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jan 26 2010

FedEx and UPS win as airlines hike checked bag fees

Vintage luggage (Courtesy geishaboy500/Flickr)

Travel CBS newsman Peter Greenberg has a saying. "There are only two kinds of airline bags—carry-on and lost."

Peter always ships his bags to his domestic destinations, instead of checking them in on flights.

It's convenient, of course. Both UPS and FedEx will pick up your luggage at your home and deliver it direct to your hotel.

But it is too expensive, right? Often, yes. Especially at the last-minute.

But given that the airlines just hiked their fees, shipping is more appealing than ever.

Even Arthur Frommer, a man who needs no introduction, thinks that shipping is no longer a frivolous thing.

"Some travelers are giving serious thought to shipping their luggage ahead by Federal Express or UPS. It isn't that these shipping fees will be less than $50 or $70. But the greater convenience of traveling with just a small carry-on may support that decision; travelers with no heavy luggage are more disposed to using public transportation for the trip from airport into town (or vice versa) in place of expensive taxis."

So when does it pay to ship instead of check your bags? Airfarewatchdog did the math, comparing the cost of shipping—under a variety of circumstances—with the cost of checking a bag.

The key lesson: If your bag (or baggage collectively) weighs more than 55 pounds, it is generally just as cheap to ship your bag as it is to check it in. It's more convenient, too.

Says Airfarewatchdog founder George Hobica:

"As long as you avoid overnight service and ship by ground, we found that the worst case in many scenarios, that of checking or shipping a single average sized bag, is that shipping cost about the same as paying most airlines to check the bag. But shipping has advantages nonetheless: better tracking, better accountability if something is lost, less loss incidence, and less schlepping. But when you get into heavier or oversized bags, shipping wins hands down over checking, cost-wise. And when you ship, you often don't need to send your belongings in a suitcase at all. If you're staying in one place, a box will do just fine."

Here's an example:

One 25 lb. suitcase plus one 35 lb. suitcase for one passenger. Chicago to Orlando. Delta would charge you $55 to check the bags.*

FedEx and UPS would charge you $41 and $45, respectively. Cheaper and easier. *(We're assuming you paid the checked bag fees online when you bought your ticket, $23 plus $32).

How about a single, smaller bag? Surprisingly yes on many routes, if you're willing to ship your bag at least two business days in advance.

Consider a New York to Chicago route. I just checked on my own and found that UPS Ground, 2-business-day service between New York and Chicago is $27 each way. FedEx Ground is about $20 each way. Delta charges $23 each way for your first checked bag, and $35 for your second.

But in many other cases, it's still far cheaper to check your bag. See chart for full details.

But keep in mind that, as of today, JetBlue doesn't charge for your first checked bag. And Southwest doesn't charge for your first or second checked bags. Thank goodness at least a couple of airlines aren't nickel-and-diming us to death.

EARLIER

Update on checked bag fees (10-plus comments)

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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