Rimowa has long been a famous name in the frequent flyer community, so I was excited last year when the Point Debit Card (currently being phased out) ran a promotion offering the chance to get a free Rimowa bag (up to $1,000, which covered the full price of several different types of bags at the time) with five referrals (long since expired). After owning a couple of Rimowa bags for about nine months, I’m not enamored with them. While the promotion was kind of fun, owning these bags for nine months has left me kind of disappointed with Rimowa and appreciating my previous luggage (which I thankfully still have) all the more.
The PointCard promo and ending up with two Rimowa bags
The Rimowa bag promotion was a creative idea for Point. At the time, PointCard had previously been offering $100 per referral. The Rimowa promo was a good one if you were in position to refer exactly five people because Point was offering to reimburse a Rimowa bag at a cost of up to $1,000. That is obviously a nice deal if you value the Rimowa bag at its full cost, though on the flip side if you referred more than 5 people and/or you weren’t particularly interested in an expensive suitcase, the promo wasn’t necessarily better than the normal referral offer at the time. Still, Points for creativity.
As fate would have it, Stephen and I both qualified for the promotion. He didn’t have any room for another bag in his car since he is on a multi-year, 50-state road trip, so I agreed to help him sell his bag and then I ended up deciding to buy it myself. Buying his bag appealed to me in part because it meant being able to buy two different types of bags.
In the end, I settled on getting an “Original Cabin” aluminum carry-on bag and a polycarbonate checked bag (an “Essential Trunk”). I got the bags in black so they would match our existing (black) luggage. Note that prices have risen substantially in the past 9 months — while both bags I got were nearly covered in full by the $1,000 credit offered by Point at the time, the carry-on bag I purchased now costs $1400 and the checked bag is now $1325. I’d never have paid the former prices under ordinary circumstances and the latest pricing has gotten substantially farther from my reality.
Before this promo, I already had luggage I liked and the Rimowa bags didn’t have any specific features that stood out beyond a reputation for wheels that glide across the floor and some minorly innovative design (side handles that automatically snap down against the sides on the carry-on and an asymmetrical split on the larger checked bag). Still, I was irrationally excited about the new bags – emphasis on the “irrational” part :-). In addition to the fact that I didn’t really want or need new luggage, I had read some negative customer service stories in the years since the company had been acquired by Louis Vuitton.
Our previous preferred bags: Muji
Long-time readers may remember that my preferred brand has long been Japanese stalwart Muji. For those unfamiliar, Muji makes simple stuff (that is to say fairly inexpensive, though not necessarily cheap quality).
We first stumbled on Muji sometime in the middle of last decade when we arrived in Japan with a cheap suitcase that had endured a broken wheel. After feeling mortified over the poor Conrad Tokyo employee who dragged that heavily overpacked bag through the lobby missing a wheel (I can still hear the screeching of that bag being dragged across the lobby floor), we had to get a bag in a hurry and were hit with sticker shock when shopping brand names we knew.
After looking at other bags in a department store, we happened to pass by a Muji store with luggage in the window. Muji bags cost more than we (as total travel cheapskates) had ever paid for a bag at the time, but they were less than the Samsonites (name brands) of the world. I wasn’t sold right away. I was hesitant to spend more than the cost of our usual cheap bags and not be getting something I was really excited about buying. Whereas the popular Samsonite bags of the time were super lightweight and felt and looked “cool”, I didn’t love anything about the Muji bags. Then, as we mulled it over for a night in our hotel room before making a decision, I landed on Muji’s website and had to chuckle to myself at this snippet of their ethos (read the full page here):
This is because we do not make objects to entice responses of strong affinity, like, “This is what I really want” or, “I must have this.” MUJI’s goal is to give customers a rational satisfaction, expressed not with, “This is what I really want” but with “This will do.” “This is what I really want” expresses both faint egoism and discord, while “This will do” expresses conciliatory reasoning. In fact, it may even incorporate resignation and a little dissatisfaction. MUJI’s goal is to sweep away that slight dissatisfaction, and raise the level of the response, “This will do” to one filled with clarity and confidence.
My exact hang-up – that the bag would do but didn’t excite me melted away as I gave in to the realization that “this will do”.
In the years since, we’ve come to love our Muji bags and have added more of them over time. Again, they aren’t the highest quality bags we’ve seen, but they roll remarkably smoothly, have mostly held up to abuse, and have some really smart design features that I’ve come to appreciate more over time.
All that is to say that I wasn’t looking for a new suitcase when the Rimowa promotion came around, I just thought it would be cool to get a couple of bags that were far more expensive than what I’d have ever bought myself otherwise.
Our impressions after about 9 months with Rimowa
We first broke in the bags on road trips over the Christmas holiday period and then over subsequent road trips until we finally started traveling by plane again in June. Our Rimowa luggage has now taken us on a domestic trip with a connection in each direction as well as a couple of weeks in Europe (flying first to London, then to Malta, and onward to Milan before returning home).
