Traveling brings luggage (I chose not to say baggage) and there are as many choices for what holds your belongings as there are flights to take. How do you make the right choice? Experienced travelers hold Rimowa in high regard and I wanted to try the brand for myself.
In 1898, a German luggage designer, Paul Morszeck began designing travel trunks with the focus on light and sturdy equipment. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the brand was seen as a luxury item, and it wasn’t until 1937 that aluminum was used as the perfect composite for its lightweight, sleek looks and sturdy design.
“In the 1920s, the company’s elegant suitcases become the choice of sophisticated globetrotters. Richard Morszeck, the company founder’s son, launches the first aluminium trunk on the market in 1937.” – Rimowa’s website
In the 1950s, parallel grooves were added to the design. The new design seemed to match the German the iconic Junkers JU 52 aircraft and has become the hallmark ever since. In 1976 water-proof cases were introduced to the line. In the early 2000s the line was expanded to include more affordable suitcases (relative to the Topas), the Salsa line among others. Then instead of the tilt wheel (two wheels on one side and two stands on the other) to an omni-directional wheel design.
In October of 2016 most of the brand (80% ownership) was sold to Luxury mega-brand LVMH (Möet, Hennesy, Louis Vuitton, Tag Heuer, etc.) who own it today.
Topas provides the widest range from Rimowa with seemingly every size and style one could need. Most of the line doesn’t fit my needs, but we own three different pieces for three different reasons. Here are the sizes of the line listed in terms of liters they hold (though I will identify the relevant sizes as applicable to airline term)s:
- Beauty Case 11.0L
- Business Multiwheel 26.0L (Briefcase)
- Cabin Multiwheel 32.0L (European-sized rollaboard carry-on)
- Cabin Multiwheel 34.0L (US-sized rollaboard carry-on)
- Multiwheel 45.0L (Checked suitcase)
- Multiwheel Electronic Tag 67.0L (Checked suitcase)
- Multiwheel Electronic Tag 78.0L (Checked suitcase)
- Multiwheel Electronic Tag 82.0L (Checked suitcase)
- Multiwheel Electronic Tag 89.0L (Checked suitcase)
- Multiwheel Electronic Tag 98.0L (Checked suitcase)
- Multiwheel Electronic Tag 100.0L (Checked suitcase)
I picked up (over time) a very large checked suitcase and a pair of smaller carry-ons. The smaller (32.0L) carry-on is useful for flights on regional jets where the larger carry-on is better suited for family flights on mainline jets. The large checked bag is used on long family vacations, usually just a couple of times per year at most.
There are three allures to the products. First, plainly, they are sexy – well, to a frequent flyer/aviation geek anyway. Sleek, smooth to roll, shiny and classic – what’s not to like? If silver isn’t your color there are other metallic options in the Topas line (black – “Stealth”, champagne – “Titanium”) or you could choose from the Salsa line though those are polycarbonate and not metallic.
Those are the reasons I really buy, here are the reasons I tell myself I bought them.
In addition to the rigid body, lightweight frame, omnidirectional wheels and water-proofing I already covered – there are two other features worth mentioning. First, the combination locks don’t just keep valuables safe, they also pinch the two sides of the case together which creates the waterproof seal. The locks are TSA-approved (meaning they can open it if they want but don’t have to break the locks to get in) and the combination is three digits.
Secondly, the new line (I don’t have this version) has Electronic Tags. Lufthansa has been pioneering the technology that eliminates the need for a checked bag tag and the checkin line at the airport. I could see that being a help, but not something I would pay extra to have. The good news is that they don’t charge extra for the electronic tag feature and I like that they are innovating without just adding a USB port and calling it a day. Then again, I wouldn’t hate a USB charger on them either.
The Topas cases are reputedly some of the most durable available. This is a concern for us because we have gone through numerous soft side cases over the years that just haven’t held up. Typically, over the Christmas/New Year period my ability to take time off is enhanced. There are lots of built-in holidays, weekends and I can take days off from both calendar years. For that period we take extended trips usually to many destinations and lately, most of them have been to Southeast Asia.
Durability is important because we might check a bag for the trip four, five, maybe six times during the same journey as we bounce from place to place. That wears on our checked luggage which is filled with 40-60 lbs (not liters) of souvenirs, clothing and shoes.
