Maybe You Should Just Ship Your Luggage
Air travel is simultaneously a triumph of human engineering skill and a prime example of the frustrations of modern life. On the one hand, an enormous metal tube lifts into the air and transports you at incredible speed. On the other hand, you have to resort to various hacks to make the experience more tolerable.
Luggage is one of the main contributors to flying misery. Aside from the hassle of hauling around lots of heavy bags, who hasn’t arrived for their flight a few minutes late only to discover that every single overhead bin is occupied? Watched someone attempt to jam a clearly oversize bag into one of those bins? Not to mention the dystopian experience of waiting for your checked luggage to appear at baggage claim.
Not dealing with bags will make your air travel experience better—which is why you should ship your luggage instead of checking it.
The advantages of shipping your baggage are clear:
- Less to carry: You don’t have to drag two hundred pounds of stuff with you through the airport—instead you can glide through carrying just your personal item.
- Save time: You don’t have to head for the counter to check your bags and have them weighed. You don’t have to stand around the baggage claim after the flight and wait for your bags to be vomited up by the airport’s guts. And you don’t have to take your bags to the post office—many luggage shipping services will come to your house and pick them up.
- Save money: Maybe. Shipping your luggage can save you a bit of cash, but it’s not guaranteed.
- Save headaches. When you check your baggage with the airline, you’re acting on faith. And when your luggage winds up a thousand miles away—or lost altogether—you usually have no recourse. Shipping services offer tracking and guarantees against loss.
Generally, most airlines allow one personal item and one piece of luggage that fits into an overhead bin per passenger. After that, you have to check your luggage—and this is rarely free unless you’re a member of a program that includes free baggage as a perk. Fees vary, but the median fee for the first checked bag is about $25, and it can go as high as $50, depending on the airline. The median fee for a second bag is $35, up to $60. There’s a wide spread—a fourth bag on a domestic United flight will cost you $150, for example, while Southwest checks your first two bags for free and charges $75 for each additional bag.
The fact that airlines charge more for each additional checked bag is important, because that’s where you can save some money. The fees charged by most luggage shipping services are higher than the airlines—but are the same no matter how many bags you’re shipping. That means you might not save money if you’re shipping one bag instead of checking it—but if you’re shipping four bags or more, you’ll probably do better.
You can ship your bags on your own using FedEx or UPS, of course, but that can be a bit labor intensive, as you have to do everything yourself. Going through a service—even one that relies on FedEx and UPS for their logistics—usually comes with advantages like insurance, guarantees, and even limited storage options in case your trip is delayed.
ShipGo rates start at $35/bag, but increase depending on weight and distance. A bag weighing 25 pounds will cost you $55 to go from New Jersey to Texas, for example, so four such bags will cost you $220. If you’re flying United and check those bags, you’ll pay $370. On the other hand, if you’re flying Southwest from New York to Austin, you’ll only pay $150 for those four checked bags, so shipping might not be your best option. And keep in mind that if you have heavier, larger bags, or more of them, the costs increase as well—both at the airport and for a shipping service—so do the math first if saving money is your priority.
Another option is LugLess, which uses standard shippers like FedEx and UPS to get your baggage from A to B. Shipping those four bags to Austin at their lowest level of service (which involves printing your own labels and dropping your bags off at a FedEx or UPS store) would be just $138.
Alternatively, upscale shippers like Luggage Free cost more (about $300 for our example 4 bags) but offer more services, including pick up and handling all paperwork (like customs forms), if needed.
The downside, of course, is that y
ou have to be ready to ship your bags out before you leave for your trip—maybe a few days early, depending on your shipper—so they are at your destination when you arrive.
Shipping your luggage will always win in terms of traveling convenience, if not on cost. If it makes sense for you, you’ll be rewarded with a serene experience moving through the airport while everyone else sweats it out, pulling that enormous piece of rolling luggage with one broken wheel.