Now that the airlines have raised their fees for checked bags yet again, it's time to take another look at the alternative: shipping your bags, or better yet (if you're staying in one place once you arrive) just the contents of your bag ahead of your arrival using economical ground shipping services.
Why deal with the airlines, when UPS Ground and FedEx Ground offer better tracking, insurance and security, can be much cheaper in some scenarios, and will actually refund your shipping fee if there's a delay or loss? No waiting in line at the airport! No pilferage! No schlepping!
Airfarewatchdog.com has looked at four domestic route scenarios (short, medium, and long haul) and compared three shipping services and two airlines (one with high bag fees, and one with low fees) to see how much you can save by not entrusting your bags to the airlines.
As you can see from our chart back at Airfarewatchdog.com, depending on route and method, the cost savings achieved from shipping vs. schlepping range from little or nothing to dramatic. But as we explain, even if costs are the same, dealing with a company like FedEx can be much less stressful than with an airline.
Consider: a single 25-pound suitcase or shipment from Boston to San Francisco by FedEx Ground costs about $31 vs. $23-$25 on Delta or nothing on Southwest.
But once that suitcase weighs over 50 pounds, excess charges kick in on the airlines, even on Southwest: you'd pay $56 for a 55-lb. bag using USPS on that same Boston-San Francisco trip, but twice that on Delta, which adds an extra $90 fee each way for bags weighing over 50 pounds. Even Southwest will charge you $50 each way.
And if your bag is both heavy and oversized (larger than 61-62 linear inches), you'll get hit with triple jeopardy on some airlines: a fee for the first bag, plus an overweight fee, plus an oversized fee. Such a bag might cost nearly $300 on Delta on a trip from Los Angeles to Seattle vs. under $40 via FedEx Ground.
Also of note: the typical 22-inch rolling suitcase weighs 9-10 lbs. and airlines will shun responsibility for what they consider "normal wear and tear" if the suitcase or its wheel mechanism is damaged in transit. If you're staying in one place once you arrive, do you really need a suitcase at all? Put your clothes and other personal items in a sturdy box and you'll pay ground shippers even less than the prices shown in our chart.
But even if the costs are the same airline vs. ground shipping, consider these advantages of shipping:
Better tracking: You can track your shipment online step by step. Try that with an airline.
Safer: There's less chance of something going missing or getting damaged.
Convenience: you can breeze through the airport without waiting in line to check bags.
Responsibility: If an airline loses or delays your bag, they'll keep your fee and play the blame game. FedEx and UPS will at least refund your shipping fees. Plus, airlines refuse to take responsibility for losing or damaging anything they consider "valuable," such as electronics or business items. You can insure these items with the shipping services for a small additional fee.
Less schlepping: True, you have to either drop off your shipment at a post office, UPS office or store, or FedEx or Kinko's location (or you can arrange for pick up for a small fee in some cases), but let's face it: fighting for overhead space is no fun, and lugging luggage through mile-long airport concourses is no fun either.
Clearly, we've only given examples for domestic shipping, but USPS Priority Mail rates for international shipping are surprisingly competitive with the airlines' fees for checking bags on international routes.
And even if you're the carry-on type, shipping on your next trip may reveal the joys of not fighting for overhead space and saving yourself a shoulder injury from hoisting a heavy bag into same.
Give shipping vs. checking a try next time you fly. You may never pay bag fees again.