Smart Luggage Rules and Our Recommendations
The smart luggage landscape has changed quite a bit since this article was first published, and we’ve seen the offerings narrow significantly. Still, there’s a handful of nice cases available, as well as ways to incorporate smart luggage tech into the suitcase you already own!
For those who aren’t familiar, beginning in early 2018, airlines started banning smart luggage that includes a non-removable battery. Because lithium-ion batteries pose a fire risk (and fires in the luggage hold are more difficult to quickly extinguish), passengers are not permitted to check bags with batteries in them. You can still remove the battery and check your bag, or carry it on a bag with a battery inside.
This post includes ONLY smart bags with removable batteries.
Smart Luggage Quick Comparison Chart
|Luggage Brand||Weight (carry-on)||Location Tracking||Self Weighing||Power Bank||Self Locking|
|Arlo Skye||7- 8 lbs||No||No||Yes||No|
|eBags Fortis Pro||7.8 lbs||No||No||Yes (as an add-on)||No|
Our Smart Luggage Reviews
Arlo Skye Luggage Review
Ease of battery removal: Power bank easily removes from the exterior of the bag.
Arlo Skye started out small, with just a couple sleek aluminum luggage styles. But they’ve recently emerged as a serious competitor to Instagram favorite Away. Along with their original aluminum luggage range, they now offer lightweight polycarbonate bags in on-trend hues, and easy access front laptop compartments.
- Nice Range of Sizes and Colors
- Integrated TSA Locks
- Silent Run Lisof spinner wheels
- Durable polycarbonate or aluminum construction
- Carry-On Sizes have fast charging Power Bank with USB C and A ports
My travels with Arlo Skye’s bags have been smooth sailing. Their textured polycarbonate is less likely to scuff than the super smooth cases I’ve used in the past. And now that Away bags are EVERYWHERE, I enjoy having a case that doesn’t look so generic.
From the beginning, Arlo Skye has been very design focused, with limited edition designer collaborations featuring great colors and printed linings. Their cases often feel a step above Away’s collabs, with better details and a higher end feel. One of their more interesting offerings is the “Frame” bag, which is a hybrid polycarbonate and aluminum bag. The polycarbonate won’t dent like aluminum, but the aluminum frame is lightweight, and the trim and zipperless design gives the bags a high end look.
WHAT WE LOVE:
Arlo Skye is a solid contender in the smart luggage market, with the design chops and quality to challenge Away. I appreciate that their power banks features USB C and A ports, something Away is lagging on. Their bags also compare favorably to Away when it comes to weight, actually coming in a whole pound lighter for the carry-on, which weighs just 7 pounds!
Other than the removable included luggage tag, their polycarbonate suitcases are vegan. (Note, however, that their aluminum bags do feature leather handles).
WHAT WE DON’T:
A wider color range and/ or more frequent limited editions would be nice. But when it comes to technical features, durability, and usability, there’s little to criticize.
Away Bags Review
Ease of battery removal: Power bank easily removes from the exterior of the bag. Note that if you have an older Away bag that requires interior removal, they offer a retrofit to fix this.
UPDATE: Overall, Away does make quality cases, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t address the recent revelations about their terrible work environment, with co-founder Steph Korey literally bullying low level employees into working 16 hour days. I know that it’s impossible to maintain ideological purity in everything I purchase, but knowing they treat their employees so poorly makes Away a hard sell for me.
Despite having pared down features, Away became a big contender in the smart luggage market even when now-defunct brands were offering far more integrated tech. They’ve promoted themselves heavily among influencers, and their modern design has drawn quite a bit of acclaim. Away’s luggage shells are made of lightweight Makrolon polycarbonate, and they boast “unbreakable”, scratch resistant construction. Indeed, the bags are pleasingly light, and the lightest on this list.
