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Like many other airline fees, checked bag fees have become a fact of life, so we asked TPG contributor Adee Braun to take a detailed look at how much you can expect to pay to check your suitcase and compare airline fees to the services that will ship your bags for you.
With checked bag fees climbing each year and the fact that these fees have become one of the best ways airlines can make a profit (domestic airlines took in over $3 billion in checked baggage fees in 2011), it’s no surprise that travelers are looking for alternative ways to get their bags to their destination. The good news is, there are more options than ever to get your bags where they need to go, with airlines getting in on the baggage delivery game in addition to independent companies. Most carriers will allow you one free checked bag on international flights, but charge $25-50 for the first two bags you check in for domestic flights. With low-level elite status you can usually get at least one bag checked in for free. But, if you have additional bags or especially heavy or oversized ones, a baggage delivery service might be a cheaper option. Also, there’s the added bonus of not having to drag your bags to the airport or hotel—a big plus if you have large sports equipment or just a bunch of heavy bags. In general though, if you’re traveling with a couple standard-sized suitcases, checking them in and eating the fees is still the way to go. Here’s a roundup of what the baggage delivery landscape looks like right now versus the luggage fees for the major US airlines.
AIRLINE FEES Here’s a quick reference table of the major domestic airlines and their checked bag fees for non-elite domestic travel, then read on below for the specifics of each airline.
|Airline||1st Bag||2nd Bag|
Alaska Airlines Non-elite travelers pay $20 for each checked bag. Travelers with MVP status and their companions get two free checked bags on Alaska Airlines and on American Airlines. They also get the first bag checked in for free on Delta flights. It’s $20 for the third bag and $50 thereafter. For international flights, Alaska accepts Delta and American elite status luggage benefits. There are also some exceptions for specific destinations. Find the full breakdown here, including overweight and oversized luggage fees.
American Airlines Non elite economy travelers will pay $25 for the first checked bag on domestic flights and $35-60 for the second on domestic and international flights. Excess, overweight and oversized luggage is charged depending on the destination. Gold Status members get two free checked bags at the current weight and size limits.
Delta Non-elite travelers pay $25 for the first checked bag on domestic flights and $35 for the second. For international travel, there are no checked bag fees for the first bag and range from $40-$100 for the second depending on the destination. Excess, overweight and oversized bags are charged according to ticket purchase date and destination. Silver Medallion members get the first checked bag of up to 70 lbs for free.
JetBlue Non elite economy travelers can check in one bag for free and pay $40 for the second bag. With JetBlue’s loyalty program, TrueBlue Mosaic (there are no tiers), you get two free checked bags. It’s $75-100 per bag after that depending on the weight.
Southwest Airlines All economy passengers get two free checked bags of up to 50 lbs each. It’s $75 per piece after that. Overweight and oversized baggage fees vary.
United Airlines United has a handy page for determining exactly how much you’ll pay to check in your bags according to destination and cabin category here. Non-elite economy travelers pay $25 for the first checked bag on domestic flights and $35 for the second. For international flights the first checked bag is free and second costs $100, up to 50 lbs. You’ll pay $100 for each additional bag. Oversized and overweight baggage fees vary. Premier Silver members can check in one bag of up to 50 lbs for free.
US Airways Non-elite economy travelers pay $25 for the first checked bag on domestic flights and $35 for the second. US Airways differentiates between transatlantic and transpacific flights: no baggage fees for the first bag on transatlantic flights and $100 for the second; no baggage fees for the first and second bags on all transpacific flights. Overweight and oversized bags are charged according to destination. Preferred Silver members get to check in their first bag for free if within the current weight and size limits.
Virgin America Non-elite economy travelers pay $25 for each checked bag on domestic flights and $25 for any additional bags. There’s no fee for the first bag on international flights booked before April 12, 2013 and $25 for additional bags. But, if you booked after that date, it’s $25 for the first bag. There are exceptions for refundable and first class tickets. You’ll find the full breakdown here. At Elevate Silver status you get one free checked bag. BAGGAGE SHIPPING SERVICES Here is a roundup of popular baggage services and how much shipping will cost you as well as a look at when these might be more cost-effective than simply paying to check your bag with the airline.
BagsVIP has partnered with American Airlines (starting August 6th), United, Delta, US Airways, JetBlue, Southwest, Alaska Airlines, AirTran and Virgin Atlantic. The way it works is, instead of checking in your bags with your flight, you’ll check them in with a BagsVIP representative at the airport. You still pay your checked bag fees, but once you arrive at your destination you’ll get to skip the baggage claim because your luggage will be delivered directly to your hotel, or wherever you chose. Your bags will arrive within 2 hours if your pickup spot is within 40 miles of the airport. If it’s farther than that, it might take as long as 6 hours and will cost you an additional $1 per mile. Deliveries can’t be made to more than 100 miles away.
A major bonus is that there’s no extra charge for overweight or oversized bags, though I’m sure they’d draw a line if you tried to ship something enormous. Here’s the breakdown: 1 bag: $29.95 2 bag: $39.95 3-10 bags: $49.95
Bottom line: This is a pretty good option for domestic destinations if you are shipping large or heavy bags where you’d pay oversize or overweight fees, or if you have more than two bags to ship. But since some carriers don’t charge for the first checked bag if you have even basic elite status or a co-branded credit card, and $25-35 for the second, you’re really just paying for the delivery service. And you still have to schlepp your bags to the airport. And, if you are traveling internationally, you’re probably out of luck. If you’d rather not have to drag your bags around at all, plenty of other companies offer luggage delivery services and compete with UPS, FedEx and the like. Unlike BagsVIP, these companies will pick up your luggage from wherever you like, so you can go to the airport totally bag-free. As far as comparing these to airline baggage fees, the best deals will really depend on the size, quantity and the destination of your luggage, but here are some comparisons.
