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Make Your Next Flight Better — and Cheaper Comments

  • By Brett Arends, Marketwatch
  • July 15, 2014

flying tips

Flying blows. Take off your shoes. Take off your belt. Stand in line forever. Fight to get on the plane. Fight to get off. Pay to check your bags. Or join all the other schmucks trying to save money by carrying all their bags into the cabin, and shove them into the overhead locker. If you’re flying soon, you’re going to be reminded, yet again, of how horrible the experience has become.

Prices are going up. The airlines are slashing the value of their frequent-flier miles. And they’re charging more and more for the simple privilege of checking your bags — which is why everyone is now wheeling full-sized suitcases into the cabins and trying to shove them into the overhead locker. “Oh, I’m sorry, was that your head?”

But if you’re going away this summer, here’s a neat trick I came across just by chance that can make the whole experience just so, so much better.

No, don’t pay the fees to check your luggage in the hold. And no, don’t drag it through security and into the cabin, either. There’s a third option: Ship it.

No, really. Now that airlines are charging so much to check your bags, it may actually be cheaper, as well as a whole lot more convenient, to have UPS or FedEx take them instead. Drop them off — or even get them to pick the luggage up.

I came across this quite by chance a short while ago. I’d been down in Florida for a month working on my book. I’d taken my manual typewriter with me — a heavy classic Corona from the 1930s. But after using it heavily for a month it needed a minor adjustment, so I decided to ship it back to a typewriter repair guy near my home.

While at FedEx, I reflected that the cost of shipping it by FedEx Ground was about the same as checking it on flight — and much easier. FedEx Ground, the company’s cheapest service, delivers within four days.

When I mentioned this to the guy behind the counter, he pointed behind him, where there were a couple of full-sized wheely suitcases wrapped up in shipping plastic. “We get quite a few customers come in here,” he said, “they don’t want the hassle of flying with all their luggage, so they just drop it off and we take it.”


First, consider the math. Major carriers have been raising the costs of checking bags. Typically, according to their websites, if you are flying within the U.S. or Canada they’ll charge you $25 to check the first bag, and $35 to check the second. You’ll also pay a fortune for anything that weighs over 50 pounds — typically $100 for 50 to 70 pounds, and $200 for 70 to 100 pounds.

As an illustration, FedEx will charge $37 to ship a 25-pound suitcase all the way from New York to Los Angeles, and $65 to ship a 50-pound suitcase. If you are going a shorter distance, it’s less.

UPS says it also does good business from travelers who prefer to ship their luggage. It offers sturdy and lightweight “luggage boxes” designed to replace suitcases. “We hear from the franchisees that there is a spike in luggage box usage as we get into the summer travel season,” says spokeswoman Laurie Mallis.

“We also specialize in packing odd, oversized items, such as golf clubs and fishing poles — items [people] would prefer to have waiting at their destination rather than lugging them around an airport,” she adds. It’s not just about the up-front cost, either. If I’m not dragging my luggage with me, I no longer have to take taxis to and from the airport. I’ll just take the subway.

And there’s the whole hassle thing. I love the idea of saying goodbye to my luggage and not worrying or thinking about it until I arrive at the hotel — when it is either in the storage room or waiting in my room. (“Oh, I sent my luggage on ahead” — how wonderfully Edwardian!)

No last-minute packing panic the night before the flight. Get the packing done early, and then forget about it. (You can always pack a few essentials, and any last minute items you forgot, in your carry-on bag).

Brett Arends is a MarketWatch columnist. Follow him on Twitter @BrettArends. This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved. 

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