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Away Flex luggage review: Our favorite bag from Away is an expandable suitcase that's perfect for overpackers

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side by side showing a close up and a wide shot of a bright blue Away carry on Flex suitcase
Away's Flex suitcases are our favorite bags we've tested from the brand.

A quick glance at our Away luggage review and our guides to the best luggage and best carry-on bags will show you that we're big fans of Away luggage. Every suitcase we've tested from the brand has proved durable, attractive, and well-designed. That said, if we had to choose our very favorite product from Away, it would hands-down be the Polycarbonate Flex; Away's line of expandable hard-sided luggage.

My go-to suitcase is currently the Bigger Carry-On Flex, and our former travel editor Emily Hochberg previously tested and loved the Medium Flex. Both of us are habitual over-packers, and love that these suitcases feel roomy and flexible while still meeting luggage dimension requirements for most airlines.

Here's what you should know about the Flex line and how ours have held up during multiple cross-country trips, countless hotel stays, and even moving homes.

Design and specs  

Away Medium Flex suitcase laying opened-face on carpet.
The roomy bag features multiple compartments for staying organized.

The Flex offers the durability of Away's original hard shell combined with a built-in exterior zipper that provides an additional 2.25" for carry-on sizes and 1.75" for checked baggage.

That's pretty cool, but it's important to note that when fully expanded, the carry-on will be too large to fit overhead bins according to almost all airline baggage guidelines. You may be able to get away with carrying it on (as I have on several flights), but there's a strong possibility you'll have to check it. 

These Flex suitcases have all of the same smart features you've come to expect from Away, like a TSA-approved combination lock, 360° spinner wheels, an interior compression system, an underside grab handle, a hidden laundry bag, an eraser for tackling any scuffs, and a removable, washable lining. 

Closeup on the interior compression system of the Away Medium Flex suitcase.
A close-up shot of Away's compression panel.

No matter the size you choose, these features come standard with a sleek and durable exterior that looks exactly like the original polycarbonate hard shell bag from Away, just with the addition of the expandable zipper.

In fact, all the basic measurements for every Flex bag are the same as its original counterpart, aside from the expandable feature, which adds a bit of weight.

So, whether you choose the Carry-On Flex, the Bigger Carry-On Flex, the Medium Flex, or the Large Flex, you'll have the same dimensions as the original, just with the option to add more room.

What it's like to use

Expandable zipper on a hard-shell Away Medium Flex suitcase.
A close-up of the expandable zipper on the Flex.
Despite my best efforts, I'm an anxiety packer. It can be really hard to travel carry-on only when you're someone who worries about being prepared for every possible scenario. It defies some logic, but having more space in my carry-on with the Flex has actually allowed me to pack lighter and smarter. There's some relief in knowing you have room in your suitcase for any last minute items, or for anything you might buy on your trip. The expansion panel also acts as its own form of compression. I like to pack the suitcase while fully expanded, even if I have leftover room. Once packed, I zip up the suitcase and then zip up the expansion. It eliminates any struggle of having to sit on your suitcase to get it closed and it's a much easier way of compressing your items without wrestling with the expansion panels.

As for the bigger Flex sizes, former travel editor Emily Hochberg used the Medium Flex as one of her checked suitcases when she moved cross country with her family. She used the Flex to pack most of her daughter's belongings, which included clothes, baby towels and burp cloths, toys, books, diapers, and more. It made its way through two airports and multiple hotels where it was packed and unpacked with different items. As such, it went through a lot of use and was packed to the brim on more than one occasion. 

Away Medium Flex bag packed with clothes and unable to zip closed fully.
While the bag itself is expandable, the zippered compartment is not.

She found the interior to be roomy and able to fit a lot, even without packing cubes. The compression panel helped secure items, but when over-packed, the side with a zipper panel struggled to close.

In her words: "Had I purchased the original Medium with no expandable option, I'm confident I would not have been able to fit everything I needed or more likely, close the bag at all. The expandable, heavy-duty zipper was what made it possible."

Both Hochberg and I found the suitcases easy to push, pull, and spin as we navigated airports and transfers, even with multiple bags and a baby stroller in tow.

The TSA-approved locks are easy to set and secure, and it's nice to not have to keep track of separate lock and key components.

TSA-approved combination lock on the top of an Away Medium Flex suitcase.
The TSA-approved lock was easy to use.

I've never had an issue with my Bigger Carry-On being gate-checked by an airline for being too large, but I know it's a possibility, especially with airlines trying to crack down on "carry-on creep" — the phenomenon of carry-on bags getting bigger and bigger. I feel a little guilty knowing I'm part of the problem when I travel with the bag expanded, so I try to only carry it on when the expansion panel is closed and check it when I need to expand it for extra room. 

Hochberg's Medium Flex weighed around 40ish pounds at check-in when fully packed to the brim. She felt strongly that if she had used the Large Flex, the expansion function would have led to an overweight bag. 

a blue away carry on flex suitcase on a paved surface
In this photo you can see the scratches from our durability testing on the front corner of the bag.

Both of us have experienced significant scuffing on our bags. I intentionally tossed mine around as part of our durability testing of carry-on bags, and there are some pretty gnarly scratches from where it's hit the ground. Hochberg's navy blue shell came out with a few scuffs just from regular use. We've both used the provided Magic Eraser-style sponge to try and buff them out. While it does lighten them, it does not remove them altogether. But in all, the bags have held up extremely well.

What makes the Away Flex stand out

All of the Away Flex bags are functional, thoughtfully designed, and in this case, provide more space than a standard-size suitcase thanks to the expandable zipper. It's the only line of Away hard luggage with this feature.

Signature Away features are also included, such as a TSA-approved combination lock, 360° spinner wheels, an interior compression system, a hidden laundry bag, and a removable, washable lining.

An overhead view of the top of the Away Medium Flex suitcase in a living room.
A TSA-approved lock, multi-setting handle, and rounded corners are a few features of the sleek design.

Starting at $325 and $345 for carry-on sizes and $395 and $425 for the Medium and Large Flex sizes respectively, it's similarly priced to other mid-tier premium competitors and designed to last for life. 

All Away bags come with a 100-day trial and free shipping and returns, so long as it's not personalized, in which case it may not be returned unless there is a defect covered under the lifetime warranty. I've personally exchanged a bag under Away's lifetime warranty and found the process easy and painless. 

The cons

The expandable feature comes in handy when you have a lot to pack. However, it may also be a risk if you're flying on a major commercial airline and exceed the weight limit for checked bags. So, keep that in mind when you're throwing everything possible into your Flex. This is, of course, less of a problem with smaller bags that weigh less, but something to consider before you purchase the Large Flex.

Additionally, when fully expanded, carry-on sizes won't meet most airline overhead guidelines and may need to be checked. 

The bottom line

Away's polycarbonate Flex bag is the suitcase we've been waiting for since day one. Now you can enjoy all the features of their signature hardshell suitcase with the option to expand for more space. 

Just be careful with overpacking the Large, lest you pay overweight airline baggage fees, and know that both carry-ons might need to be checked when fully expanded.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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