We traveled from San Francisco to Brussels in business class with United with four giant suitcases that we were allowed. We then flew Ryanair on to Milan. The fare was only about $70, but we had to pay $240 for excess baggage! Is there a clever way to get our baggage back to Brussels for our return flight? ? Jane and Stuart Bowyer, San Francisco
Your plight is shared by several readers, writing in response to the question on overweight baggage on Feb. 5, who have suggested that shipping luggage can be a cost-effective way to avoid punitive excess baggage charges, not just within Europe but between Europe and the United States , and indeed throughout the world. The solution is to use a baggage shipping service. For shipping to and from or within the United States, it makes sense to use a domestic company; but for shipping back to the United States, or between countries, you may benefit from a local company. You might look at First Luggage, based in Britain, which will pick up and deliver baggage all over the world, and allows customers to track the progress of their luggage on a Web site. You can book online at www.firstluggage.com, or by phone at (44-8452) 700 670; from the United States, 800-224-5781. One-way transportation of a suitcase of 66 pounds from Milan to Brussels will cost £81.80, including tax ($147, at $1.80 to the pound); from Britain to the United States, about £129, or $231.
Excessbaggage.com in Britain ships bags from offices and homes in 300 countries. David Elliot, the chairman, claims significant savings over airline rates. "Airlines charge anything from $20 to $40 per kilogram for excess baggage," Mr. Elliot said. "Our charges vary from $4 to $10 per kilogram for most destinations." Information: 800-783-1085; www.excessbaggage.com.
Excess Baggage has a network of agents that include Contour USA (www.contour-usa.com) for shipments from the United States, and Baltrans (www.bim.com.hk) from Hong Kong. It is also worth checking out the luggage courier services of Skycapinternational.com and Virtualbellhop.com, both based in the United States.
Luggage Express offers a similar door-to-door courier service across the United States and is extending now to cities in South and Central America, parts of the Caribbean and Europe. Prices start at $85 for a 35- to 40-pound suitcase between U.S. cities to $325, with duties and tax, from New York to London. It is too slow for quick trips (five to seven business days). Information: 866-744-7224; www.usxpluggageexpress.com.
At Luggage Forward, a U.S.-based baggage and sports equipment delivery service, price depends on luggage size, distance and level of service; www.luggageforward.com; 866-416-7447.
The most significant problem with excess baggage is that the limits that define allowed vs. excess baggage are so much lower outside the United States. However, if your itinerary originates or terminates in the United States, foreign airlines, by international treaty and law, are bound to honor the baggage limits that apply within the United States.
As an example, several years ago, I flew Delta Airlines from Knoxville, Tennessee to Frankfurt, Germany via Atlanta. After a few days there, I continued from Frankfurt to Vienna, Austria on Austrian Air. After several weeks there, I flew Austrian Air from Vienna to London and, after a few days in London, returned to Knoxville on Delta.
At each of my European departures, both in Frankfurt and in Vienna, I was challenged and told I would have to pay hefty excess baggage charges. The reason for the challenge by the ticket agent was that he was only looking at my Austrian Air ticket and didn?t know that the Austrian Air flights were part of an overall much larger journey that originated and terminated in the United States. When I showed the remainder of my itinerary, the excess baggage charge was cheerfully waived.
Take the train! We had to move four enormous pieces of luggage plus what would have been "carry-ons" from Rotterdam, Netherlands to Milan, Italy and took an overnight train with a change in Basel. The train fare, including a private sleeper room for 2, was less than it would have been to fly with the luggage. I believe, though, that the train you would have to take would require you to change train stations in Paris--a tricky thing to do with lots of luggage. Of course, unless you like train travel, the 18 hours we spent in transit might not be so great. But we got to see lots of countryside and meet people during the journey, so we thought the solution of moving the baggage by train to be entirely worthwhile, financially and otherwise.
With local short haul travel within Europe or Asia, store extra bags in a safe airport lockup and move with 20 kgs, provided you are leaving from and coming back to the same point. In Africa many hotels will allow you to leave bags while travelling around. The charges are minimal, compared to moving the bags as excess baggage.
Far and away the cheapest way to move extra luggage on long haul flights is to fly on an airline which accepts extra pieces at a surcharge. On travel from NY to Luanda, Angola on Air France via Paris, an extra 60 lb bag cost just $125. On a return flight from Johannesburg to NY with a European transit stop 18 months later, the bag was charged at $160. Most airlines insist that you be on a single ticket to use this method - make sure your travel agent can write the ticket this way (it is often cheaper for them to write two separate tickets on long haul routes), and check with the airline before departure. The luggage arrives when you do.