While my bag did accumulate some scuffs and scrapes, it came through its first trip to the airport looking better than the Raden bag I’d previously been using. Their prices are slightly lower than some of the brands featured here, which they claim is made possible by selling direct to consumers–that is, you won’t see Away bags in your local luggage shop anytime soon.
- Wide Range of Sizes and Colors
- Integrated TSA Locks
- Hinomoto spinner wheels
- “Unbreakable”, scratch resistant construction
- Power Bank in Carry-On Sizes
- Lifetime Warranty
You’ll need to charge your power bank before each trip, and it is easily removable from the exterior of the bag, allowing for potential upgrades in the future.
As useful as a power bank might be–and Away gets kudos for being ahead of the curve when it comes to making the battery removable– it’s disappointing to see them moving forward without expanding the integrated tech in their bags. Still, if you’re attracted to the style of the case, and appeal of mobile charging, an Away carry-on bag may still be a great choice for you. Your carry-on is less likely to exceed the weight limit (or be weighed by airlines to begin with), and since it mostly stays within close proximity, you’re less likely to need location services.
If you’re on the fence about Away, click here to jump down to the bottom of this article to see how you can easily upgrade any suitcase with smart features.
WHAT WE LOVE:
Having a power bank is nice, but the non-tech features contribute to Away’s status as a solid case. The handy integrated TSA lock is nice for peace of mind. Premium Japanese Hinamoto spinner wheels guarantee smooth sailing, and your shell, zipper, handle, and wheels are all covered by a lifetime warranty. Just contact Away if you have any issues and they’ll repair or replace your case. Away’s luggage also compares favorably when it comes to weight, coming in as the lightest of the bunch, something that’s very noticeable when handling the bag.
WHAT WE DON’T:
While it’s nice to know that you’re covered if something breaks, the insubstantial feeling handle did give me a little pause. I frequently set a backpack on top of my carry-on, leaning against the handle, and the handle just felt like it bent and twisted to much to support the heavy backpack. Away does say that the handle is meant to flex a bit in order to absorb shock.
The other quirk I’ve noticed with my Away bags is that when packed full, it can be difficult to lock the zipper pulls in the locking mechanism. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with this issue, but I guess all the stuff in my case is somehow obstructing the lock? Seem crazy since the lock is so small, but whatever the explanation, this design flaw can be a bit of a pain.
Finally, Away’s polycarbonate cases may not be vegan-friendly. While I could swear that all the trim on my Away case is plastic, the description states that “suitcase features leather details.” We’ve reached out to Away for clarification, and will update when they respond (that is, if they haven’t bullied all their CS reps into quitting).
eBags Fortis Pro Review
Ease of battery removal: Power bank easily removes from the interior of the bag.
Love the idea of a suitcase with an integrated power bank, but can’t justify the price of an Arlo Skye or Away bag? eBags Fortis Pro is a creative, budget friendly option worth considering.
Rather than building in a power bank (which sticks you with the luggage brand’s particular type of power bank for the rest of the bag’s life), the Fortis Pro simply includes an interior pouch to hold any power bank of your choosing. Your battery attaches to a cable that threads up through the special port in the top of the bag for easy charging.
This is such a smart way to approach a tech feature that could easily become outdated otherwise. We love the flexibility of being able to choose our own power bank, and unlike other bags with built-in chargers, there’s no wasted space if you decide not to bring the power bank along.
- Built-in external USB port
- Interior portable battery pocket conveniently located for quick removal without having to open the whole bag
- Silent Hinomoto spinner wheels
- Integrated TSA locks
- Interior compression strap has built-in packing cubes (1 wet cube/1 dry cube)
- Interior removable divider
- Removable laundry bag included
- Expandable hard-shell increases depth by 1.5”
They’ve clearly put quite a bit of thought into the organization of the bag as well. If you’re not a packing cube person, no worries, there’s almost no need with all the handy pouches in the Fortis Pro. We especially appreciate the built-in waterproof wet cube–which, when combined with some nice travel bottles, could remove the need for a toiletry bag.
