Bag review: Samsonite 55cm Firelite spinner

By Chris Chamberlin, April 10 2014

Samsonite’s Firelite collection features luggage that's both lightweight and strong, while a polyurethane coating on the zipper tracks also makes the bags tamper- and water-resistant.

The range includes luggage in 55, 69, 75 and 81cm sizes – that’s the measurement of the longest side of the bag, usually from the ground to the top when the bag is standing on its wheels.

This week, we give the 55cm spinner a real-world trial on an overnight trip to Auckland.

Who’s it good for?

With a recommended retail price (RRP) of $549 in Australia, the bag is clearly targeted at serious road warriors – not your ‘once a year’ traveller.

The total linear dimensions of 116.5 centimetres (55cm x 38.5 cm x 23cm) see the piece just outside the maximum dimensions for a cabin bag on Qantas domestic and international flights (115cms) – although as it’s unlikely to cause a fuss, the Firelite makes for a good carry-on.

It also doubles as a sturdy checked bag, which is where you’ll need to stow it on Virgin Australia flights – the airline’s published baggage rules don’t permit any rigid bags above 105cms in the cabin.

Construction and usability

Made in Europe, the 35L bag uses an exclusive-to-Samsonite ‘Curv’ material for the shell – consisting of a layer of woven polypropylene fabrics which are formed into self-reinforced composite sheets.

This patented procedure results in a strong yet lightweight fully-lined bag, which the manufacturer claims is highly resistant to impact.

Despite weighing just 1.90kgs, the Firelite feels surprisingly solid in my grasp – it looks much heavier than it actually is.

Leading to the handle is a single, sturdy pole – providing a little extra strength which makes navigating the bag a breeze. However, it does make it near-impossible to securely balance a laptop bag on the top while walking with the bag on an angle (as you would with a two-wheeled bag).

On the plus side, shorter travellers can adjust the handle to a more suitable height – but if you’re tall and want to extend it the full way, remember to hold the button down while you’re ‘raising the bar’, else it’ll click into the first (and significantly lower) slot.

Underneath, four multi-directional wheels make the Firelite easy to navigate on level ground, although as with all four-wheelers, you’ll want to avoid placing the wheels on a sloped surface – it’ll start to disappear in front of your eyes!

Security

Joining the shells together is a tamper-resistant zipper design, whereby the zipper tracks have a polyurethane coating right to the edge, which doubles to make the bag water resistant.

There’s also a TSA-compliant combination lock which houses the zippers, preventing them from being moved by unscrupulous baggage handlers to re-zip the bag if it’s been tampered with.

For extra security, it’s also possible to attach a small padlock through the zips when they’ve been secured, allowing your bag to stay closed and locked even if the primary lock has failed.

On the downside, the bag gives no indication if it’s been opened using a TSA key instead of the combination – if this is important to you, we’d suggest attaching a suitable, TSA-indicating padlock as described.

Pockets and storage

When opened, the bag divides into main storage areas – one half can be completely zipped closed for privacy, while the other uses lowered elastic cross ribbons to hold in your bits and pieces:

On that basis, we’d recommend storing your laptop under the cross ribbons while hiding your chargers, cables and clothing in the zip-up space – you’ll be able to speed through security faster if you can simply pull out your laptop at the checkpoint:

Inside the bag, you’ll also notice a smaller zip compartment:

It’s great for storing those travel essentials like pens, headphones and medication, while also keeping your iPod snug when you’re passing through security.

What’s missing is an external pocket to keep itineraries and travel documents at easy reach and to quickly store your wallet, watch and other valuables out of harm’s way when they have to be removed.

Choosing your colour

Available in Charcoal, Chili Red, Deep Blue and Off White (not pictured), all Firelite bags come with a global limited 10 year warranty.

(The handle actually goes much higher than this...)
(The handle actually goes much higher than this...)

I’d opted for the Chili Red for this trip, which looks a lot more professional and business-appropriate in person than it does in photographs.

However, I’m glad to have avoided 'Off White' – despite handling the bag with kid gloves and using it as a carry-on rather than a checked bag, the exterior glossy coat picked up a few noticeable (yet mostly superficial) scratches.

It wasn’t anything serious enough to require a trip to the panel beaters, although these wouldn’t be as noticeable on a darker bag – so if you plan to use the Firelite as your main suitcase, perhaps Deep Blue or Charcoal (black) are safer bets.

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Aug 2013

Total posts 11

What type of aircraft did you fly on Chris, and how well did it fit into the overhead bin.

1.9Kgs is seriously light

On the way over I was luckily in First on the Emirates A380 (so no problems storing the bag at my feet in the suite), and on the way back I was in the Premium Economy cabin on Air New Zealand's Boeing 777-300ER, where the bag fit in the locker perfectly fine wheels-first. :)

Which city is the best place to get it at the fraction of the cost?

Who shops in Australia anymore??

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2221

Try department stores - I have been able to find Samsonite bags for very good discounts of at least 30%.

I will vouch for good Samsonite deals being found in Singapore.

