Ship, or Pay Baggage Fees? That Is the Question

Bag fees have been going up lately, leading many people to wonder when it will all stop, and what, if anything, travelers can do to combat the trend.

George Hobica, founder of our sister site, Airfarewatchdog, penned a timely post comparing the cost of shipping one's baggage to checking it. Hobica examined a few routes, and the results are compelling.

For checked bags within the basic weight limit imposed by airlines, shipping proved to be the better value on shorter routes such as Chicago-Orlando. FedEx would ship your bag for $17.46 on that route, compared to $23 or $25 on most major airlines. On longer routes, such as Boston-San Francisco, shipping costs a few dollars more. But as Hobica notes, you do get the convenience of skipping both checking your bag and picking it up at baggage claim. Shipping companies also have pretty good tracking programs that let you make sure your bag is going where it's supposed to.

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The real savings come into play with overweight baggage. Hobica found that shipping overweight bags could cost as little as a third of what Delta charges. In some cases, shipping an overweight bag was cheaper than checking it even with Southwest.

For more on this, check out Hobica's post here.

But what about those of us who simply wish bag fees would go away? Over at the CrankyFlier, blogger Brett Snyder writes that there are few options. "Southwest won’t charge you for your first two checked bags and JetBlue won’t charge you for the first," Snyder points out. "If you really aren’t happy with bag fees, you should switch your business to these guys and then write a letter to your previous favorite airline letting them know. If enough people do that, the airlines will reverse where things are going with bag fees."

But let's face it—this is a tall mountain to climb, not only because bag fees bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, but because, as Snyder observes, "Elite frequent fliers don’t pay bag fees. That means that the people the airlines deem to be most important aren’t going to care if there are bag fees or not."

And indeed, I learned of American's bag fee hike via the following inelegant and insulting headline:

AMERICAN AIRLINES ANNOUNCES CHANGES TO CHECKED BAG CHARGES:

American’s Top Customers Not Affected by Changes

Apparently the airline wants there to be no ambiguity regarding whose wallets it is thinking about.

But if fees continue their ascent, travelers' alternatives, whether Southwest or JetBlue or FedEx or the Postal Service, will only become more appealing, practical, and cost-effective. It makes me wonder if it's a matter of when, not if, the airlines charging these fees will reap what they sow.


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