United Airlines is emulating rival American in featuring a baggage-delivery service at your arrival airport. Although you have to get your bags to the departure airport and check them, when you arrive at your destination airport, you hand your bags over to a delivery representative and go past the baggage claim to your hotel, office, or other local destination, where a local service delivers your bag.
The fine print: United says it already offers the service at Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, and Orlando, Fla., and it will be available at 190 domestic airports "over the next few months."
Delivery service is available to addresses within a 100-mile radius of each airport, with expected baggage arrival within four to six hours after your flight's arrival, depending on the distance. The standard rate for delivery within a 40-mile radius is $29.95 for one bag, $39.95 for two, and $49.95 for three to eight bags. Delivery beyond 40 miles is at extra cost depending on distance. To arrange the service, indicate you want it either when you reserve or later, and a link on the airline's website directs you to BagsVIP, the outfit that does the actual schlepping.
American's existing program is essentially identical. It's currently available at 200 domestic airports; American adds that it's available even on international flights from the nine Bahamian, Canadian and Irish airports where U.S. Customs provides pre-clearance. The price of the service is in addition to checked baggage fees, if any.
Although American and United are the only two airlines I could find that feature this baggage delivery through their own websites, BagsVIP actually "partners" with AirTran, Alaska, Copa, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic and WestJet; you just have to arrange the pickup separately. It also offers similar services with several cruise lines, hotels, convention centers and other locations. For more information, log onto the BagsVIP website at www.maketraveleasier.com.
BagsVIP does not pick up baggage for your departure. If you want a completely "no hands" door-to-door pickup and delivery service, you need to go with one of the several outfits that offer this service, including Luggage Concierge (800-288-9818, www.luggageconcierge.com), Luggage Forward (866-416-7447, www.luggageforward.com), and Luggage Free (800-361-6871, www.luggagefree.com).
Each company (or a subcontractor) picks up your baggage wherever you designate, does all the paperwork necessary for shipment, arranges for delivery to a designated address at your destination, and tracks the shipment's progress. All have websites where you can enter trip and bag data for an immediate cost quote. All of the companies give you price options depending on how far ahead you can get your bags ready -- delivery from overnight air to five days ground. Although the actual shipment is usually by UPS or FedEx, the baggage company makes all the arrangements.
Prices from all three are about the same. My standard test is for two medium suitcases (20 pounds each) from the SmarterTravelMedia office (02129) in Boston to Walt Disney World (32830) by the least expensive ground option. The lowest quote I found was $120 from Luggage Free, the same as two years ago; the others asked from $128 to $138. Overnight air was about triple those costs.
This service is more expensive than the airline deal of $39.95 for two suitcases. But if you fly an airline that charges for checked baggage, you'd pay $89.95, not a bad deal if you don't mind either packing five days in advance or waiting five days for your stuff to arrive.
Another option is to ship your stuff by FedEx or UPS ground. Costs vary by weight and distance; a 20-pound package from a UPS Store near the Boston address to a hotel near Walt Disney World would cost about $25 for three-day delivery; it's more for a pick-up at an office or residence.
All in all, whether you want to avid schlepping just at your destination or at both origin and destination, someone will happily help you -- for a fee. And given today's airline checked-bag fees, the door-to-door option looks better all the time.
Contact Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.