When Robert and Janet Nisi and their four children were packing for their August vacation to Colorado Springs, they didn't worry about the endless lines to check in luggage at the airport. Instead, they called Luggage Free, which came to their Riverside (Conn.) home, picked up and wrapped their six bags in plastic, and delivered them directly to the Broadmoor Hotel & Resort.
The one-way cost? A couple of hundred dollars: a dollar a pound for the luggage, plus a flat fee of $75 for a set of golf clubs and a $40 pickup charge. "For us, it makes traveling a real pleasure instead of a chore," says Janet, a stay-at-home mom whose husband is a partner at a New York hedge fund company. Their bags will get home the same way: "They'll pick them up from the concierge after we leave." The Nisi family's only carry-ons? Wallets, a DVD player, and a magazine.
Now, in the wake of the Transportation Security Administration's Aug. 10 crackdown on liquids and gels in carry-on luggage, the lines to avoid at airports are the ones for checking bags, whether with curbside skycaps or at terminal check-in counters. The airlines report that as many as 90% of all passengers now present a bag to check. As a result, baggage delivery services, once pretty much limited to shipping such sports equipment as skis, golf clubs, and bicycles, are booming. "We saw our business almost double overnight," says Jeff Boyd, president of New York-based Luggage Free.
If you want to fly from Point A to Point B without hassling with your luggage, you have a couple of choices. You can hire one of a half-dozen or so luggage forwarders, such as Luggage Free. They'll pick up your bags at your home or office and deliver them to your destination hotel or vacation home, and vice versa. They arrange for pickup and delivery, operate internationally, and often use such carriers as FedEx (FDX) or United Parcel Service (UPS). You'll pay top dollar, especially if you need your bags overnight. Plan ahead, and you can save almost half. (Janet Nisi used Luggage Free's four-day service; her bags arrived at the hotel in two.)
SKIP THE LINES
In some markets, newer remote skycap services are a second option. Geographical coverage is spotty, though, and office or home pickup and delivery is rare. For now, these companies mostly operate out of hotels and convention centers. They check your bags and issue boarding passes in the hotel lobby, for instance, sparing you the check-in line at the airport. Then they truck your luggage to the airport, escort it through the screening process, and load it on your plane. Generally, you meet up with your bags at the carousel on the other end.
Or some variation thereof. The biggest operation is Disney's (DIS) Magical Express in Orlando: Travelers with a reservation at a Disney hotel get luggage tags that let them breeze through the Orlando International Airport. Your bags are delivered from your home airport to your hotel room, and you can get boarding passes and check your bags for the return flight in the hotel lobby, all for free. The company that handles the Disney-bound luggage, BAGS (for Baggage Airline Guest Services), offers a similar but outbound-only service for $10 a passenger from convention centers in Orlando, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco and a few hotels in 16 cities.
The company has landed national contracts, including one with Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, which plans to have the service in its lobbies in cities where BAGS operates by the end of the year. Currently, it's offered only at a Hyatt Regency in Dallas, but five hotels in Denver and San Diego will be added in September. Also in September, BAGS will start checking luggage at the Park 'N Fly Plus lot at the Atlanta International Airport, and that airport parking lot operator plans to roll out the service nationally. For now, at least, Park 'N Fly is picking up the tab. (At airport-owned parking lots in San Francisco and, soon, Chicago and Los Angeles, BAGS charges $5.)
Another company, Bags To Go, runs remote bag-check services for Southwest Airlines passengers from the Las Vegas Convention Center. BaggageDirect is trying to sew up the Hawaii market, with luggage pickup and delivery to homes, offices, and hotels in Oahu and Maui, as well as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. If you're traveling to or from the rest of the country, you can bypass the waits at airports in Hawaii, but you still have to check and retrieve your bags at your home airport. BaggageDirect's fees start at $30 per passenger each way, with discounts for families.
By Larry Armstrong