After putting in a few trips with the Rimowa bags, I have to say that I’m disappointed overall. There are aspects of my aluminum carry-on that I like, but we dislike the Rimowa checked bag enough that I had to push to bring it to Europe (I wanted to really test it out on a bigger trip, but my wife was already underwhelmed with it from the road trips). We flew again domestically last week and we checked three bags, but we didn’t bring the Rimowa checked bag with us. The fact that it didn’t make the cut on a trip where we checked multiple bags tells the story in a nutshell.
Don’t get me wrong, there are design elements I like, it’s just that there are both enough aspects I dislike and/or that are absent so as to turn me off from these bags.
Of course, there are some things I like about the Rimowa bags. They aren’t bad bags by any measure. In fact, they are far better than many bags we’ve had before. They just aren’t enough better to justify the price tag in my opinion.
Things I like about our Rimowa bags
Rimowa Original Cabin bag
I have come to enjoy the way that the aluminum Rimowa carry-on snaps shut (like a briefcase that has clips rather than with zippers). It’s a little counter-intuitive to love this limitation: there is no play to overstuff the bag; your things just fit or they don’t fit. The advantages here are that it forces me to be more deliberate about what to pack (since I can’t just stuff extra things in my bag) and it does a good job of protecting whatever is inside (I don’t really need to worry about things in the bag getting compressed). I also like that it’s a little bit more secure: unlike a zipper, which can typically be separated pretty easily with a knife, the aluminum bag can’t really be opened without the combination without being more or less destroyed. Sure, the bag itself could still be stolen (and no doubt cut open), but it makes it more difficult to get into the bag while still inside a hotel room.
Despite the things I don’t love about it, this will probably be the cabin bag I use for a long time. I probably won’t bring it on our 3 Cards 3 Continents trip in the interest of staying as compact as possible, but I otherwise expect to bring it on most trips.
And I like the fact that it’s aluminum. Since it is aluminum, I really kind of wanted to see if I could get someone to paint a design on the bag. I have a vision in my mind based on this bag I saw on the Internet that seems like it would be cool on an aluminum bag, but I think the artist that did that one is overseas somewhere and I haven’t yet figured out how to go about getting it done within the US, nor do I have a realistic idea of what it would cost or whether paint could stand up to the rigors of travel. To that last point, if I had it to do over again, I’ve have gotten the bag in silver. The black color is just painted on a silver bag and so every time it scratches or dents you get silver lines in the bag where the black paint was scraped away. The black looked sleek on day one and matches our other bags, but I think silver would have been a better long-term choice.
Rimowa Essential Trunk
I really like the uneven split design of this bag. Rather than being split in the middle top open up with half of the bag’s capacity on either side (like most rolling bags), the Rimowa bag has a lopsided split, with one side being very deep and the other side relatively shallow. This makes it possible to pack things of shapes and sizes that wouldn’t easily fit in a regular bag (traveling with kids, this means that certain toys would be easier to bring along for instance).
However, my wife hates this. She is so accustomed to splitting things evenly that she has found no advantage in the extra-deep side. I think she’s found it more frustrating than useful that one side is very shallow.
It’s worth noting that we’ve each packed the bag and I’ve found the shallow side useful for packing away shoes or boxy items like packaged snacks and sound machines, but she has been far less enamored with it and she more frequently packs our checked baggage.
That said, neither of us likes how neither half of the bag zippers shut to separate contents from the rest of the bag. Rimowa provides velcro dividers that you can use to compress stuff, but they just don’t do enough to create separation. Sure, they may compress clothes a little bit, but the fact that these are your only way to separate items in the bag makes the uneven split less useful. If we could zipper shut the shallow side, we could perhaps put things like toiletries and cosmetics or dirty laundry in there, confident that they wouldn’t spill or spread odor to the clothes in the other half of the bag. Unfortunately, the dividers just don’t cut it for stuff like that.
Things I like about both bags
These bags glide smoothly across the floor as one would expect both based on brand reputation and price point. Over the years, I have definitely come to appreciate a bag that glides like butter across an airport floor or hotel lobby. To that end, Rimowa touts it’s “multiwheel system” — essentially, each corner has a double wheel and it is claimed that this helps the bag roll more smoothly.
I’m not one to argue whether or not that’s true. I am inclined to believe that it is — but I should note that my $150 Muji carry-on also has two wheels on each corner. Admittedly, the Muji bags were my first experience with a bag that truly glides effortlessly across the floor — I’ve been impressed with how easily I can push my bags even when they are fully loaded and I have a car seat bag helping to weight them down on top. By contrast, we had a cheap four-wheel carry on with four single wheels that didn’t move nearly as smoothly as the Muji and Rimowa bags (we donated it earlier this year).