WHAT WE LOVE:
For a budget priced bag, the design and features are top-notch. The Fortis’ approach to integrating tech is arguably smarter than competitors in its flexibility. The expansion zipper is also a nice feature for those of us who need a little help going carry-on only.
WHAT WE DON’T:
As with any budget priced luggage, the quality of construction and long-term durability don’t compare to higher-end products. The reviews of the bag reflect that, with some very happy customers, and some complaining about things like zipper quality.
So What’s the Best Smart Luggage of 2021?
Good luggage can make or break your trip, but once you move beyond basic quality issues, the best luggage features are a matter of personal taste and lifestyle. What makes me deliriously happy with a suitcase may leave other people yawning.
That said, our favorite smart luggage right now is Arlo Skye. They offer a must-have removable power bank, along with thoughtful features and high-end design.
How to Turn Your Existing Luggage into Smart Luggage
Love the luggage you already have, or just don’t have the budget for a smart suitcase? Plenty of the features of smart luggage are easy to add to your existing case:
There’s a huge variety of portable luggage scales out there. Most are small enough that they won’t take up much space in your suitcase, and they function in much the same way self weighing handles do. Simply hook onto the top of your bag, then lift up your bag using the scale to see the bag’s weight.
If you’re a chronic over-packer like me, this can save you serious dough on baggage fees by giving you forewarning that items need to be left at home, or re-arranged among bags. A scale is also more handy in some ways because it’s not tied to any one bag. Weigh your entire family’s bags with one device, then toss the scale in your checked bag. You may want to check out our lightweight luggage picks!
Ok, so we don’t actually recommend drilling holes and trying to integrate a power bank into your suitcase, but you can buy a dedicated power bank to carry with you when you travel. Just remember to keep it with you, as airlines prohibit leaving a power bank in your checked luggage.
While you want something compact for everyday carrying in a purse or pocket, you can easily go with a larger, more powerful battery to keep in your carry-on luggage. Yes, you won’t have those handy exterior ports on your suitcase, but the battery itself will be basically the same thing that ships inside all of these fancy suitcases.
Using location tracking to prevent and find lost luggage is the most complex to implement, with most solutions offering tracking via cellular or Bluetooth. GPS systems are available, but generally require purchasing a subscription.
In addition, keep in mind that tracking devices may need to be charged regularly. This means that your tracking device could potentially run out of juice on a long haul flight, defeating the purpose of having that device once you arrive.
Tile offers the simplest and most popular devices, with Bluetooth tracking that takes advantage of their user network once your item is out of your phone’s range. The battery lasts for one year, then you’ll need to replace the tracker.
What is a Smart Suitcase Anyway?
Smart Luggage is really any suitcase that has integrated technology.
That built in tech could be just one thing, or many. The field, and available features have changed quite a bit since smart luggage first became popular back in 2016, but some common examples of this technology include: Phone App Integration, GPS or Bluetooth Location Tracking, Built-in Scale for self-weighing, Remote Digital Locks, and a Power Bank for your mobile devices.
The Future of Smart Luggage
The cases we’ve covered are currently the top players in smart luggage, though innovation in the field has slowed considerably.
While smart luggage started out strong, airline regulations have quashed the wild west of smart luggage start ups. The difficulty of integrating technology into a suitcase, while making batteries removable as airlines now require, has seen an end to many of the early features like location tracking and remote locks.
And if we’re honest, many of the smart luggage features thrown around at the beginning were more gimmicky than functional. Yes, a bag you can lock and unlock from your smartphone seems like a cool idea –until the tech malfunctions, and the bag won’t open at all. Raden suitcases featured location tracking and self-weighing from their smartphone app–until the company folded and the app was no longer updated.
Even if new tech does make in onto the luggage market in 2021, we recommend looking for function over techy gimmicks, and always evaluating the removability of any integrated tech. Right now, airlines require that power banks be removed before checking your bag. But new tech always comes with the potential for similar problems and banning.