Pay $100 and Pass Up the Luggage Carousel

Would you pay $100 or so to bypass the luggage carousel on your next plane trip?

Plenty of people have, says Bill Cippola, managing partner of the company that runs Virtual Bellhop, a new service that picks up your bags from your home or office and ships them as air freight to your destination. Typical round-trip prices for two bags between Los Angeles and New York, for instance, are about $130 to $230, depending on weight and whether you choose "economy" (three to four days), next-day or second-day air service. However they travel, you'll get a refund if the bags aren't there when you arrive, the company says.

"It's not for everyone," Cippola acknowledges. "But for the first time, air travelers have an alternative." And in the last four months, about 500 customers--40% of them business and 60% leisure travelers--have taken advantage of it, he added. They include young parents shipping strollers for their children, affluent elderly people who have trouble toting luggage, and golfers (about $50 to $75 round trip for a set of clubs). Said one dad who splurges on one "nice" trip each year with the family: "I want my vacation to start at my front door."

One of the bigger orders came from a Texas patriarch overseeing a family gathering at a golf resort outside Atlanta. He shipped about 15 suitcases and "14 or 15 sets of golf clubs" via next-day air, Cippola said. The tab: close to $2,000.

Virtual Bellhop, based in Grayslake, Ill., outside Chicago, ships to about 150 cities in the U.S., including Hawaii. Tel. (877) BELLHOP.

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