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Shipping Versus Checking Luggage: What You Should Know

By Michelle Baran

Sep 28, 2018

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For travelers flying with a lot of luggage, shipping may be an option worth looking into.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

For travelers flying with a lot of luggage, shipping may be an option worth looking into.

After several airlines all recently raised their baggage fees, travelers may be wondering whether shipping their suitcases is a better option than checking them.

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Over the past month, there’s been a veritable avalanche of baggage fee increases from the airlines. At the end of August, JetBlue, United Airlines, Air Canada, and WestJet all raised their domestic baggage fees, and since then, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have both followed suit.

United, JetBlue, Delta, and American increased their first-checked-bag fee to $30, up from $25, and their second-checked-bag fee to $40, up from $35 (and all have various exceptions and exemptions, notably for flyers with status and who hold mileage credit cards).

An average of $5 per bag may not seem like much, but when it translates into a total of $60 for a single checked bag, or $140 for two, for a round-trip flight, some travelers could be wondering if there are better and cheaper alternatives.

In reality, the vast majority of luggage shipping options that are available to travelers don't compete on price with checking bags. Instead, their focus is more on providing additional services that make life easier for travelers, including luggage pickup and drop-off, and taking bulkier or larger quantities of luggage off travelers’ hands (such as sports equipment) — services that will typically end up costing travelers more than simply checking their bags.

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“Luggage Forward is a premium doorstep-to-destination luggage delivery service that usually costs more than checking,” said Aaron Kirley, president at Luggage Forward, a company that ships luggage domestically and in some 175 countries worldwide. With Luggage Forward, shipping a standard 50-pound suitcase between the East and West coasts costs $99 for five-day delivery, and goes up to $219 for one-day delivery.

Luggage Forward’s prices include doorstep pickup and delivery, 24-hour phone support, insurance, a shipping label that is mailed to clients, and an on-time delivery guarantee that promises a full refund and up to $500 in additional expense reimbursement. “Our typical client is an affluent leisure traveler who is looking to streamline their travel experience by avoiding the hassle of carrying, checking, and reclaiming luggage when they fly,” said Kirley.

He said the service, which was launched in 2005, has also long been popular with golfers, skiers, and cyclists looking to avoid hauling and checking their bulky sports gear. An area where Luggage Forward has seen the most growth recently is in making luggage deliveries to and from cruise ships.

LugLess is another luggage shipping services that does offer some rates that are comparable to what the airlines charge for checked bags if travelers are willing to send their suitcases off five or six days in advance of their departure and receive them five or six days after their return.

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“LugLess’s base price is usually cheaper than checking one bag, it is always cheaper than checking a second bag, and vastly cheaper if you are checking three-plus bags. Again, these comparisons are using our slowest service,” a LugLess spokesperson told AFAR in an email. Sending one 50-pound bag using the company's slowest service costs between $18 and $40, depending on the distance. The quicker you want the bags sent and the more service you want with those bags — such as optional doorstep pickup and drop-off (versus dropping the luggage off at a UPS location), insurance, customer support, and refundability — the more the price goes up.

Another option is a service called AirPortr, a baggage check-in service that collects passengers’ bags from their home, office, or hotel and checks them in for them at the airport. The service launched in 2016 and is currently only available in London, at a cost of 30 pounds (or nearly $40) for one bag. AirPortr said the service is intended to free up passengers who want to move around the city without their bags prior to their flight as well as to assist families trying to manage the transport of children and bags, sports travelers hauling equipment, and elderly or reduced-mobility passengers unable to carry their bags.

For those looking to ship luggage with a standard shipping company, the starting rate for sending a 50-pound package across the country with FedEx is $203 for third-day delivery with the FedEx Express Saver service (the price goes down for shorter distances — and goes up if you want it to arrive more quickly). UPS Ground runs around $100 for sending a 50-pound package from San Francisco to New York.

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The UPS Store, a subsidiary of UPS that represents the more than 5,000 UPS Store locations in North America, told AFAR that people opt to ship their luggage simply to lessen the hassle of dealing with bags at the airport, and so that they can track their shipment.

Simply put, the reason for using such services is not about savings but about actually paying a little extra for the added conveniences they offer. For those travelers looking for the cheapest route, they’re probably best off still hauling their suitcases to the airport and checking them in with their airline—even at the recently implemented higher bag-check fees.

>> Next: The Avid Traveler’s Guide to the Best Luggage

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