Airline baggage fees keep increasing, with domestic carriers earning $3.5 billion last year from checked-bag fees. In response, some travelers are turning to online luggage-shipping services such as Luggage Free, Luggage Forward and Sendmybag.com in search of cheaper prices and other perks.
For example, Sendmybag.com might be likened to an Uber of baggage shipping, with door-to-door pick-up and drop-off and bag tracking. The Northern Ireland-based service first targeted students, who — according to CEO Adam Ewart — were being hit the hardest by excess baggage fees when the airlines introduced them. Six years after the company's 2011 launch, Sendmybag.com has expanded to other markets, such as vacationers and business travelers.
In 2017, the service has already shipped around 200,000 bags and counting, Ewart said. And he can see the company hitting 1 million bags within the next few years.
"It's a great early adopter market because when a student uses [the service] for college, whenever they travel for business or vacation in the future, they'll use it again," he said.
The vast majority of customers who use Sendmybag.com use it again within six months, and 42 percent of orders placed this year so far have been by repeat customers, Ewart said.
In terms of cost, sending one bag through the site is likely more expensive than checking that bag with an airline. Shipping becomes the cheaper option when you have multiple bags you need to travel with. All prices depend on the travel distance and the number, weight and shape of the bags. Here is some cost data from Sendmybag.com for popular air routes:
The company has seen a big uptick in business users because "time-saving points are particularly important for them," according to Ewart. Business travelers can save time by blowing through baggage check, or customs for international flights, and not having to wait around for their luggage at the baggage carousels, which 43 percent of travelers said was the worst part of their trip, according to the company's survey of 2,000 independent travelers.
Also, many business travelers are frequent flyers who are savvy on how to find the cheapest flights, such as self-connecting flights. However, self-connections can come with the sting of a double baggage fee. With a shipping service, they avoid that extra cost.
Although it would seem airlines and baggage-shipping services are born competitors, Ewart said he is looking to partner with carriers. Airlines may want to keep bag-check revenue coming in, but they also want customers to have pleasant flights where the cabins overhead aren't overflowing with bags, he said. A partnership could be in the best interests of all: airline, bag-shipper and passenger.
— By Abigail Summerville, special to CNBC.com
Correction: Sendmybag.com is an online luggage-shipping service. An earlier version misstated its name.