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Originally published Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 6:30 AM

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Choosing the best wheeled luggage

Wheeling bags revolutionized the luggage industry decades ago. Here's how to find the best bag.

AARP

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About 40 years ago a guy named Bernard Sadow was lugging two large suitcases through the Aruba airport when he noticed a worker rolling machinery on a skid. Eureka! Sadow invented a rolling bag: It was large and clunky, with four wheels on the bottom and a towrope.

In 1987 airline pilot Bob Plath went a step further. He designed a rectangular bag with a vertical back, two wheels, and an extendible handle: the Rollaboard. It revolutionized travel.

These days, rolling bags come in all shapes and sizes, many with features you may or may not want. Here's what to look for.

1. Good wheels

They should be widely spaced and encased, with sealed bearings, and should swivel 360 degrees. Swivels make a bag easier to maneuver, and seals keep the wheels from sticking. The collapsing handle should also be encased, and preferably placed on the exterior of the bag for maximum packing space.

2. Durability

As a thoroughly unscientific test, in 2009, for CBS's Early Show, I stuffed fresh fruit into five top suitcase brands and threw each one into a ring with a five-ton Asian elephant. Most were destroyed within minutes. Amazingly, soft-sided bags seemed to fare better. The bag that lasted the longest? A $320 Victorinox suitcase b which happened to be a rollaway! Coming in second was a $99 unwheeled American Tourister, proving that affordable luggage can still be durable.

3. Light weight

Even if it has wheels, no one wants to pull a heavy suitcase. You can easily perform your own weight comparison in the store. Of those I've tested, the Kiva line is extremely lightweight.

4. Compactness

Desperate to avoid checked-bag fees, many travelers haul anything on wheels onto a plane — including massive duffel bags. Reality check: Just because it's transportable doesn't mean it's portable. Your bag should measure no more than 45 linear inches (length plus width plus height). In general, a 21-inch upright fits best into any overhead compartment — and it won't incite dirty looks from fellow passengers.

5. Low center of gravity

Cheap bags often have flat, open pockets in the front. Once the bag is loaded, however, its uneven weight distribution makes it topple over if you let go. Look for a bag with a zippered front pocket and, again, widely spaced wheels.

6. Robust warranty

Not all lifetime guarantees are equal. Often the fine print excludes "excessive wear and tear" and "transport damage." Translation: If the airline damages your suitcase, it's not covered. The most comprehensive warranty I've found is from Briggs & Riley, which offers a true lifetime warranty on all of its lines.

Peter Greenberg, AARP's Travel Ambassador, is the Travel Editor for CBS News and host of a nationally syndicated weekly radio show. Visit him on the Web at PeterGreenberg.com. This is adapted from the AARP Bulletin; www.aarp.org

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