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Carry-on luggage showdown: Away vs. Roam

Dec. 14, 2021
6 min read
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I am of an age where I have lived through the evolution of luggage. When I took my first flight, at age 6, from New York (JFK) to London (LHR) in 1971, our family had a set of olive Samsonite luggage with old-school locks -- and no wheels in sight. Yes, you actually had to carry your suitcase back in the day.

My mother's carry-on was a matching Samsonite makeup case and her purse. There was no such thing as rollaboards or the large totes that are so common these days.

Related: Keep calm and carry on: Our 13 favorite travel carry-ons

As someone who refuses to check a bag, I need a carry-on that can haul all my stuff for trips of up to a week. I decided to buy myself Away's soft-side Expandable Bigger Carry-On with Pocket suitcase in black for my birthday after seeing so many versions of Away suitcases at a TPG managers meeting in June.

But there are myriad carry-on suitcases ranging from under $100 (the Amazon Basics 21-Inch Hardside Spinner) to more than $1,000 (the Rimowa Original Cabin), depending on the brand. And competition in the market is fierce. So with decades of travel and luggage experience under my heels, here are my thoughts about products from two of the hottest brands on the market. -- Away and Roam.

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Carried away by Roam

Part of Roam's suitcase gallery. (Image courtesy of Roam)

Roam, launched in 2019 by the founder of and an executive at Tumi, touts that it assembles suitcases by hand in its U.S. factory and can ship it in as little as one business day. It also brought a twist to the luggage game -- customization.

It allows you to fully customize your suitcase by choosing the colors of the front and back shell, the trim, the zipper, the binding, the wheels and the carry-on handle. The website walks you through the steps and it's pretty easy. If customization isn't for you, there's a gallery with 16 versions of the suitcases.

(Screenshot courtesy of Roam)

In October, I was contacted by Roam to test out its hard-side Jaunt XL Expandable - Extra Capacity Carry-on. I customized my suitcase, above, and put it through its paces during a TPG retreat in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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Related: Is expensive luggage worth it?

Side by side

(Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Because I'm a big fan of soft-side luggage (as it provides room to stuff it to the gills), my Away bag has that feature. However, it's no longer available for sale in that configuration.

Related: Here’s why we love this cult-favorite carry-on

An Away spokesperson noted that its new expandable Polycarbonate Flex, launched this summer, will replace its soft-side collection moving forward. The Polycarbonate Flex was the brand’s first-ever expandable hard-side offering, designed for those who prefer the durability of Away’s polycarbonate shell while maximizing space with the added expandability feature. "We've been sold out since launch in August but will be restocking (and offering more colors!) this coming year," she added.

Here's a comparison with Away's version of the polycarbonate shell.

Away Expandable Bigger
Carry-On with Pocket
Roam Jaunt XL Expandable
SizeExterior: 22.7 inches by 14.7 inches by 9.6 inchesExterior: 22 inches by 15.75 inches by 9 inches
Weight8.4 lbs7.1 lbs
Features
  • Leather details, including a black leather luggage tag.
  • Ejectable USB charger.
  • TSA-approved combination lock.
  • 360-degree spinner wheels.
  • Interior compression system.
  • Hidden laundry bag.
  • Telescoping handle with four height settings.
  • Ergonomic handle grip.
  • Water-repellent zipper.
  • TSA-approved combination lock.
  • Ball-bearing wheels.
  • Interior compression system.
  • Hidden laundry bag.
  • Free monogram.
Cost$245-$265$575

Related: What your luggage brand says about you

Pros and cons: Away

(Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Pros

  • Choice of polycarbonate shell or aluminum.
  • Fits in overhead bins even when expanded.
  • Offers USB charger for $20.
  • Black version hides a multitude of travel sins, including scuffs and scratches.
  • Locks are on top of the suitcase.
  • Handles are comfortable to hold.
  • Front pocket offers easy access to laptops and documents.
  • Wheels roll smoothly.
  • Monogrammed luggage tag for $25.
  • Top corner guards offer extra protection.
  • Solid price.

Cons

  • Only one side offers interior compression.
  • Hard to grip zipper at the bottom of the suitcase to store dirty laundry.
  • Only two levels on the telescoping handle.
  • Some colors and styles scuff quite easily.

Pros and cons: Roam

(Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Pros

  • Ability to customize with really cool color combinations.
  • Both sides of the suitcase have interior compression.
  • Four levels on the telescoping handle.
  • Easily fit six packing cubes.
  • Fits in overhead bins even when expanded.
  • Feels really light.
  • Offers $50 Amazon gift card when you refer a friend.
  • Receive a free shoe-and-laundry-bag set when you write a review.

Cons

  • Higher price.
  • Didn't like the luggage lock located on the side.
  • Handles weren't soft.
  • Wheels don't always run smoothly.
  • Hard to grip zipper at the bottom of the suitcase to store dirty laundry.
  • Lighter colors show scuff marks.
  • Outer shell felt fragile to me.

Bottom line

Both carry-ons are solid options for travelers. Being on #TeamSoftSide, I wish Away still had that option and that Roam would offer it, too.

That being said, the bag you choose really depends on the type of traveler you are and how you use it. I found the Away bag was within my budget and has most of the features I want in a carry-on. But if you want to travel in a bit more style -- and don't mind paying for it -- the Roam bag might be the one for you.

Related: Over 400,000 miles and counting: Review of the Rimowa carry-on bag

Featured image by (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.