Thanks! You're all signed up.

X
suitcases on luggage carousel.
Romeo Pj/Shutterstock

Should You Check or Ship Your Suitcase?

SmarterTravel

If you’re like most travelers, you’ve probably never considered shipping your luggage ahead of you instead of bringing it with you on a trip. Sure, over the holidays you might mail a few gifts to your destination to avoid having the TSA root through your suitcase and ruin your perfect wrapping job, but otherwise, it probably seems more practical, convenient, and economical to check your bags with your airline. But is this still the case? Have you ever wondered if luggage shipping is a better solution?

Most major U.S. airlines charge travelers to check a first or second bag on domestic and even some international flights—though few will guarantee that your bag will actually make it where it’s going on time. (If you thought luggage delays were frustrating before, imagine how you’ll feel if your airline loses a bag you paid $30 to check.)

Ultra-budget carriers Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant have added fees for carry-on bags as well. And no matter which airline you’re flying, if your bag is overweight, be prepared to shell out $50 or more in penalties on top of whatever fees you’re already paying for the privilege of checking that bag.

In light of these changes, shipping suitcases may suddenly look like a more attractive alternative. While it’s still generally more expensive to ship a suitcase than to check it, the latest airline fees have narrowed the cost differential—and what you gain in convenience and reliability may be worth paying a few extra bucks.

Note that luggage shipping isn’t the simplest process beyond drop-off and pick-up: Standard service can take several business days in transit, and anyone who’s had issues with FedEx or UPS delivery might be skeptical. You could try to minimize the timing issue by shipping in advance of your trip so that your stuff is there when you arrive. And you might worry less about whether it takes a few days when you’re shipping home, since you’ll be arriving to all the comforts of home and can usually keep what items you truly need (toiletries, meds, etc.) with you in transit.

But with bag fees now at $30 on most lines, shipping it for about the same cost avoids the aggravation of checking your bag on an airline, especially if you have a short connection or you hate waiting for your stuff at a luggage carousel. Shipping companies have pretty good tracking programs that let you make sure your bag is going where it’s supposed to, which provides peace of mind.

To help you “weigh” your options, we’ve outlined the pros, cons, and costs of checking bags versus shipping them. We’ve included information on standard delivery services (such as UPS and FedEx) as well as specialty luggage handlers like Luggage Forward and Luggage Concierge.

One important note: Shipping is generally not an economical option if you’re flying overseas. Many airlines still allow travelers to check at least one bag for free on international flights, and shipping a bag outside the United States can cost almost as much as your airfare. The information below is geared toward domestic travelers.

In Addition to Your Carry-On…

The Essential Overnight Bag from Madewell

When we travel, we want to maximize our packing storage, so why not opt-in for this beautifully affordable duffel from Madewell?

Checking Bags

Who: All major airlines

Price: This varies by airline. On domestic flights, most airlines charge passengers to check a single bag. These airlines include American, United, Delta, JetBlue, and Spirit, all of which charge anywhere from $25 to $100 each way for the first bag you wish to check. (You will sometimes pay less if you prepay the fee online at the airline’s website.) Southwest continues to allow passengers to check one bag free of charge.

Beyond that first bag, you’ll have to pay a fee on every airline except Southwest. The fee varies from $35 to $50 each way depending on airline, itinerary, and whether you check your bag at the airport or online.

Spirit’s carry-on fee applies to any bag that won’t fit under the seat in front of you and ranges from $22 to $100 depending on whether you’re a member of its $9 Fare Club and whether you pay the fee online, over the phone, at check-in, or at the gate. Allegiant charges $10 to $75 for carry-ons, depending on the circumstances, while Frontier charges $30 to $60.

In most cases checked bag fees do not apply to elite flyers, passengers who have paid full fare on a particular route, and travelers flying to some international destinations. Check your airline’s baggage policy for exact terms and conditions.

Pros:

  • Despite the fees, checking your bags is usually still the cheapest option for travelers bringing only one or two pieces of luggage.
  • If you are a last-minute packer, checking bags is convenient since you don’t need to make advance arrangements for dropping off your bag or having it picked up.
  • When the system works properly, your luggage departs and arrives at the same time you do, no matter what time or day of the week it is.

Cons:

  • Even if you pay a fee to check a bag, there’s no guarantee that the airline won’t lose or mishandle your luggage.
  • You’ll have to wait in line to check your bags before your flight, and then wait again at the baggage carousel after you arrive.
  • Schlepping your own bags to and from the airport can be tiring, and it’s less convenient than having a luggage shipping service do all the work for you.
  • If your bags are overweight or you’re checking more than two items, you could pay dearly in airline penalties—making shipping a more economical option.

