Baggage Services Now Catering to Budget Travelers

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Close up of bag on airport carousel (Photo: Index Open)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 16, 2010. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, baggage, booking strategy, Sarah Pascarella.

Editor's Note: As of June 17, the Luggage Free website was experiencing coding issues and showing the Luggage Free Economy price of 50 lbs. for $70. We spoke with company representatives and learned this was erroneous; the price is still 50 lbs. for $50.

Nowadays, baggage is a hot commodity. Long gone are the days when you could show up for a vacation with two suitcases in tow and check them for free. Last year, the airlines made $7.8 billion in fees, a good portion of that revenue coming from checked bags. In short, they're here to stay. The big secret? Believe it or not, you now may be able to get a better deal by shipping your bags ahead of you.

Just as the days of free checked bags are consigned to the past (with the exception of Southwest and JetBlue, of course), so too are the days of expensive ship-ahead options. Best yet, by avoiding the baggage fees at the airport, you can also enjoy the freedom of traveling unencumbered. For travelers who have small children, have mobility issues, or just travel frequently, these new services can have immeasurable value.

Have $50? Consider Luggage Shipment, Not Airline Baggage Fees

While there are countless luggage shipment services out there, two companies are really serving the everyday budget traveler. Luggage Free and The Traveler's Closet will provide a variety of services starting around $50 per bag.

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Jeff Boyd, president of Luggage Free, put together the company's Luggage Free Economy to appeal directly to budget travelers. Luggage Free charges a $50 flat fee for three-day ground shipping for luggage weighing up to 50 pounds anywhere in the contiguous United States. A company rep will pick up your bag from your home or office, or you can drop it off at an authorized shipping center. Three business days later, it will arrive at your destination.

"Travelers were paying to check their bags and yet still waiting in line, and not getting a refund if they [the airlines] lose the darn things," says Boyd. "Essentially they're thinking, 'I'm doing everything I've always done and now I'm paying for it.' A lot of people were going to the airlines and checking a bag, and paying $25 to do that with all the hassles. For $25 more with us, you get the luxury of luggage pickup at your door, forego all those airport hassles, and your luggage will be waiting for you when you arrive."

The Traveler's Closet, on the other hand, allows you to store individual "closets" or wardrobes with the company, which will then get shipped to your desired location for a flat rate of $49.95 for five-day FedEx ground shipping within the 48 contiguous states. Build your closets, then ship your clothes to the designated Traveler's Closet warehouse, where they will be stored for $30 per month. Once you have a trip planned, notify the company, and they'll ship your closet to your destination. Upon departure, return your clothes to the Traveler's Closet, and if you would like your pieces dry cleaned and laundered, that can be added on upon return for $2.50 per item.

"Travelers are very aware of the exorbitance of hotel dry cleaning costs," says David Facello, founder/CEO, The Traveler's Closet. "Also, if you want it done in 24 hours, there are expedited costs. If you send your belongings ahead of time, it's very time-consuming to coordinate cleaning, and some hotels won't even open packages for liability reasons. With us, it saves time, money, and hassles."

With these and other luggage shipment services, the key is early planning and using ground shipping. "You really need to prepare in advance," says Jami Counter, senior director for SmarterTravel's sister site, TripAdvisor Flights. "You don't want to be setting this up a day or two before, as the overnight rate is extremely expensive."

Shipment services may also make more sense if you're bringing along oversized or overweight baggage or gear—"airlines will charge you an arm and a leg for that," says Counter—or essential items where guaranteed delivery is included.

"If you're using some of the more well-known ground shipping services, you can track your shipment and have peace of mind that it's waiting for you at your destination, unlike checked luggage, which doesn't arrive 100 percent of the time. You're not going to stress about the airline losing your bag or sending it to the wrong destination," Counter says.

Cost Comparison

As with any service in travel these days, you'll need to crunch the numbers to ensure a luggage shipment service is a good value for you.

"Research airline policies so you understand the fees associated with your airline and those with your shipping company to make a more informed choice," says Counter.

"Depending on the airline, it's less expensive to use our service," says Boyd. "Especially if you check three or more bags, more than one airline will charge $75 or $100 for that third piece of luggage."

I put Boyd's claim to the test, using SmarterTravel's Airline Fees: The Ultimate Guide to compare costs side-by-side. If you're checking multiple bags, in many cases you will save more by using the two profiled shipping companies.

The following chart shows the cost for one person traveling with three bags, checking those bags in person at the airport. The cost breakdown is for baggage only and does not include the separate price for an airline ticket.

AirlineAirline Bag Fee CostLuggage Free or Traveler's Closet CostBest Deal
American$160$150Shipping saves $10
Continental$160$150Shipping saves $10
Delta$185$150Shipping saves $35
JetBlue$105$150Baggage check saves $45
Southwest$50$150Baggage check saves $100

With virtually all of the legacy lines, you'll pay more to check multiple bags than you would to ship them ahead. Add in the convenience of traveling light and the value becomes even greater.

Finally, if you have a complex itinerary, it may be worthwhile to ship your bags ahead, both for practicality and peace of mind. "I was once on a week-long cruise leaving out of Rome," says Counter. "I connected through Cincinnati to Detroit to Amsterdam to Rome, a complicated nasty itinerary, and of course my bags didn't show up. I was five days into my cruise before my bags arrived." If you're going to be traveling from place to place on your vacation, such as on a cruise, backpacking, or with a tour group, shipping ahead might make more sense than trusting the airlines with your cargo.

Your Turn

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