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Luggage Delivery Services, Unpacked

Want to travel without bags? Read our review of Luggage Forward and the pros and cons of shipping baggage to your destination to see if the service is worth it for you.

 

When the question is raised about whether or not to check luggage, my motto is typically, a bag in the hand is worth two in the undercarriage. As someone who travels frequently for both business and pleasure, I’ve had more lost luggage incidents than I care to recall, and I am certainly not alone. Mishandled luggage complaints in the United States jumped 83 percent between 2002 and 2007, according to Specialists in Air Transport Communications and IT Solutions’ (SITA) 2008 Baggage Report.

Although those figures are improving slightly in recent months, owing to the downturn in passenger numbers, my guilty secret is that I kind of like it when my bag gets lost (at least on a return trip)—despite the hassle of filing a claim, it’s nice to have my bag hand-delivered to my door, thus skipping the ordeal of schlepping it on and off mass transit and up a few flights of stairs.

It turns out, there is a way to get this white-glove service without actually losing anything.

Baggage at Your Beck and Call

As mishandled baggage claims have increased, private companies are stepping in to offer door-to-door luggage delivery. Many specialize in transporting expensive sporting goods that you wouldn’t want an airline to handle anyway—skis, golf clubs, surfboards, bicycles—but they’re just as happy to take a standard-size roller, as I learned when I tested out one such service when flying from New Hampshire to Washington this winter.

Luggage Forward has been liberating fliers from their luggage since 2004. The Boston–based company has an easy-to-use online form that generates a quote based on a complicated pricing matrix—the size, shape, speed and distance of your shipment all play a role. It’s a bit like booking a flight for your bag … and nearly as expensive.

The hardest part of the process was weighing how soon I wanted my things to arrive against how much I wanted to pay; delivery levels for a medium-sized bag started at $225 one way for next-day Express service and trickled down to $111 for five-day Basic delivery. (Prices have dropped somewhat since then—a search for the same route on Feb. 15, 2009 quoted $200 for Express service and $105 for Basic.) I selected a Standard three-day delivery that rang in at $163. Prices are lower for shorter legs, and travelers booking a round trip can opt for a cheaper, and even slower, Economy level on the return portion.

The nice thing is that the service is customizable—you can choose a faster service for the trip out and a slower one for the return; or if you have multiple destinations on your itinerary, you can have bags picked up or delivered at different locations. And if you decide you need to reroute, or realize you underestimated the size of your suitcase, it’s no problem: The company has on-call customer service representatives who are courteous and responsive. When was the last time you could say the same of a baggage experience with a commercial airline?

Potential Pitfalls

Because Luggage Forward and most of its competitors use domestic shipping providers like FedEx and UPS, service is subject to the vagaries of those companies—no pick-ups or drop-offs on Sundays and holidays, and limited service on Saturdays. Bags are collected within a four-hour window (a precise pick-up time costs an extra $45), and drop-offs are even more unpredictable, though you can track your bag’s progress online. Luggage Forward also operates internationally, but the cost and delivery time can increase considerably depending on the destination.

Another point that left me wondering: Deliveries don’t require a signature and are left on the doorstop if there’s no one at home, but the company’s $500 guarantee doesn’t cover bags once they are dropped off. Luggage Forward will include special instructions if you direct them in advance, but otherwise, you’ll have to trust your neighbors.

Worth the Cost?

Was going luggage-free worth the price tag? My experience was seamless: The labeling instructions were easy to follow, and my suitcase turned up unscathed at my destination. The quoted price is what I was charged, which was nice—no hidden fees.

I was disappointed that even the most expensive service wouldn’t deliver my bag as quickly as if I’d carried it myself, especially if I happened to be flying over a weekend. But for those who don’t urgently need whatever is being sent, luggage forwarding makes for a pleasantly buoyant travel experience. No hauling that dead weight over curbs and onto scales; no wondering in Chicago whether your possessions made the connection; no standing in that grim ring around the baggage carousel. For single parents or other travelers who could use one less worry and an extra free hand, the load off is priceless.

www.luggageforward.com

Luggage Shipping Providers

Travelers have a surprising number of choices when it comes to sending luggage ahead.

Luggage Forward

Reviewed on previous page. Discounted rated are available to Starwood Hotels customers, AAA members, Clear Registered Travelers and others. www.luggageforward.com

United Door-to-Door

Last October, United Airlines launched a partnership with FedEx to offer luggage shipping to its passengers flying within the 48 continental United States. The service has a flat-fee structure—a search at the time of my flight quoted $179 for next-day delivery, though prices have dropped a bit since then. No pick-ups or drops on Sundays, but Saturdays and holidays are OK.

It’s a promising and thriftier offer, but if you consider that United Airlines has a less-than-stellar baggage handling reputation (it ranked 11th out of 19 major carriers in December 2008, mishandling 7.5 bags for every 1,000 passengers, according to Department of Transportation statistics—a step above Delta Air Lines, but below Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines and US Airways), and that they now charge a $15 fee for one checked bag, it’s sort of like they’re saying, “Pay us a little to transport your bag, but pay us a lot more if you want to get it back.” www.united.com/doortodoor

First Luggage

Based in the United Kingdom, this company specializes in delivery within Europe—though it also services the United States, Australia, the Middle East and elsewhere. Travelers flying on British Airways can apply for a discount. No weekend delivery. www.firstluggage.com

Luggage Free

This New York City–based company touts itself as a “luxury” service, with extra care including a scheduled pick-up time and personal notification when a bag arrives at its destination. It wraps all sent items in a protective plastic casing. Price quoted for an itinerary like mine was $172, which included a $50 pick-up fee. www.luggagefree.com



User Comments

I recently went on a cruise with Holland America and was traveling around New Zealand before my cruise. I did not want to carry my luggage because I had many stops and no direct flights. So I sent my luggage off to Auckland with Luggage Forward. I had a fantastic experience! From my home to the cruise ship everything went off without a hitch. I loved the follow up and found their representatives extremely helpful with my difficult itineraries. I refuse to use any other luggage shipping companies, I have found my gem.

I have used a few services so far, esp when i do multiple hops on international travel and want my bags to arrive at my destination. Most of them have worked ok - but the last one i used - Luggage Forward - was just horrible in every way i can think of. They promised 6 day delivery - delayed way beyond their commitment, but that i could live with. The worst was - they misclassified the bags, got it stuck in customs in India, and I had to make 2 trips to the airport to clear it with customs officials, pay DHL clearing fees, and finally got my bags 14 days after shipping, and 10 hours and 2 trips at the airport. And instead of trying to ack their goof up - they were extremely rude and very unprofessional IF you want your bags at your destination with no worries - skip Luggage Forward.

I have used a few services so far, esp when i do multiple hops on international travel and want my bags to arrive at my destination. Most of them have worked ok - but the last one i used - Luggage Forward - was just horrible in every way i can think of. They promised 6 day delivery - delayed way beyond their commitment, but that i could live with. The worst was - they misclassified the bags, got it stuck in customs in India, and I had to make 2 trips to the airport to clear it with customs officials, pay DHL clearing fees, and finally got my bags 14 days after shipping, and 10 hours and 2 trips at the airport. And instead of trying to ack their goof up - they were extremely rude and very unprofessional IF you want your bags at your destination with no worries - skip Luggage Forward.

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