Regardless of how durable Rimowa might claim their product to be, if a brand won’t guarantee their craftsmanship then they don’t really have to stand behind it. Rimowa does. The Topas comes with a five-year warranty with proof of purchase (keep your receipt). More than that, they have service centers around the world (often in hotels) where repairs can be made while you are in town if your case is faulty while on a trip. But a guarantee you never use is hard to evaluate.
So we used it.
We were traveling through Asia last winter, when we noticed that the bag was not closing properly, affecting the waterproof seal. We needed the hinges to be adjusted so that it would close properly and called up the Conrad hotel Hong Kong during a long one night stay (36 hours). We emptied it when we arrived, called the concierge who had already arranged for transportation of the case to Kowloon.
The next morning it was returned well in advance of our return to the US with a brochure inside, and a statement of repairs showing what was done.
Let’s be honest on this point. I thoroughly enjoy strolling walking commanding walking through the concourses of my favorite airports. It’s rock star. While I am happy on two feet walking next to my Rimowa, Lucy prefers to ride it instead.
However, there is a problem. The wheels I have found to be easily damaged. American Airlines has twice fixed the 34.0L multiwheel they damaged. The first occasion when I intended to check it in, another time after a simple gate check (aka “fate check”). In both cases, American Airlines picked up the case from my house (once I was able to empty the contents) and returned it fixed at no cost to me. I also have numerous protections courtesy of my credit cards in the case that my airline is not as generous as I switch from American to United (thanks to my Status Match to 1K).
Additionally, some rivets were loose when the 82.0L went in for repair in Hong Kong and came back “fixed”. Unfortunately, they missed one rivet that is now gone, and another is loose. While I am sure I can get it repaired, and maybe I will, I don’t have a repair center in my city and don’t really want to hassle with it. The seal repair is also suspect.
My confidence in the brand would be higher if they were as durable as I had hoped. That being said, just look at the beating they have taken.
Tumi is a popular brand that I just have not really tried. I know a lot of travelers swear by them and they seem to make a great product with a great warranty as well. It seems to be the choice of many consultants I find in the priority lane, each with their initials embroidered on the outside. I wish that Rimowa would offer the same customization options for their products especially given the premium they command.
I have reviewed the less expensive but great Raden A28 smart bag. As I mentioned, we have used this over our Rimowa a couple of times because it seems like it can take a better beating without leaving the same patina that Rimowa advertises as an advantage.
I have also covered the Away carry-on. This is a smart suitcase like the Raden, but it has a few advantages over the Raden and over the Rimowa. The Away carry-on has some of the same smart features (two USB, one for tablets, one for phones, a built-in scale, and tracking) which make it more useful in a carry-on. I couldn’t really find a use for the Raden USB ports as it was a checked bag. Smart carry-ons make more sense, allowing travelers to take advantage of charging capabilities throughout their journey.
These things are PRICEY. They all run within a hundred dollars of each other and the 82.0L checked bag retails at $1,130 before tax. I had an opportunity to buy each of these at a 40% discount and will take the source of my discount to the grave – unlike Tumi, Rimowas never go on sale.
I would separate out the value of the purchase into two categories. For the smaller bags, I really think the value is there. The quality has been excellent and we get a lot of use out of them, however, the larger case not as much. It’s only used sparingly and when it is we load it heavy and it gets dragged, dropped and seemingly karate chopped along the way. For use once a year, the value just isn’t there and on my most recent trip to Vietnam where I needed to bring back a lot, I actually opted for a Raden A28 instead.
Some readers might think that the price is insane, and trust me – it’s high even with the discount I was able to score. But travel is my hobby, it’s what I love to do, what my family loves to do. For those that think the purchase is unimaginable – maybe you have a nice watch, or drive a Mercedes – I drive a Ford. And I drive a Ford so that I can spend money on travel purchases others might find frivolous.
If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would definitely buy the smaller Topas models (even though the price is not proportionally less) assuming the same discount. At full price, I just don’t think I could do it again and probably would not purchase the large checked piece. Maybe I would consider the Salsa line instead.
What luggage do you swear by? Have you had similar issues with your luggage but can’t give it up?