my radar at that point. I want to be sure the next time there’s an amazing promotion I’m ready to go, so I’m trying to figure out which bag is best now.

There’s the Tumi Alpha Frequent Traveler 22″ Zippered Expandable Carry-on (dimensions are 24″ x 14.75″ x 10.5″) and the Tumi Alpha International 20″ Zippered Expandable Carry-on (dimensions are 21.75″ x 13.75″ x 9.5″). Isn’t it refreshing to see a lie about size by two inches in the other direction for once?

The challenge if you’re basically living out of a carry-on is that you want to have as much space as possible, but also don’t want it to be so big that you have to check the bag.

It would seem to me that even though the Alpha Frequent Traveler is advertised as being 22″ it actually exceeds the carry-on limit, while the Alpha International, which is only advertised as 20″, actually goes up to the carry-on limit.

Does anyone have any experience with either bag, and specifically with carrying them on, both on domestic and international flights? Have you been able to use the Tumi Alpha Frequent Traveler internationally without problems, or have you had to check it?

Filed Under: Advice
  1. I have the 22, mostly fly business class in oneworld, never had an issue at the time of check-in, in most flights the bag will fit perfectly with wheels facing the bottom end, in some old planes like 757 or old 737 you have to put the wheels facing the sides. it is a great bag. I use it in conjunction with the laptop bag. the strap attachment is very handy if u want to hook a 3rd bag eventually. very spacious. the accessories zippers, materials inside the bag are all high quality.

  2. I also used to have the t-tech before, I barely use it now. almost never. sits in the closet at home all the time.

  3. Been using Tumi Alpha and it’s predecessors since I started traveling well over a decade & half ago. The durability of the Alpha’s nylon & underlying waterproofed fabric (aside from the zippers) have saved me from a few accidents/disasters.

    22″ is way too big (especially expanded) for carry-on, but you can get away with it domestically. I use the 20″ for international, but keep in mind the heavier fabric and construction adds weight & a few carriers (eg. BA) are a stickler with their regulations.

    Now & then, you can get away with it with your status, but officially it’s a no-no…and I’ve had int’l carriers make me check it in when I’m madly dashing for a connecting flight.

    T-Tech wasn’t made for your level of traveling. You need a stronger bag to keep up with you.


  4. Consider a four-wheeled carry-on. You lose a bit of space but once you experience the effortlessness of a spinner (esp. going through airports and narrow airplane aisles) there’s absolutely no going back. I esp. recommend Rimowa (support your fellow Germans!) and the Briggs & Riley Torq. Both have large, partially recessed wheels that are far superior to Tumi’s small, more exposed wheels, which are harder to roll on surfaces that aren’t perfectly smooth and more vulnerable to damage. Rimowa’s and esp. B&R’s superior warranties are further arguments in their favor.

  5. I really think for carry on you should go for 4 wheels, that will just make your life so much easier in terms of dragging it around. I just got the Tumi Alpha 22” from the ebags deal, and I immediately regretted it. By the way, my ebags miles have not yet showed up on the AA shopping portal. I wonder if I will ever get my miles…

  6. I used to use the 20″. I went through two of them over about 9 years. But when I started flying more internationally and moved to a city serviced by regional jets, I was having to check my bag, and I really disliked that.

    So I actually switched to the Red Oxx Air Boss carry on, which is an amazing wheel-less, soft-sided bag. The savings in weight and space (no rigid structure really frees everything up) are amazing, and the thing still looks brand new four years later. I follow the packing recommendations at onebag.com, and I could never, ever go back to using a traditional carry-on. It’s not for everyone, but the friends I’ve convinced to take the plunge have been huge converts. As a bonus, even if the thing should be checked per weight limits, no one ever suspects that I’m really traveling around with just a should bag, so I almost never get called out on it.

    Oh, and there is now a model that converts into a kind of backpack with removable straps, so consider that one if you want to carry it in a more balanced way. If you fill it up, it can be heavy and hard to carry on one side, but I’m a pretty big guy, so it’s not a problem for me.

