Most seasoned travelers stand by their carry-on suitcases. They, so many of them say, make them more efficient at getting into the airport, through security, onto the plane, then off it and on their way. And they have a point: carry-on suitcases don't need to be checked, can be easily lifted and stored into an overhead bin and rolled off the plane when it arrives at its final destination. Plus, luggage that stay by your side are less likely to get lost by an airline — that is, however, unless they ask you to check it as you board.
That's all well and good for folks who pack light. But those that only go on extended trips, either for work or pleasure, who can't bear to leave those extra few outfits behind — or simply would rather not be responsible for their suitcase throughout the process of boarding and deplaning — a checked suitcase makes much more sense. Some of them, however, end up just being clunky or cumbersome, either because they're too big to handle or anchored down by the sheer weight of what's inside.
The two polycarbonate checked suitcases seen here, though, are both lightweight — the right size, too — but available at very different price points. In fact, Monos's Hybrid Check-In Medium is two times the price of Level8's Textured Check In.
But, beyond price, which one is right for you? Find out below.
The Contenders for Best Polycarbonate Suitcase
Monos Hybrid Check-In Medium
- Materials: German polycarbonate shell, aluminum frame
- Dimensions: 26.5 x 18.5 x 10.5 inches
- Weight: 11 lbs
- Capacity: 70 L
- Colors: 3
- Warranty: Lifetime
Level8 Textured Check In
- Materials: German polycarbonate shell
- Dimensions: 26 x 17.5 x 10.5 inches
- Weight: 9.8 lbs
- Capacity: 65 L
- Colors: 7
- Warranty: 5 years
How to Choose Which Polycarbonate Suitcase Is Right for You
Test #1: Size and Weight
Positioned next to one another, both cases are basically the same size. In fact, their dimensions are almost identical. (Seriously. From afar, they look like two of the same suitcase, save for the tiny details that differentiate them.) The sides of Level8's case are ultimately sleeker, though, since Monos puts its TSA locks on the left vertical side, not on top. The handles are also bulkier on Monos's, but not by much, and they're bigger because they're better-made, in my opinion — but we'll dig deeper into them in another section.
As for total weight, Monos's suitcase is slightly heavier, but not by a ton: 9.59 vs. 11 pounds, respectively. When I held both — empty, of course — to see if I could guess which was, I couldn't. And, in fact, I guessed wrong.
Test #2: Capacity
Within, these two suitcases are still fairly similar. In fact, the difference between Monos's (which is bigger) and Level8's is a mere five liters: 70 vs. 65, respectively. You only really gather that the former is bigger once you begin packing it. You can fit an extra shirt, a few extra socks or even a compressible pair of shoes into the extra space. But don't expect the extra space to accommodate a full-sized jacket or a second dopp kit.
As for their organizational systems (i.e. pockets or straps), both come with two open spaces for whatever you stuff inside, and there are lids to lock all of it in place. Both have divided pockets on one side — two zipper pockets alongside each other — but the Monos suitcase has a suitcase-width mesh pocket on the other, while the Level8 case does not.
Within the Level8, though, both sides can be zippered shut, which helps prevent things from falling into the other pocket when shut. As for Monos's, one side zips shut while the other uses compression straps to lock into place.
Test #3: Construction
Overall, I felt like Monos's suitcase was less likely to break as it banged down the dreaded baggage carousel, where it'd careen off stainless steel guard rails, drop onto a rubberized belt and then plunk into the carousel below it before I waited my turn to heave it off its track. That makes sense, though, especially since it costs two times as much as Level8's.
Subconsciously, the price probably did creep into my head, making me more likely to view Level8's suitcase as cheap, even though it totally isn't — just affordable. Both are made from a German polycarbonate called Makrolon, which was formerly known as Bayer PC. The material is often used for car headlights, car interior dashes and screens and displays but it's approved for aerospace applications, too.
Makrolon is impact resistant, flame retardant and almost elastic, which makes it capable of taking hits and bouncing right back, often without cracking. That's the primary fear with polycarbonate cases, especially when compared to aluminum ones, but you're in good hands with both of these options — especially Monos's, which has a polycarbonate shell but a reinforced aluminum frame.
On the outside, Level8's luggage is less smooth, though — a product of the brand's "anti-scratch surface texture." Up close, you can see its diamond pattern, which helps make deep scratches less visible. Scuffs are still plenty apparent, though, I found — and I prefer the look of Monos's suitcase once beaten up over Level8's.
Test #4: Finer Details (i.e. Handles, Wheels, Locks)
Although you deal with the innards of your suitcases most often, the finer details matter: the handles, wheels and locking systems separate high-end suitcases from the ones you'll hate wheeling around.
When comparing the handles on both suitcases, Monos is the clear winner. It's a smoother journey telescoping up and down, but it's also less sticky and seemingly more durable. Level8's locks into place at a broader assortment of increments, but it tends to gets stuck there, forcing you to bash it back down into itself.
As for the wheels, this one's a toss up. Monos's wheels are quieter and work better on uneven terrain — i.e. the parking lot outside the airport. Level8's, on the other hand, are smoother on marble and concrete floors, but on salted sidewalks, the Level8 suitcase barely went anywhere. In fact, there were multiple occasions where I opted to just carry it instead.
Last but not least, the locks. To be honest, I should lock my suitcases more often, especially if they're getting checked. Sure, the TSA can get in no matter what, but it keeps other people out if your suitcase ends up lost and dumped in some shipping center. On Level8's, the zipper tabs lock into a port located on top of the suitcase. On Monos's, there is no zipper, but two TSA-approved combination locks both close the suitcase and keep it closed. I prefer the latter, but it's a matter of personal preference; they both lock.
Which Polycarbonate Suitcase Is Right for You?
Monos Hybrid Check-In Medium
The Monos Hybrid Check-In Medium reaches a higher price point because of its higher quality construction, which includes a built-in aluminum frame. But aluminum also accents the outside, in the places where damage is most likely to occur: at the corners. Aluminum plates offer protection, making this option one of the most durable polycarbonate suitcases on the market — for under $400, too.
It's altogether sleeker, too, in my opinion, than Level8's, but that's a matter of personal preference. It's made from the same material, albeit with a different, less textured finish.
Level8 Textured Check In
That being said, Level8's polycarbonate suitcase is by no means a bad option. In fact, for $189, it's an excellent one — especially for folks who don't fly often or prefer to spend on the destination, not what gets you there.
For those seeking the "best" option, it does lose out to its pricier competitor here. But I did find the suitcase to be surprisingly nice, though, especially for one you can buy off Amazon. That does mean you can get it faster, too — in a day in select cities, if you're a Prime member.