Can you save money by shipping your luggage instead of checking it?

Apr 29, 2024, 10:27 PM | Updated: Apr 30, 2024, 6:37 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. — Among the hustle and bustle at the airport, you’re likely to see this familiar dance: stressed-out passengers repacking suitcases on the floor to comply with various airline weight and size restrictions.

It’s a dance that has recently become more expensive for millions of travelers. Alaska, JetBlue, American, United, and Delta have all quietly increased checked bag fees since the start of the year.

That’s pushing more people to push more stuff into their carry-ons which then must be crammed into plane’s cabin – slowing travel down for everyone.

But there is a way to get your suitcase where it needs to go without using any overhead space or paying more fees to the airlines.

Shipping your stuff

More people are shipping their bags straight to their hotel instead of hauling them up and down airports. You can even have it done by one of many luggage-shipping services that have sprung up in recent years.

So, is it worth it?

To find out, I decided to take advantage of a spring break trip my family had booked for Orlando, Florida. It took some planning on my part to ship my luggage ahead of time, so I sought advice from expert Katy Nastro of the travel website, Going.

“It’s pretty seamless,” said Nastro, who told me lots of people in her industry ship their stuff ahead of their trips. “I’ve shipped many things,” she said.

Her first advice: ditch the suitcase itself.

a busy airport with people and luggage grouped - shipping your luggage

The baggage claim area was packed at Orlando International Airport with spring break travelers. The Gephardt family waited a half-hour for his family’s first piece of luggage to appear on the carousel. (Matt Gephardt, KSL TV)

“I’m not putting these items in a piece of luggage, necessarily,” she said.

Luggage-shipping companies tend to charge more based on weight and size. I found that I could pack the contents of my mostly full international suitcase into a significantly smaller cardboard box. Not only does not having wheels and the extraneous luggage compartments shave off inches – it shaves off pounds.

The packed box was more than eight pounds lighter than my packed suitcase.

The cost of luggage shipping

But what about cost? We found that can vary widely.

“There are luggage shipping companies that are sort of around $100,” Nastro said.

Indeed, searching around we found lots of luggage-shipping services. However, each one we examined mentioned they use “partners” to actually get my stuff to the right destination. These “partners” are the usual couriers like FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service that we all use to ship packages.

I plugged my box’s dimensions, weight, and my destination into the websites for those three shipping companies and found a relatively small difference. From Utah to Florida, UPS wanted $63.09, FedEx’s quote was $57.06, while USPS sought $55.60.

Being the cheapest, the postal service got my business.

Whether shipping your luggage is worth it hinges on many factors. Even with the lowest quote of $55.60, none of the shipping options saved me money compared to Delta’s $35 fee for checking my first bag. But it is a lot closer to the $45 Delta would have charged had it been my second bag.

Two bits of luggage standing with the legs of a person behind them - shipping your luggage

Suitcases waiting to be checked at Salt Lake International Airport. (Eddie Collins, KSL TV)

The size and weight change the price significantly. If I had used my suitcase, for example, the cheapest I could have gotten it to Florida would have been through UPS at $123.60. The FedEx rate climbed to $128.01, and the USPS price tag tripled to $144.50.
How far you’re traveling also sways the price.

The same box that cost me $56 for a trip to Orlando would have cost just $19.15 if my destination had been St. George, $21.95 for both Vegas and Anaheim – had the family settled for a Southern California Disneyland adventure instead of Florida. Each option is significantly cheaper than Delta’s $35 fee for checking the first bag.

Other considerations

Nastro said there are factors besides money worth considering.

“It’s better for elderly folks that don’t want to deal with luggage in general,” she said.

Heck, at 43-years-old, I enjoyed not having to lug around my baggage. And had I not been waiting for the rest of my family’s stuff, I really would have enjoyed not having to wait at the baggage carousel at Orlando International Airport. This may or may not come as a surprise, but the airport that services Disney World and Orlando Universal gets to be a bit of a hot mess during spring break. We wound up waiting between 20 and 30 minutes for the first of my family’s suitcases to appear.

I won’t lie — I was stressed out from the moment the box of my stuff left my control. It was being shipped to a hotel I’d never stayed at before. Would it make it on time? What would the hotel do with my stuff as they waited for my arrival? Would I have anything to wear the next day?

I can report the box arrived on time with all my stuff.

a cardboard box sits on a table in front of a window - shipping your luggage

Matt Gephardt’s box of clothes were indeed waiting for him when he arrived at the hotel in Orlando. (Matt Gephardt, KSL TV)

I can also report the stress of having your stuff out of your control is real! Whether I’ll do it again will have a lot do with where I’m headed.

To grandma’s house? Sure! To a resort or large hotel with a mail room? Probably. But to a smaller hotel, motel, or AirBnb?

Probably not.

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Can you save money by shipping your luggage instead of checking it?