Luggage Forward is the biggest baggage shipping game in town. It recently gobbled up Baggage Quest, Sports Express and Virtual Bellhop. They are all the same company now with slightly different websites, but they offer the same prices. Luggage Forward will pick up your bags (or sports equipment) from your home or office and deliver them wherever you like. They ship to over 200 countries. They can also arrange a pick up from your hotel or cruise ship and ship it back home to you. However, if you need your bags picked up at a precise time, there is an additional $45 fee. Otherwise they’ll pick up any time during the scheduled day. Rates vary greatly depending on the weight of your luggage and its destination, especially for international shipping.
Here’s the breakdown: To and from the US, per bag Under 25 lbs: $69 26-50 lbs: $99 51-75 lbs: $119 Skis/snowboards start at $79 depending on size Golf bags start at $89 depending on size Prices for international destinations vary greatly, but here are sample prices for shipping one bag internationally: US to UK, per bag: Under 25 lbs: $139 26-50 lbs: $239 51-75 lbs: $334 Skis/snowboards start at $159 depending on size Golf bags start at $199 depending on size
Bottom line: Luggage Forward is a good option if you are shipping home half a dozen pestle and mortars you bought in Guatemala and you don’t want to drag your heavy bag to the airport and then pay the overweight fees, but because scheduling can be erratic and shipping costs vary widely, be sure to price out the airline option as well.
Luggage Free The main benefit of Luggage Free is that they price per pound and offer several delivery speeds, between 1-5 business days. So, if you don’t need your bags in a hurry (perhaps after a shopping spree in LA) you can get your bags shipped home for a decent price. And they will pick up your bags within 6 hours of your order in most US cities and within 48 hours at international locations.
Sports equipment is priced slightly differently, but you’ll find the full breakdown here, and below are some pricing samples: Domestic Within 1 business day for a 25 lbs bag: $137.50 Within 5 business days for a 25 lbs bag: $53.75 Within 1 business day for a 50 lbs bag: $275 Within 5 business days for a 50 lbs bag: $107.50 Within 1 business day for a 75 lbs bag: $412.50 Within 5 business days for a 75 lbs bag: $161.25 International shipping is also priced per pound and by destination, but with no shipping speed options. Luggage is delivered in 5-7 days. Also, there are flat rates for sports equipment. Here are sample prices: From US to UK: 25 lbs: $131.35 50 lbs: $262.50 75 lbs: $393.75
Bottom line: Luggage Free’s prices are just okay for domestic shipping but still don’t beat most airline baggage fees unless you’re shipping a light bag. The international shipping fees are steep and shipping times are pretty slow.
Like the others, Lugless will pick up and drop off your bags pretty much anywhere. They offer several speed options that are priced accordingly. In theory Lugless ships to over 235 countries and claims to have better prices for international shipping than UPS or FedEx and cheaper second bag and oversized shipping fees than most airlines. But, when I called to find out about their international rates (which were not posted online) I was met with the ambitious greeting: “We’re having a great day at Lugless, how may I exceed your expectations?” Turns out they couldn’t because their international services are being “revamped” and won’t be available for another 6-8 weeks. In the meantime, here are some sample prices for domestic shipping: Domestic Carry on (usually under 25 lbs): $69 Standard (usually under 50 lbs): $89 Oversize (usually under 75 lbs): $109
Bottom line: Domestic rates are higher than most airline baggage fees, even for overweight items. It remains to be seen if their international rates will exceed our expectations.
And then, there’s FedEx. Most luggage services seem to be competing directly with them. With FedEx you can schedule a pick up from your home, just like the other luggage delivery services. There are also lots of FedEx drop off sites around the world, including in most large hotels and conventions centers. Here are some price quotes for shipping bags from New York to LA. Shipping across the US Carry-on size (25 lbs) Standard overnight: $198 Ground (4 business days): $36.50 Standard size (50 lbs) Standard overnight delivery: $319 Ground (4 business days): $63 Oversized bag (75 lbs) Standard overnight: $495 Ground (4 business days): $83 The prices go considerably higher for international shipping. Here are some price quotes for shipping luggage from New York to London: International Carry on size (25 lbs) FedEx International Priority (4 days): $320 FedEx International Economy (6 days): $309 Standard size (50 lbs) FedEx International Priority (4 days): $550 FedEx International Economy (6 days): $452 Oversized (75 lbs) FedEx International Priority (4 days): $786 FedEx International Economy (6 days): $560
Bottom line: Going with FedEx is a good deal if you are shipping heavy luggage domestically and don’t mind waiting the 4 days for Ground shipping. FedEx pretty much flattens the luggage delivery services on this. But, prices are sky high for international shipping. When it comes to checked bags, it turns out that no matter which option you choose, you’ll probably have to pay more than you like. That said, although airline baggage fees can seem like a racket – especially if the airline manages to lose your luggage! – these prices still beat out many of the shipping services. However, as more companies get into the luggage-shipping game, hopefully prices will come down for travelers in the long run and we can all travel for less in the future no matter how much we pack.