  7. +1 for ditching Tumi for Rimowa – I made the switch after three Tumis in a row just got beat up, and I couldn’t be happier

  8. Used to be a huge Tumi fan, however here in the Uk Tumi inflate their prices drastically compared to the US. Found a alternative in the Thule Crossover 22″ Rolling Carry-On Black. You’ll pick up the new one. I use the old design model. Mines a great bag it feels solid and well thought out. Never faltered, even when checked on flights. For me now Tumi is over priced and under- engineered.

  9. I have the 20″ Alpha and love it. Use it primarily for domestic travel and love how easy it is to fit in any overhead. I have also used it for 7 days in Hawaii and 7 days through Europe and had no issues fitting enough stuff. The durability and service is fantastic.

  10. I also switched from a two wheeled Tumi to a Rimowa spinner and have never looked back. It’s light, it’s compact and even though the dimensions are smaller, I’ve found the Rimowa packs better.

  11. I had a 22in Tumi (aka 24in) for a long time and never had any trouble domestically or on UA flights internationally due to status. BUT, if the check-in staff or gate agents abroad see that bag for example in Germany or some Asian countries, they are likely to require check-in – not only because of the size but the weight. The 20in bag is better, but will also fail the weight test internationally.
    If you are mostly flying domestically or US carriers with status, either should be fine.
    If you are planning a lot of international travel on partner carriers, heck out the Lipault 22in wheeled carry on – much lighter and the shape makes it look smaller, so better chances to get by.
    Or, if you don’t mind a backpack, check out the eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender. It’s the best bag I ever bought, lots of space, great compartments, never had to check it, even on LCCs.

  12. @Lucky, I have the same V-Tech bag you have. I don’t recommend it to anyone else. The #1 issue I see with the bag is the handle and the cryptic way of pulling the handle up and down.

    Hotel handlers does not know how to do this, and one time they forced the way down and now my bag handle is semi-busted.

  13. I don’t know if you are interested in switching brands, but the Briggs & Riley 20″ expandable wide-body international carry-on (U121CXW) is well worth the money. The lifetime no-quibble warranty is awesome and I can easily fit 7-9 days worth of clothing in it plus a pair of shoes. I was skeptical after some of the blogs were raving about it, but saw it in a store and made the purchase during a Christmas sale. After a couple of years, my bag still looks good and works great. I bought the 2-wheeled version instead of the 4-wheel primarily because the 2-wheel had a little more interior space. B&R usually runs a $50 off or 25% off deal after Thanksgiving, I don’t think you will regret this bag. I was so happy that I ended up buying one of their medium laptop backpacks and a 27″ 4-wheeler at a later sale.

  14. Your T-tech should still be under warranty. I’d send it in for repairs, since last couple times I got either a new one or credit towards a new baf.

  15. Regardless of anything else, I think that Tumi bags are way overpriced. I’ve had a Briggs & Reilly for five years and it doesn’t have so much as a scratch on it (and it’s WAY more stylish than Tumi). Plus, it has a lifetime warranty, so I think they have faith in their product as much as Tumi — I have more. I’m not saying this because you should take money into account — clearly it’s not an issue to you — but rather just to remind you that being the most expensive doesn’t mean being the best (or the only one). Look elsewhere before making the decision since you do seem to stick with them for a long time.

  16. I have the 22in which I think is awesome. Has undergone extreme abuse without problems except for losing the strap attachment (did not use that anyway). I’ve had no issue taking it onboard on economy and business class flights intra-Europe and transatlantic, except for the weight issue as mentioned above – some gate agents make you check it due to overweight (not an issue if you check in online). Occasionally does not fit in small airplanes (regional carriers, city hoppers) – usually you can gate check it. Possibility to extend to ‘proper’ dimensions also a plus I think

  17. Ben-I have both of the bags (all of my luggage is Tumi Alpha Line). My version of the 22″ is actually a vertical garment bag that was discontinued but the dimensions are identical. If I was you, I would without a doubt get the smaller international version because with my 22″, I have the hardest time on non US carriers even when I travel business. Most of the problems come from the intra-Europe flights. The nice thing about the international bag is that it expands by 2 inches, so you have that extra space when traveling on domestic US flights that are more generous with carry-on rules. I would reccomend you wait until right after the American thanksgiving to order. Every year Tumi offers either $100 of a $300 purchase or a 20% coupon. It’s a nice piece of mind knowing your bag won’t be thrown down below the plane. Good luck!

