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Luggage-Shipping Services Offer Fliers Alternatives, Sometimes Savings

Some fliers worried about mishandled bags and appalled by the $3.5 billion domestic carriers earned from checked bag fees last year are turning to shipping services to get their luggage from here to there.

For those willing to pack early and send luggage on ahead (or wait for it to follow them to their destinations), the options range from taking your suitcase to a UPS, DHL or FedEx office to having a company such as a Luggage Forward (which owns several brands), Luggage Free or newcomer SendmyBag provide express door-to-door service.

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For standard-size bags, shipping door-to-door instead of checking a bag at the airport is rarely faster or cheaper. But it can be more reliable and convenient.

For example, United Airlines charges $25 on domestic flights to check the first 50-pound bag, $35 for the second, $150 for the third (and beyond) and usually delivers bags along with the passengers. (Many other airlines charge similar amounts.)

In contrast, shipping a 50-pound bag from Seattle to New York via FedEx ground will cost you about $70 and arrive in five business days. Ship one 50-pound bag door-to-door domestically with Luggage Forward and the cost will be $99 for 5-day delivery. (Pay more and the bag will arrive sooner; lighten up to no more than 25 pounds and the cost drops to $69.)

In some cases the wait and the extra cost can be worth it, said George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com.

"Shipping companies have better track records (than airlines) because this what they do," Hobica said. "They offer better tracking, the ability to insure valuables and will usually refund your shipping fees if there's a significant service snafu."

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Shipping door-to-door instead of checking bags when traveling internationally also offers convenience, tracking and other advantages. In some cases, it can even save you money.

On a trip from Seattle to London, for example, United and many other airlines will let you check your first 50-pound bag for free, but charge $100 for a second bag and $200 for a third and beyond. Bags tipping the scales at even a half-pound over 50 ring up additional $200 per-bag fees.

By comparison, Luggage Free, will charge you $5.57 per pound to ship bags door-to-door from the U.S. to the United Kingdom; in this case $278.50 for a 50-pound bag. On that same route, Luggage Forward would charge $154 for a 25-pound bag and $269 for a 50-pound bag. Both companies offer tracking services and promise to refund your fee is they don't deliver as promised.

Facing overweight bag charges in Europe that exceeded the cost of his plane ticket, Adam Ewart created SendmyBag.com a few years ago as an alternative.

"We don't count ourselves amongst this traditional luggage shipping industry but rather as a new service with the mission of helping the average air passenger travel with whatever they require at a price that makes sense," Ewart said via email.

The service recently launched in the U.S. and charges as low as $40 to ship a bag (up to 44 pounds) domestically in 5-6 business days. The company charges $99 to ship a bag weighing up to 33 pounds door-to-door between the United States and the UK, with delivery in 2-3 business days.

Shipping a bag weighing up to 66 pounds would cost $169, so international travelers could in some cases save cash by checking one bag for free and shipping second or third bags door-to-door via SendmyBag.

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And for frequent travelers who hate packing for a trip and doing laundry when it's over, a new service called DUFL will now do that for you.

The cost: $9.95 a month and $99 per trip.

The service is only available in the U.S. for now, but international service is scheduled to begin on Aug. 25, the company said.

DUFL will send you a suitcase to be filled with an assortment of clothing and toiletries you might want on the road, then retrieve the suitcase, inventory and photograph the contents and store it all away.

When you're ready to take a trip, an app lets you choose which outfits you'd like to take along. DUFL then packs your suitcase and ships it to your hotel.

When the trip is over, the suitcase and everything you've taken out of your 'closet' gets shipped back to DUFL, which cleans and presses the clothes so they're ready to be packed in a suitcase and shipped off for your next trip.

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