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Luggage Shippers Can Take Away a Pain

Special to The Times

Now that toothpaste and hand lotion are officially verboten from carry-on bags, two businesses seem to be profiting: private jet charters and luggage forwarding services.

Although the first is out of reach for most business travelers, the second might be more affordable.

Luggage shipping companies pick up your suitcases -- toothpaste and all -- at your home or office and deliver them just about anywhere in the world. But it’s no bargain at around $100 or more per bag, depending on the size and destination.

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Even so, business travelers are flocking to the services after last month’s terrorist threat in London.

“Many business and leisure travelers now view luggage delivery as a necessity if they hope to reach their destination without delays,” said Jon Trevelise, chief executive of Sports Express in Durango, Colo.

Sports Express ships luggage as well as oversized sporting equipment such as golf clubs and skis and has seen a 40% increase in business in luggage delivery since the terrorist scare, he said. It is also launching a new brand, Luggage Advance (www.luggageadvance.com), to better serve the luggage needs of travelers.

Luggage Club Inc. (www.theluggageclub.com), based in Oshkosh, Wis., is a year old, and sales were already on an upward trend. But the event in August quadrupled business, said company President Todd Kempinger.

Boca Raton, Fla.-based Luggage Express, which last year shipped 2 million bags, reports a 20% increase in calls since mid-August.

The latest Transportation Security Administration list of prohibited items can be found at www.tsa.gov. Restrictions in Britain are stricter, especially for flights to the United States. Lipstick in carry-ons is forbidden in Britain, for example, whereas solid lipstick and lip balm are OK in the U.S.

A small carry-on bag is allowed in Britain, but its dimensions must be less than about 18 by 14 by 6 inches, or about the size of a laptop computer case (see www.heathrowairport.com for the latest updates).

Checking bags is seldom a happy option for many business travelers who need to hit the ground running and are loath to stand around the baggage carousel.

And the airlines’ dismal record of losing bags -- more than 10,000 were mishandled a day last year -- hasn’t improved this year. More than 343,000 bags were mishandled in June, according to the Transportation Department, an increase of 16,000 over June 2005.

July saw an increase of 23,000 lost bags over June, and it is anyone’s guess how the increase in checked bags since August has affected the number of lost bags.

Steven Friedman, a consultant in Washington, is on the road 200 days a year and has logged more than 1 million miles on United Airlines. He has been using the Luggage Club service for six months for about 1 out of 5 trips.

“Time means money when you’re on an hourly rate,” he said. “I didn’t want to deal with checking luggage.”

The services all perform the same basic function of round-trip, door-to-door delivery of luggage, but they accomplish it in different ways.

Luggage Club uses FedEx to pick up and deliver the bags. Luggage Express and Luggage Free Inc. use a courier service in some cities or team with delivery companies.

The earlier you plan, the less it costs to ship a bag. You can calculate the costs on many of the companies’ websites.

For example, Luggage Club charges $113 to ship one bag as heavy as 45 pounds from Los Angeles to New York with at least five days’ notice. The price doubles for next-day delivery.

Luggage Free charges a flat $40 pickup fee if you live within 40 miles of a major airport and then $1 per pound of luggage for anywhere within the Lower 48 states, so that 45-pound bag to New York would cost $85.

The minimum order is $110. For two-business-day shipping, it costs $2 a pound, making that bag cost $130 to deliver.

“The misconception that I get from a lot of people is that the service is expensive,” said Jeff Boyd, president of Luggage Free (www.luggagefree.com) in New York. “While that can be true in some cases, we offer ground service that is a dollar a pound” in the United States plus the $40 pickup fee.

International delivery can be tricky to figure, depending on where it is going to or coming from, but assume it is going to be much more expensive.

Luggage Free charges $6 a pound but waives the pickup fee for international delivery. That 45-pound bag could cost $270 to have delivered overseas.

But what a treat to show up at your hotel in London, for example, after more than half a day traveling and not having hauled your bags halfway around the world.

Count the number of times you have to transfer bags from one mode of transit to another and calculate the hassle costs.

For a trip to London, I carry my bag to my car, to the parking shuttle, to the airplane (or nowadays to the airline check-in counter) and to the Tube or the Heathrow Express train and finally roll it along the bumpy London sidewalk to the hotel.

Add the annoyance of waiting for it at the baggage carousel, praying that it rolls off the conveyor belt, and $270 begins to look almost reasonable.

“It’s not inexpensive, but it’s really worth the convenience,” business traveler Friedman said. “Anything that’s a good service is worth paying for if it can make my life easier.”

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james.gilden@latimes.com


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