  18. People who knowingly carry oversized bags on board and take up extra space and gum up the boarding process are a-holes

  19. I was facing the same decision a while back and went with the 20″ – it was a great decision. It was really nice to have a wider bag (shoes fit better in it as well as working well with my packing style). It also felt nice to have a slightly lower place to set my briefcase/backpack (so it didn’t feel it was riding over the handle as I pulled it). All in all, a great bag.
    However, I ended up switching to the 20″ B&R widebody and like that even better 😉

  20. Go with Briggs and Reilly. Tumi is overpriced junk. I’ve had my Briggs and Riley 22 inch roller board for a few years and have been so happy with it.

  21. Can anyone comment on the Rimowa’s resistance to indentation and scratches? I love the hard silver aluminum shell but feel like it would scratch and dent easily. Lucky..I’ve been a Tumi guy for years. I’ve never had one “break” on me and I’m one to beat up my bag.

  22. Another brand to consider is Mandarina Duck. Both my partner and I have Mandarina Duck roll aboards. I have a File Trolley and she has a Work trolley. I’ve had the file trolley since whenever we got cut down to a single carry-on through security, so eight years or so.

    What I like about it is the external pockets, wide one for laptop (although that is back in a satchel), one each for cables and toiletries and a couple for pens and other use on board sundries. Inside there is a suiter, shirt pocket and shoe pocket. Very commodious, I’ve gone up to a week with just that and a shoulder bag.

    It fits the IATA cabin bag profile and I’ve never had an issue fitting it in any overhead. Over the years it has lost a zip toggle and a foot although it seems to balance better without it. Only disappointment is the single pronged handle which means you can’t balance a shoulder bag on it.

    My partner’s work trolley has no suiter but still has convenient external pockets and a less divided main pocket. 5 years old and going strong.

  23. I have tried a few Tumi bags and overall I would put them at #2. My #1 choice, although really only for domestic (or Int’l when allowed) is the Zuca Sport Pro. Available in multiple color combinations – doubles as a chair – narrow enough to “wheel” down a narrow bodied aircraft without hitting the seats. Only drawback: it catches a lot of attention as people always ask me “what is that?”

  24. CORRECTION to my above post. The Sport Pro is not the bag that is carry-on approved. Rather I have and enjoy the ZUCA PRO TRAVEL which is.

    19.5” height, 10” width, 13.5” depth

  25. I’ve got a couple of Tumi carry-ons (a Ducati one because the color makes it easy to spot, and a 20″ international Alpha) and I much prefer the 20″. What I appreciate about the 20″ is that tall front pocket easily swallows the 13″ Retina Pro I have when i need to stuff everything into one rolly and don’t have to carry a shoulder bag and that the handle feels solid. The T-3 Ducati (I know it’s not on your shortlist) has a bit more give in overpacking situations since it’s not hard sided. In the way back I had a 22″ Gen 4 Fxt and Singapore/EVA/China/Air China all gave me grief about taking it onboard. All of them still fail the weight test if you pack full but I know these days EVA asks if there’s a computer and then gives a pass as to the overall weight.

    Tumi used to discount the color variants they’d come out with each year in the Alpha series but they haven’t come out with new colors. The outlet stores in the US will occasionally have the Alphas on sale, but they often have a revived Gen 4 Fxt as common stock. I’ve even seen a “Japan-only” limited edition 20″ Alpha at the outlet store in Cabazon.