The Rimowa bags glide about as smoothly as my Muji bags. Truthfully, while both are far better than most bags I’ve ever owned when it comes to ease of movement, I don’t notice a big difference between the two of them (and if I were really pressed to decide which rolls more smoothly, I was surprised to find that it would be the Muji bags, albeit by a slim enough margin that I wouldn’t really declare a “winner” in that department).
Things I don’t like about our Rimowa bags
Rimowa Original Cabin
One thing I have really not enjoyed is the handle of the Rimowa cabin bag. The curvature of the handle makes it hard to press the button to lift the handle with one hand (the “button” to release it isn’t centered on top but rather it is on a curved edge). I further just find that it sticks sometimes and requires a second hand to steady the bag while I pull up on the handle. That would hardly be noticed if the bag had cost $150. At more than 10 times that price point, I would have expected raising and lowering the handle to be more effortless than it is. Again, it is not difficult to raise the handle on the bag, the operation just does not meet expectations.
I do like that the handle can be adjusted to my preferred height and stopped almost anywhere rather than only at specific internal “notches” like many bags. However, it’s worth a mention that my Muji carry-on has the same feature. The Rimowa handle does reach higher and feel a bit sturdier when rocking the bag side to side with the handle up. It can probably deal with an item of more weight resting on top of the bag / against the extended handle than my Muji bag. I just wish I could more easily extend that handle with one hand when my hands are full with the kids and other stuff in the airport.
Rimowa Essential Trunk (checked bag)
Rimowa is most known for its aluminum bags. Some probably consider it to be a bit of a gimmick, and I can understand why. Aluminum doesn’t lend itself well to being overstuffed and it shows wear and tear much faster than more modern materials. Enthusiasts consider this a “patina”, but detractors may wonder why anyone would want a bag that’s going to soon look like a space shuttle that got into a fight with a Klingon warship and lost. I see both sides of that coin.
It was in part because I knew my wife would be less into the “patina” of an aluminum bag that I went with a “polycarbonate” checked bag. I knew that a checked bag would get thrown around a lot more and didn’t want it to be all dented up.
While I get that Rimowa’s goal was likely to make the bag extra lightweight, it is because I know the bag will get thrown around in handling that I am so disappointed by the serious lack of rigidity in this bag. It bends and buckles far too easily. For instance, here I am pushing down just a bit on the bag with my hand (and note that I took these pictures with the bag packed).
Note that the bag flexes in both directions — it also flexes outward when lifting it. Granted, that flexibility almost enabled my kids to pull a Carrie for our most recent trip.
Given how lightweight the bag is, I probably shouldn’t be surprised about the flexibility of the material, but I’ve found it to be a pain at times when I just wanted the bag to be more rigid. The material feels strong in that I don’t think there is any danger of the sides of the bag denting or getting damaged, but because the sides are so flexible I would be hesitant to put something fragile inside. That seems like a compromise that shouldn’t need to be made at the $1,000+ price point.
By contrast, my Muji hard-sized bags are quite firm on the outside. Still, I had to gate-check my carry-on once last year with United and it came out with quite a dent in the corner.
I wonder how the Rimowa bag would have held up in that round of Fight Club in the hold.
What the Rimowa bags are missing
I think my biggest disappointments with the Rimowa bags come in contrast with the Muji bags we have long had and come to love. Let me be clear that this post isn’t meant to be an ad for Muji — we don’t have any sort of affiliate relationship with Muji and I don’t profess it to be the best bag you can buy, it’s just my comparison point because it’s what I was using for years and have continued to use before and since getting the Rimowa bags.
The single best feature of the Muji bags in my opinion is a small button underneath the handle that you can use to lock the wheels of the bag and prevent it from rolling. On recent trips with my wife and two young kids where we’ve had to manage checked bags, carry-on bags, strollers, a diaper bag, and the kids, I have found the wheel-locking feature indispensable on trains — from the air train around an airport to subway trains to the London Heathrow Express and train to Gatwick airport. Being able to lock the wheels of our Muji bags helped prevent stuff from rolling around.
Unfortunately, this is a feature I haven’t seen on many other bags and it is of course absent from the Rimowa bags. That meant that I had to strategically surround the Rimowa trunk with Muji bags to keep it from rolling around on the trains (since the locked-wheel Muji bags mostly stayed in place).
The other key problem for me is Rimowa’s divider system. Some people must love it, but I don’t. I just want one of these sides to zipper shut so I can separate things more effectively. Most bags already have straps to tighten things down — I just want a zippered compartment.
After about nine months with Rimowa bags, I am unfortunately falling out of love with the idea of having them. I’ll probably keep the carry-on bag because I’ve come to enjoy the way it encourages me to pack lighter by being less flexible, but I imagine we’ll probably sell the checked bag because we can’t even be bothered to bring it on short domestic trips at this point due to some of its drawbacks. That surprised me, but at the end of the day I guess different travel preferences abound in this game — from credit cards to award choices to luggage.