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United offers airport-to-doorstep baggage delivery -- for a price

United Airlines has joined American Airlines in offering harried travelers the option of having checked luggage delivered to a home, office or hotel. 

For a fee, of course.

The service -- operated by BagsVIP, a unit of Bags, Inc. --promises to deliver luggage to locations in a 40-mile radius of an airport within four hours of a flight’s arrival. Delivery may be booked online or via phone up to an hour before a flight’s departure. 

In addition to regular checked bags fees, delivery costs $29.95 for one bag, $39.95 for two bags and $49.95 for three to eight bags on United -- and up to ten bags on American. Fees and delivery times are adjusted for destinations beyond 40 miles and up to 100 miles from an airport. If bags arrive outside the delivery window, service fees are refunded.

American Airlines began bag delivery in August and now offers it in more than 200 cities around the U.S. Customer feedback "has been overwhelmingly positive" and the airline is "looking forward to expanding the service," American Airlines spokesperson Matt Miller said, though he declined to specify how many passengers have used it.

United’s baggage delivery service rolled out earlier this month  and is available to passengers flying to six cities: Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles and Orlando. United spokesperson Mary Clark said the service will soon expand to 190 domestic destinations and “is a way to give customers another option to improve and add value to their travel experience.”

For travelers already forking over $25, $50 or more to check a bag, the price of this new option could be a barrier. But FareCompare co-founder Rick Seaney said the service could be useful if a traveler can maximize the benefit by booking delivery of multiple bags. 

“I might recommend this type of service to golfers, trade show folks who check small booths and parents checking several bags to send their kids back to college for the year,” Seaney told NBC News.  

Reliability concerns could be a roadblock as well. While Department of Transportation statistics show airlines banked more than $3.36 billion in checked bag fees in 2011 and more than $2.6 billion bag fees in the first nine months of 2012 alone, the industry has a reputation for losing and misplacing bags.

But lost luggage rates appear to be declining. In 2012, “airlines had the best November on record for baggage handling performance,” said Katie Connell, spokesperson for Airlines for America (A4A), an industry trade group. During that month, “99.7 percent of all U.S. airline passengers had their bags properly handled,” she said.   

Bags, Inc., already operates remote baggage check-in at all Disney resorts, many cruise lines and some Las Vegas hotels.

“There are other airlines in the pipeline for BagsVIP delivery service,” Bags, Inc. spokesperson D’Anne Mica told NBC News, “but it will be up to our airline partners to announce when those services come online.”

For those who would rather not contract with an airline to deliver baggage, there are other options. Travelers may book the BagsVIP service directly (prices match those offered by the airlines), or choose a door-to-door delivery service, such as FedEx, UPS, Luggage Free or Luggage Forward. Those services may take longer and cost more, but eliminate the need to tote bags to the airport.

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