JBH
JBH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2012

Total posts 118

Would agree, snapped a large Samsonite a few years back at Myer PER deeply discounted on original price a day after the boxing day sales, some wear n tear since has seen it in need of repair once or twice but the after sales/service/repairs were fast and at no cost here in SIN.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2221

What sort of wear and tear have you encountered? I've had a fair variance in my family's Samsonite experience, as I'll recount:

1998 - black, soft sided frame - a decade and a half of abuse, serving loyally all members of my family, including me; retains full structural integrity despite some hilarious dings from LCCs

2003 - black, soft sided frame - a decade of battering, served my brother and I, scrapes here and there but otherwise still 100% solid (though my dad's one has a loud, clattering wheel)

2005 - black, soft-sided semi-monocoque - thoroughly smashed by AirAsia in 2010

aaaand a few newer ones that are nice but haven't seen years of being dragged across the continents and hurled across the oceans.

On the whole, they're solid.

JBH
JBH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2012

Total posts 118

Yep, they are very solid.  problems are the latch/locks on the case with push end release buttons, often jam which means they don't lock properly, hence the central key lock won't work on big case likes ours thats an issue,  the second, the retractable handle, also jammed extended on a LHR-SIN leg once and on another intra-asia, checked it in extended both times and suprised it survived but it did, (then again its Samsonite)!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2221

LOL - never had a jammed handle, but I've had wheels suffer internal failures, leading to a deafening clatter as it rolls along.

My locks all function, but I definitely prefer the 2003 ones that have the release as a slide-out thing - you pull to release, and then it springs back. Never jams.

They're damn good bags, well worth the couple hundred bucks we spent on them.

JBH
JBH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2012

Total posts 118

Yes. I won't deny she's still going to this day ('06 purchase) depite the minor faults, bruises and dents, she's back from PER yesterday (my last QF77) and off to LHR next week, it's always there with you for those of us that notice.....

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2221

Yup! This is why it's worth spending the money on a $200 suitcase that you can trust, not just getting a $40 cheapie and copping it when the thing rips open while you have a bare-minumum connection and you're running across terminals.

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 744

I buy my luggage in the US, generally tends to be half the Australian price at any random department store. Samsonite must think we're dolts.

Singapore isn't any cheaper than the US in my experience, though it's not much more expensive anyway.

It's a wonder that our department stores can't make any money and need to be sold to South Africa, when they charge twice the usual price for everything...

10 May 2013

Total posts 5

Bagworld is the best for lowest pricing. Scoopon has a deal on this now which undercuts bagworld slightly depending on shipping

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1381

While it looks like a nice bag.

My main issues are - single pole - hate these - makes it much harder to slide a laptop bag, or even better tri-fold garment bag on top.

Also domestically carry-on prefer the softer-bags as they have pockets that you can use for easy access - eg. headphones, tablets etc.

But it is very light weight.

Worth comparing to the recently released Samsonite 72hours soft-sided range. The 55cm spinner weighs only 1.5kgs.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2221

Single pole - complete rubbish. Saves weight and looks pretty, but the T-pole for me is like crossing the T - it destroys the bag.

Big fan of soft-sided bags with the additional front pockets. They sustain battle damage much better (both visually, as scrapes and frays can be offset by a good wet wipe, and physically, as the frame tends to hold up better than a shell) but appearance-wise are much of a taste issue.

I can't stand 'spinner' four-wheelers. Awful, hateful things that slide away at the slightest puff. Two wheels, all the way!

My current domestic recommendation is a Samsonite Duralite 48cm two-wheeler rollaboard. It's going for around $150 in most places.

16 Dec 2011

Total posts 43

Is this good enough to justify paying 3 times the price of another bag thats 90% as good ?  I just lost the wheel on a 3 year old samsonite and am thinking its better to buy $100 bags and replace them often..

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2221

That's unfortunate. I've got a 16-year-old and 11-year-old Samsonite still in fighting trim, despite their age and years of abuse, battering and carnage.

I would still buy good bags - mind you, I've found Samsonite rollers for like, $150 in QVB in Sydney - because I've tried the cheap bag trick before, and it doesn't work. You get a bright blue bag that looks pretty and shatters halfway through its second trip.

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 744

I think there's a sweet spot somewhere. A $50 suitcase lasts less than a quarter as long as a $200 suitcase, while an $800 suitcase doesn't last four times longer than a $200 suitcase. So a $200 suitcase is a pretty good deal.

(I mean an actual $200 suitcase like a low-end Samsonite or Delsey, not the $100 suitcases you buy for $200 in Australia...)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Aug 2013

Total posts 11

moa999 The Samsonite 72 Hours is extra light.

But I too don't like 4 wheelers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2221

Four-wheelers are abominations. They seem like a good idea until you have to use one. The only time they are remotely useable is when you have a big one to push along as a secondary shipping crate when you already have a two-wheeled cabin-sized trolley.

24 Nov 2013

Total posts 1

Take note of the "virtually indestructable" description...DXB managed to smash two of my Samsonites in one trip.  Both were "-lite" design.  I do plenty of travel as an airline employee and the heavier plastic design (similar to car dashboards) seems to be the most durable for checked luggage.  Cabin luggage survival seems to be more about the user, not the airport handlers.  The drawback with the heavier plastic is it does get nicks and scratches which are a danger to stockings.  One luggage repair worker suggested giving the scratches a blast with a hairdrier softens the plastic enough to be smoothed out - no more holes in your stockings whilst dashing to sign on! Love the "-lite" designs but I don't think they would survive falling out of the bus luggage hold and being driven over on the highway, the heavier plastic was worth the expense.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 400

I love his suitcase. I tend to travel with one large suitcase( that way I can travel heavy or lite) and a messenger bag/briefcase only. My back is more important that looks and money thus the super light weight durablilty along with 4 wheels makes it an awsome OHS option! A breeze to operate.


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