Standard Delivery Services

Who: FedEx, UPS, DHL, the United States Postal Service, and other all-purpose shipping companies

Price: How much does it cost to ship a suitcase? The cost varies widely based on the size and weight of your bag, the distance it needs to travel, and the speed of service that you select. Consider FedEx luggage shipping. To send a 40-pound suitcase from New York to Chicago in two business days, FedEx quoted $49.70. Want it there overnight? The price skyrockets to $311.45.

Raise the weight of the bag to 55 pounds and FedEx charges $61.73 for two-day delivery—which could be less than the penalties you’ll pay for exceeding your airline’s weight limit. (For example, Delta charges $100 for bags weighing between 51 and 70 pounds.)

Pros:

  • These services are quite reliable and will give you a tracking number so you can keep tabs on the whereabouts of your bag.
  • They’re generally less expensive than specialized luggage shipping services, and (as in the example above) could be more economical than checking a bag with your airline under certain circumstances.
  • Shipping your bags ahead of time allows you to skip check-in lines and waiting around at baggage claim.

Cons:

  • UPS, FedEx, and the like do not offer as much personal service as the smaller luggage shipping companies.
  • You may need to drop your bag off at a designated shipping location or arrange for a special pick-up several days before your trip.
  • Service may only be available on business days.
  • In most cases, shipping your bags will be pricier than checking them with your airline.

Get a Carry-on or Suitcase That Does More

The Bigger Carry-On from Away

Three words: lightweight, durable, and multi-functional. The Carry-On from Away makes traveling that much easier, especially with its removable, TSA-approved battery for your electronics.

Luggage Shipping Companies

Who: Luggage Forward, Luggage Concierge, Luggage Free, LugLess, and others

Price: Luggage Forward charges $99 for a small bag (25 pounds) or $139 for a standard bag (50 pounds) for shipping within the U.S. in three business days. To get a 25-pound bag from New York to Chicago, Luggage Free estimated a rate of $74.99 for for a carry-on-sized bag. Rates go up from there based on the weight of the bag, shipping speed, and pickup and delivery specifics. It offers an on-time delivery guarantee. (Additional fees apply for Saturday delivery and/or assistance with packaging and labeling your suitcase.)

The LugLess estimate to get one carry-on bag (under 25 pounds) from Philadelphia to New York was $24.99 for three-day delivery. Compare that with the $99 that its owner and market leader Luggage Forward would charge, and LugLess seems like the cheapest way to ship luggage domestically. It’s cheaper than the standard $30 airline baggage fee as well. (Note: LugLess does not operate worldwide, so you’ll have to choose another service for shipping outside the U.S.)

LugLess works by sending your bag with UPS or FedEx, depending on which is offering the best price. For the minimum cost you’ll have to bring your bag to a drop-off center. Having it picked up at your house, office, or hotel may cost more.

Pros:

  • Because these companies are fairly small, you’ll get a lot of personal attention. If your itinerary changes, an agent will handle the details of rerouting your luggage.
  • These companies are experienced at dealing with luggage in all shapes and sizes, including skis, surf boards, golf clubs, bicycles, and monster-sized bags.
  • The luggage shipping services generally guarantee that your bags will arrive on time and unscathed—which is more than you can expect from an airline.
  • As with the standard shipping companies, using these luggage shipping companies will allow you to bypass check-in lines and baggage carousels. Instead, your luggage will be waiting for you at your hotel when you arrive.
  • For parents juggling kids, car seats, strollers, diaper bags, and such, not having the additional burden of suitcases is a great relief.
  • You can go online and get an immediate quote. You can see how fees change based on luggage weight, destination, and shipping speed and see what works best for your travel plans.

Cons:

  • Personalized service comes at a price. These companies are usually the most expensive option.
  • Like the standard delivery companies, these agencies typically do not deliver on weekends (though some Saturday services may be available).
  • You’ll need to plan ahead enough to pack early and arrange for a pick-up time before you leave for your trip.

Would you rather skip the hassle altogether by simply packing lighter? See A Traveler’s Guide to Minimalist Packing and Ultralight Travel: How to Pack Light Every Time.

Our Favorite Travel Items

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ed Perkins, Carl Unger, and Michele Sponagle contributed to this story.

Top Fares From

Comments