Pros and Cons of Shipping Baggage Ahead

Ed Perkins on Travel
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 15, 2010. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, baggage, Ed Perkins, Ed Perkins on Travel, taxes and fees.

You travelers tell us that baggage fees have risen near the top of your lists of airline annoyances. Certainly, the fees are getting ever more widespread. And UPS just got into the act with a new "luggage box" it would love to ship for you. But does this development mean shipping your stuff ahead makes any sense? My answer, at least for now, is that, onerous as it is, paying the airlines' fees is still a better option for most of you.

The pitch from the shipping companies is simple: Pack your stuff, have it picked up at your home/office or drop it off, and the company delivers it wherever you say—hotel, resort, office, cruise pier, private residence, or whatever. The system can work the same way when you return home.

I currently know of four outfits that provide shipping service specifically geared to travelers' baggage: Luggage Concierge (800-288-9818), Luggage Forward (866-416-7447), Luggage Free (800-361-6871), and The Luggage Club (877-231-5131), plus two additional sites under different names "powered" by Luggage Forward. Each company (or a subcontractor) picks up your baggage wherever you designate, fills out all the paperwork necessary for shipment, arranges for delivery to a designated address at your destination, and tracks the shipment's progress. All four have websites where you can enter trip and bag data for an immediate cost quote. All give you options depending on how far ahead you can get your bags ready—delivery from overnight air to five days ground. Although the actual shipment is usually by UPS or FedEx, the baggage company makes all the arrangements.

For a better look at the process, I repeated a test I ran two years ago: The costs for two medium suitcases (30 pounds each) from the Smarter Travel Media office (02129) in Boston to Walt Disney World (32830) by the least expensive ground option. The lowest quote I found was $120 from Luggage Free, based on weight. The others asked from $156 to $240 for two pieces. Overnight air was at least double those costs.

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The new UPS box does a bit better. You can ship two of them, regular ground, for $29.33 each, plus a one-time cost of $17.95 each for two "large" (and reusable) luggage boxes, for a total of $94.56. To get that rate you have to drop the shipment off at a UPS collection center; residential pickup and delivery costs more. But you don't really need to buy luggage boxes: They're just cardboard boxes with handles. Instead, wrap your stuff in ordinary cardboard boxes and pay just $58.66.

Two travelers would pay an airline $50, total, more on some lines, less on others, for one checked bag each. So if you packed your stuff in regular shipping boxes, advance shipment by UPS would add $10 to $60 to your trip cost, depending on your airline—maybe worth it to avoid the schlepping. But with the specialized baggage shippers, you'd pay a premium of at least $70 to $120—enough to make you think twice, especially given that you'd have the fuss of shipping your stuff ahead several days in advance.

Of course, the cost balance could shift for some specialized types of shipment—sports gear and such—for which airline fees can get very stiff. You'd have to compare the specific shipping costs with airline fees to decide which is best for any given trip.

Obviously, most of you would find advance shipment of ordinary baggage to be an expensive indulgence, even by slow ground, and the cost of shipping a couple of bags overnight could easily exceed your airfares. But there's an undeniable appeal to forgetting your stuff and traveling light. If you feel like a splurge, check with a few of the four specialist companies and UPS to see how much it might cost for your trip.

Your Turn

Have you had success shipping your baggage ahead of you? Do you think it makes sense? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!

 
 
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