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Fed up travelers ship bags ahead

On a recent trip to Egypt, the coffee table books, pottery and other gifts Lorna Gladstone collected might have turned into a nightmare at the airport baggage check-in.

So she packed her belongings into four suitcases and left them with the hotel concierge to ship home through a service called Luggage Free.

"I can go through security with my handbag and my book," said Gladstone, a retired resident of McLean, Va. who uses the service whenever she travels.

As struggling airlines add extra-luggage fees and travelers worry about growing security restrictions, services like Luggage Forward and Luggage Free have emerged as ways to bypass the hassles of checking bags. While typically seen as a luxury, more Americans are using such options for run-of-the-mill trips. Others are simply mailing bags, using the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx Corp. or UPS Inc.

The idea behind the luggage delivery services is to make traveling as headache-free as possible.

Customers load up their suitcases as usual, with no special packaging. Shipping slips for luggage are mailed to them (return slips are included if needed). A pickup time is scheduled, usually for a two-hour window. If the bags are being sent to a hotel, the concierge will typically call customers to let them know their belongings have arrived.

Rates vary depending on the weight, distance and speed of the delivery. For example, sending a large bag (65 pounds) from New York City to San Francisco with a pickup date in five days would cost $149 through Luggage Forward.

To expand its services among everyday travelers, Luggage Forward last year introduced a seven-day "economy" option that typically costs less than $100 for a bag one way.

Such bookings account for about half the company's domestic shipments.

Since Luggage Forward was established three years ago, sales have grown 300 percent each year, said Zeke Adkins, co-founder of the Boston company.

Luggage Free in New York City is seeing similar growth. The number of bags the company shipped has doubled each year since 2004, with shipments reaching around 40,000 last year.

It's no surprise the companies sprang up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, when tightened restrictions triggered delays and confusion at airports across the country.

"Checking in became a whole different ball game. And it's only gotten worse. There's this constant confusion over what you can carry on. People are realizing it's just easier to send it ahead," said Jeff Boyd, president of Luggage Free, which was founded in 2003.

Still, the price can add up for a big order. When Adam Kolodny took his wife and four children on a ski trip to Colorado, it cost him $1,200 to ship eight large bags of ski equipment and baggage roundtrip through Luggage Forward. But compared to the mess it would have caused at the airport, the price was worth it, said Kolodny, a 45-year-old resident of Great Neck, N.Y.

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Fed up travelers ship bags ahead 03/26/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:48am]
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