Windbag Miles is a blog about points, miles, credit cards, travel, and general windbaggery.

Fixing my suitcase: a meditation on whether I care too much about luxury stuff

I have used the same suitcase since the year 2000 - it's a TravelPro Crew 3 that my parents bought me (OOOH SPOILED BRAT) when I was in college. It's a fantastic piece of luggage, and I especially like that it's expandable. You don't see that feature much anymore, but I use it all the time, to the point that the zipper pull ripped off of the slider a long time ago. It's perfect for a trip where you know you're going to buy a bunch of stuff, since you can pack the suitcase in normal mode and then give yourself tons of extra space for all your knick-knacks. I've overpacked it so much that I've practically turned it into a cube by the time I was done stuffing it full. crew3

Alas, 17 years of use has taken its toll, and now the fabric along the corners is scuffed away, the handle at the top is ripping out, and the wheels have completely fallen apart. Originally the wheels had some kind of plastic shell that rolled smoothly, but that has long since crumbled away, and what's left makes the loudest godawful noise, no matter the surface. I was dragging it through the cavernous departure hall in Zurich airport, and I swear it sounded like I was driving a tractor.

I decided that I should be in the market for a new suitcase, since my trusty TravelPro was clearly not long for this world. I was in a fancy mall in San Jose recently and ducked into a Tumi store to check out their wares, but I didn't realize that Tumi luggage sells for so many hundreds of dollars. Everyone talks about Rimowa luggage, and I'm not opposed to a hard-sided suitcase, but with a $500 point of entry, it too was way more than I wanted to spend. Same thing with Briggs & Riley. I guess designer luggage is just more expensive than I thought it was, having never really paid much attention to it.

But then, what I like to call the process started. I started convincing myself that dropping $600 on a Rimowa suitcase was a good investment - it would be the last suitcase I ever bought, yadda yadda yadda. I'm self aware enough to admit that I care about luxury stuff - certainly moreso than I wish I did. I like having nice stuff, and I like traveling with my Bose headphones and my backpack that I got from a guy with a small shop in Berkeley who makes everything by hand. I'm never going to be one of those early retirement financial independence people, since I simply spend too much money on things.

In this case, though, the process was annoying me, because I was starting to feel like I was just trying to justify checking off another box on the luxury travel checklist. Amex Platinum, check. Week at the Park Hyatt Vendome, check. Bose QC35 headphones, check. Rimowa luggage, check. No offense meant to anyone who does have Rimowa luggage - it definitely looks nice, and as I mentioned, I most certainly appreciate the appeal of fancy shit like that. It's just that in this one case, I was able to separate the seduction of tumbling further into the luxury travel lifestyle from my actual material wants.


It's an exercise I try to perform whenever I'm about to make an impulse purchase... will this thing really make me happy? (By the way, I 100% believe that material possessions can make me happy. Not in the same way as my wife or my dog, but just because you can't take it with you doesn't mean you can't enjoy it before you go.) No luxury item is necessary - in fact, that's exactly the appeal. A luxury purchase is a way of treating yourself to something you don't need - it means recognizing the line between wants and needs and indulgently catering to the "wants" side of things. It's easy to get carried away, though, and that's what started to happen when I found myself on looking for the best portal bonus for Rimowa dealers.

I've already established that I'm not at all frugal, but in this one case, I decided to stop being such a goddamned yuppie and fix my goddamned perfectly good suitcase. First, I cut some holes in the interior lining so I could get access to the screws that affix the handles to the polycarbonate shell. A bunch of the nuts had fallen off, which is why the handles were starting to detach from the suitcase. Since the ends of the screws are really sharp, TravelPro originally used domed, closed-back nuts, which I didn't have in my toolbox. Instead, I used drywall anchors, since they anchor the screws against the shell and get pretty flat in the process. I then taped up the holes in the lining with Gorilla tape, and suddenly the handles weren't threatening to come off anymore.

I took a heat-sealing iron to the corners where the fabric was starting to fray - originally there were plastic guards there, but those are long gone. I wish I could buy more, but TravelPro's online catalogs for replacement parts only go back ten years or so. Instead, melting some of the nylon around the corners will keep it from fraying further, and honestly the suitcase being a little threadbare isn't something that's going to keep me up at night.

That left the wheels, which were harder than I expected to remove. The axle is press-fit, so you can't just unscrew it. Instead, I used one of my mountain bike tools to pry the edges of the plastic fixture that holds the wheels, and eventually I was able to break the axle loose and pull it out with a pair of pliers. I found a flight attendant supply website that sold replacement wheels for TravelPro Crew-series suitcases (including my ancient #3), and $20 later I was ready to roll as quiet as a mouse. Now I'll get another 17 years out of it, and then maybe I'll get a Rimowa suitcase.

So there you have it. I'm a materialistic piece of shit, but at least in this once instance, I was able to curb my consumerist impulse and put off a large purchase. Now I'm going to drink some 18 year-old scotch, because I really am the absolute worst.


Does herringbone seating suck as much as I think it would?

Dear American Airlines: If you're going to make availability on your own flights so shitty, please don't also barf up phantom availability on your partners.