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Business travelers hop off luggage carousel, ship bags

  • Domestic airlines raked in $3.5 billion last year from checked-bag fees.
  • Baggage shipping services can be cheaper, more convenient alternatives.
  • Sendmybag.com has shipped 200,000 bags in 2017.

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.

Southwest Airlines employee prepares to load bags onto a plane at Love Field Airport in Dallas, Texas.
Matt Nager | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Southwest Airlines employee prepares to load bags onto a plane at Love Field Airport in Dallas, Texas.

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.

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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:

  • From California to New York in five to six business days: $79 if under 44 pounds, $90 if between 40 and 60 pounds.
  • From New York to London in two to three days: $99 under 33 pounds, $169 between 33 and 66 pounds.
  • From Washington, D.C. to Toronto in one to two days: $79 under 33 pounds, $115 between 33 and 66 pounds.

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.