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Computerized Investing > September 22, 2012

TravelPro Crew 9 20-inch Expandable Business Plus Rollaboard

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$400

Rolling carry-on with a special laptop compartment.

Many of our readers are professionals or have reached retirement, which means they do a fair amount of traveling. Whether you are a road warrior or just an occasional traveler, having a good set of luggage can mean the difference between a hassle-free experience or a nightmare. If you don’t travel that often, it is easy to think that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on luggage. That’s true, until you are waiting at the airport luggage carousel and your decimated luggage rolls by in the conveyer with all your belongings piled on top. Sadly, I have seen this more times than I should; but, luckily, it has never happened to me.

I received an American Tourister luggage set for my high school graduation, and I’ve been very brand loyal ever since. In 20 years, I have gone through three suit bags, a few shoulder totes and two rollers. Not too bad, seeing how merciless airlines can be with luggage.

I had never heard of TravelPro until I received their Crew 9 20-inch Expandable Business Plus Rollaboard. After a little research, I discovered that the brand has been around for 20 years and is popular among airline flight crews and other frequent travelers. I have been trying it out while traveling around the Pacific Northwest, between Portland and Seattle (I am actually writing this from my hotel room in Washington).

Look & Design

The luggage itself is unremarkable from a looks standpoint, which suits me just fine. The one I was given was black, although it is also available in titanium gray. The Rollaboard measures 20-inches by 14-inches by 9-inches (length-width-height) and weighs just less than nine pounds. It is made out of nylon fabric with Duraguard coating. It has two sealed ball-bearing wheels and has the company’s PowerScope handle system. When wheels aren’t appropriate, or when you are hefting the Rollaboard into the overhead bin, there are side and bottom handles.

The luggage itself has four compartments, which is something I have never seen in a roller of this size. There is a unique water bottle pocket on the side, so you can slip in your beverage as you navigate to your gate at the airport. The front pocket has two separate zipper compartments. The first is a foam-padded laptop sleeve. I don’t think you would be able to fit anything bigger than a 15-inch laptop in this pocket and even then I think you may be pushing it. My 13-inch HP Ultrabook fit quite nicely. However, many travelers probably won’t make use of that feature, since most of us who carry a laptop use a laptop bag. For my trip, I actually put a pair of shoes in this compartment. While I doubt TravelPro intended this pocket for such a use, my size-11 trail shoes fit perfectly. The other zipper compartment of the front pocket is a business organizer. The pocket is large enough to hold files; there are pen/pencil slots and two interior pockets for cords and other accessories.

The main compartment has two zipper pockets that run along both of the long edges of the bag. One is plastic, which is ideal for carrying wet items or toiletries that may leak. There are also two adjustable hold-down straps to compress the contents or to keep things secure. The main compartment also has a zippered expander that adds 2.5 inches on to the main compartment.

All TravelPro luggage comes with a limited lifetime guarantee against defects in materials and workmanship.

Performance

As I started collecting everything I was going to take on the six-day, six-night trip, I started to worry that the 20-inch Rollaboard wouldn’t be big enough to allow me to get away with only using it and my suit bag on this trip. As it turns out, after unzipping the expander for the main compartment, I had plenty of room to pack everything I needed for the trip, except for my shirts and a pair of dress pants.

Fully packed, especially if you have put things in the front pockets, the Rollaboard is prone to falling over, despite the four-point stability system. This can be a bit troublesome if you have the telescopic handle extended and if you have a laptop in the front pocket.

Maneuvering the Rollaboard is a breeze with the smooth bearing wheels. Furthermore, the patent-pending PowerScope handle system is one of the best-constructed handles I have seen on rolling luggage. It moves up and down effortlessly and, when extended, is very solid. To me, this is an indication of the eye for detail TravelPro has when designing luggage that is built to last.

It is also worth noting that the zippers glide smoothly, with no catching or snagging. I have found that luggage makers view zippers as an afterthought, with more than a few pieces I have used ruined by aggravating zippers.

Crew 9 Collection

Since it’s rare to travel with just a single piece of luggage, TravelPro’s Crew 9 collection has 14 pieces in all, including checkpoint-friendly business cases, spinners, totes, carry-ons, a garment bag and a backpack.

Price

When I first saw the $400 suggested retail price, I thought it was a typo. It wasn’t, but I have yet to find any retailer selling it at the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. That being said, $200 for a bag of this size will undoubtedly raise more than a few eyebrows. You can find 20- and 21-inch rollers for under $100. If I were shopping for a bag like this, chances are very unlikely that I would buy it. However, having used the review model I was given for only a few days, TravelPro is very much on my radar for whenever I may need a new piece of luggage. This is because it all goes back to quality. These bags are built to last. If you buy something that will last you for many years, such a price premium is worth it.

Overall

Many people will argue that luggage is luggage and that slapping on one nameplate versus another is the only reason why one costs so much more than the other. After using the TravelPro Crew 9 20-inch Expandable Business Plus Rollaboard, I know better. This bag’s quality is palpable. Whether or not you are willing to spend $200 for that quality is a different story. Based on my hands-on experience, I think it is.

Pros

  • Padded front compartment for a laptop
  • Separate business organizer pocket for files, cords, accessories, etc.
  • Telescopic handle is very solid and stable
  • Ball-bearing wheels move smoothly
  • 2.5-inch expander for main compartment

Cons

  • Prone to falling forward when front pockets are packed
  • A bit pricey

TravelPro Crew 9 20” Expandable Business Plus Rollaboard

$400 (Currently $169.99 from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @AAII_CI.