    But, if you like bright colored luggage there’s always… http://www.openingceremony.us/products.asp?menuid=1&designerid=368&productid=19306&key=tumi

  26. Lucky, I would strongly urge you to look at the European Samsonite Cubelite hard side luggage which is light weight and makes efficient use of space. Check it out the next time you go to Europe. My Swiss Uncle switched to this from Tumi as it is lighter and much more durable. The 20 Cubelite can actually provide you as much storage as a 22 Tumi, and it weighs only 4.85 pounds/2.2 kg. Here is the link to the German Samsonite site: http://www.samsonite.de/cubelite-spinner-55cm-cabin-graphite/product-de.htm?or=5789240024

    If you decide to buy this piece, make certain you get the new version of the Cubelite weighing 4.85 pounds which is 1 pound lighter than the old Cubelite of 5.7 pounds. The Cubelite is the best selling luggage line in Euorpe and complies with European airlines carry-on policies. Also the wheels on the luggage are some of the best as it has four dual sided wheels.

  27. Don’t have the Alpha, but sure love my 22″ Tumi T3 Ducati I bought 3 years ago. ( 20″ had no space , too small)

  28. I have the 22″ (aka 24″) Tumi Alpha bag and have used it for over 7 years now. The handle broke once and Tumi repaired it for free. I have no issues domestically, although smaller planes require the bag to go sideways in the overhead, so make sure you get on the plane quickly (which I’m sure won’t be an issue). I too have experienced trouble when traveling internationally. Most recently two weeks ago in Geneva, a KLM agent told me it was too big, but fortunately I was able to talk my way out of it!

    Last time I was in the Tumi store, the salesman recommended the Continental bag. It’s two inches shorter than the 22″ but I think it’s like two inches wider. So it has similar space and it can fool the international agents. In the end, I was too risk adverse to pull the trigger because I was worried I’d be forced to check it.

    Finally, the best thing about the 22″ Alpha bag is it has the suiter on the inside for hanging items and it’s also expandable.

  29. These days, I don’t fly as much as I used to. That said, my old, ten-year-old, well-worm COB remains 75% packed and ready to go for weekend trips by car or by air. Depending upon where I’m headed and what going to do, I can add the remaining 25% in under five minutes. I don’t remember the brand name, but it is a semi-hard heavy fabric bag that ‘just’ squeaks by the sizers. Wheels and a handle are essential as it can become heavy if I’m going for more than two or three days. The best feature is two sets of expansion zippers. Laugh if you like, but… With everything close to minimum size, it passes any standard. If flying, I wear a lot during boarding. Once aboard, the expansion zippers are opened, I shed a layer or three of upper clothing and street shoes (into shoe bags) and wear my favorite leather travel slippers from L.L. Bean. I paid about $115 for this thing about ten years ago and I’ve never had a problem; no broken zippers or wheels or handles – nada. The only current downside is that my laptop’s size now exceeds the dimensions of the ‘computer pouch’ on the surface. (It now goes deeper inside; the pouch filled my limited liquids and one change of personal linen. Flying or driving, it is always read to go on a moment’s notice.
    Good luck finding your new bag, Ben. Don’t overlook the offerings at Costco. If the sizes and shapes suit you, their quality is among the best.

  30. I have the Tumi Tegra-Lite International carry-on. It is a spinner and slightly smaller (21.5″ x 14″ x 9″) than the Continental carry-on . It is made out of the same composite material as NASCAR race cars. Very light and extremely durable. It does not show scratches and dents pop out. It is hard -sided but that is why it is so durable and protects the bag contents.

  31. I’ve been using a LL Bean rollerboard that I picked up at a factory sale for $5, and believe it or not, I prefer it to a Tumi I bought for $600 because I don’t give a damn about having to check it in and getting destroyed… I also like that the cheap LL Bean is so non descript.

