By Catharine Hamm
11:00 AM EST, February 24, 2013
Question: My husband and I will be traveling abroad for several weeks. We plan to pack lightly so that we do not have to check luggage. However, we will need more toiletries than we can carry on our planes so we are thinking about shipping them ahead. Can you give us any advice?
Answer: Because of the cost of luggage services, I would ordinarily recommend sending toiletries (which Koch said couldn't be bought at the destination) by a known entity, such as the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and DHL.
Jami Counter, senior director of TripAdvisor Flights, agrees. "While the reliable tracking and door-to-door service are convenient benefits, shipping luggage usually comes at a premium. In most cases, shipping only makes economic sense if your baggage will be overweight or oversized and you have the time to ship via ground mail, the most affordable option."
Counter and I are on the same page — or were until these words stopped me dead in my tracks: used beehives, dried fruits and beauty products.
These are some of the items that customs prohibits (used beehives) or restricts (dried fruits, beauty products) for importation into Israel, Antigua and Barbuda, and Mexico, respectively, according to post office information on customs and shipping. Although I can't see myself shipping a hive, used or otherwise, to Israel, I wouldn't have given cosmetics/beauty products a second thought if I were shipping those items to Mexico. Koch isn't going to Mexico, but these prohibitions/restrictions were news to me — and indicative of what I don't know about the intricacies of shipping anywhere. (You can read a country-by-country breakdown from the postal service at http://www.lat.ms/VrvM7G
That's where a luggage shipping service may be worth the extra money. Part of its job is to identify these shipping land mines for customers and help them navigate.
"One advantage of a service like Luggage Forward is that we specialize in what can and can't be sent," said Zeke Adkins of Luggage Forward, which he and Aaron Kirley founded in 2005, just ahead of the ban on carrying on more than 3 ounces of liquids and gels for domestic flights. (In August 2006, British authorities said they had stopped a plot in which the perpetrators would blow up the U.S.-bound aircraft using carried-on liquid explosives.)
Adkins said most customers ship both toiletries and clothing to be rid of the whole burden of baggage. The service picks up at your door and delivers to wherever you're staying. (One other perk of using a service: You don't have to notify the hotel that something is arriving; Luggage Forward does it for you.)
For a 25-pound (or less) bag, the fee is $144 to Britain, Koch's destination, and $166 for the return.
If you mailed a package using the post office's Global Express and the box was at least 9 1/2 inches long and 5 /12 inches deep, and weighed less than 25 pounds, your tab, if you sent it from the post office, would be about $230 one way. (It would be about $28 less if you made arrangements online.) Global would get it there in one to three days. The price with Express Mail would drop to about $155 ($140 online) for three- to five-day delivery.
For a comparison chart of luggage services and shipping places, check out SeatGuru's chart from last summer (which means prices may have changed): http://www.lat.ms/VrGefp. Some airlines also are offering luggage shipping services.
How can you know whether the service is good? You can Google "luggage delivery service" and "forum" and find various threads about the topic, most of which I found more confusing than conclusive. Under the theory that the hallmark of a successful business these days is survival (attention, post office), look for one that's been around awhile. (Sports Express, for instance, which is owned by Luggage Forward and deals mostly with sporting equipment, has been in business since 1999 — and that's a long time in this sector.) Any service is a gamble, and sometimes in travel you hold your breath, take the plunge — and pack a Plan B. In your carry-on bag.
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