  32. I have both: the Tumi Alpha 22″ and a Rimowa Stealth Topas 22″

    – The Tumi pluses are: the integration with any Tumi Alpha computer case (easy to place and easy to remove), suiter on the inside for hanging items (I really recommend the 22″ for suits), it’s also expandable (which is quite nice if you need more space after shopping during a trip), and the compression strap easily allows to pack a lot of stuff. I have had several issues when flying within Europe, but based on status and “persuasiveness” I have managed to get out of them. The cons: the main one is the two-wheels, which makes rather hard to walk/run around airports when the suitcase is really heavy.
    – Rimowa’s pluses: the four wheels make the suitcase extremely easy to move around, they are a wonder of German engineering, the looks of the suitcase are great, and the adjustable dividers are great, but not better than the Tumi’s strap to extract efficiency out of your packaging. Cons: the handle does not work that well with my computer case, which it is rather annoying when removing the case from the suitcase. Less functionality than Tumi: no expandable, no suiter. FInally, if you do not like dents, you have to be extra careful with the Rimowa aluminum construction.

  33. As WPJ said, I believe the difference between 20 and 22 is the difference between “old” overhead bins and “new” “extended” overhead bins. By now just about every domestic narrowbody that I know of, except for some of the ex-NW 757s in Delta’s fleet, have the extended bins, and obviously neither one is a problem on a widebody, so the 22 should be fine.

    I have a 20″ Tumi carryon which fits with some room to spare in most bins, except those very old bins referenced above where it just barely fits. I also have a 24″ Samsonite not-quite-carryon which is great for widebodies and for the super-deep First Class overhead bins on E-Jets. Despite the fact that it does not fit wheels first on any narrowbody, I’ve never been asked to check it on any non-LCC airline anywhere in the world (though I try not to carry it on when traveling on narrowbodies since it does take up a rather rude amount of space). So I don’t think you have to worry with either of the bags you are considering.

  34. I still stand by my travel pro as the best bang for the buck.
    Yes Tumi has more locations to fix your bag, but is it really worth 4x the price?
    The 4 wheel travelpro spinner I have is hands down a better bag than any Tumi minus the repair facilities.
    The ballistic nylon, the oversized zippers and durable 4 wheel drive goes over any surface: rocks, sand, uneven asian dirt roads etc. Best of all the majority of flight crews use the same or similar bag and often times think you are off duty crew and are less likely to force you to gate-check and will never question you on size.

  35. never, ever, never get a Rimowa. I fly 175 days a year, mostly international and have to check bags as I go 3 weeks at a time. After years of Tumi, I was drawn to Rimowa Stealth 26″ due to it’s lightness and spinner feature. First trip – handle broke, sent out to repair, without it for 4 weeks. Second trip, wheel broke off, Rimoza sent me a new one. Third trip, the wheel bracket started coming off (2 rivets blew out), back to Rimowa. Then a few trips later the lock got smashed. This got fixed then the side handle broke….all in a year and a half. When you look closely at the design, the wheels are much less material and simply engineered that Tumis. The lock sits up on the side of the case and it’s made of PLASTIC….why when the suitcase is aluminum? And the handles are held in by a small pin….not bolted to the suitcase like Tumi’s. People can trash Tumi all they want, but I’ve tried all of the suitcases (10+ years traveling) and Rimowa is the worst and Tumi is the best.

  36. I have both the 22 and 20 inch Tumi Alpha but have been using the 20-inch after having been scrutinized in Tokyo and London when using 22-inch. The 22-inch will not fit in the sizing bins of international airports and will have to be forced to fit in the overhead bins of the newer AA 737’s.
    As someone noted, the people who log the most miles are the flight crews. And I have not seen an AA flight attendant use a carry-on other than Travel-Pro. And they are all using the 2-wheel version rather than the 4-wheel spinner.

  37. Have had a TUMI forever. I am now in the process of replacing my Tumi Alpha – i think it is the 20, but am not sure. But I carry a large camera – a Pentax 67 in it often and need to make sure it is well-packed. Just in case I am forced to check it in due to weight reasons. So I want have decided on a hard case version.
    After going through all the assorted researches of Rimowa Classic Flight and other hard cases, have decided on a Pelican. Seems built like a battle-tank. Military grade stuff. Really looking forward.

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