Crain's New York Business

Special Report: Executive Travel

Shipping firms deliver travelers from check-ins

More passengers sending their bags ahead

By Louise Kramer

Published on September 15, 2003

David Rosenberg, a facial plastic surgeon at Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, doesn't travel light.

This past summer, he was looking forward to a vacation with his wife and two young daughters, but couldn't face the inevitable ordeal of checking all their baggage-crib and golf clubs included-at the airport.

Instead, the doctor decided to try a new Manhattan shipping service, Luggage Free, which picked up the pile of baggage at his home in Scarsdale, N.Y., and had it waiting when the family arrived at the Ritz-Carlton in Beaver Creek, Colo. The price: about $200.

"When we landed in Denver, we were at the rental car place in 15 minutes instead of spending hours at the luggage conveyor belt," says Dr. Rosenberg. "It made the whole trip easier."

With longer lines, new baggage restrictions and heightened security at airports making travel more difficult than ever, an increasing number of executives and well-heeled leisure travelers are opting to send their bags ahead.

Many are turning to the established shipping giants like FedEx and UPS. But others are taking advantage of a small crop of specialty services created specifically to schlepp luggage and sports equipment for travelers with more money than time to spend. Last week, Fashion Week attendees were offered special luggage shipping for the first time.

Saving time

In the past year, requests for luggage shipping at the posh Waldorf Towers on Park Avenue have climbed to five per month from five per year, says chief concierge Michael Romei. "Our guests are interested in having their luggage travel without them," he says.

At The Pierre New York, the upscale Fifth Avenue hotel, 25% of the guests are shipping their luggage ahead these days. "They feel that the policies of the airlines to heighten security are very time consuming," says Maurice Dancer, chief concierge. "They don't want to deal with that."

Of course, these services are for the fortunate few, which may crimp the potential for firms catering to them. "With today's economy, it's a niche, but a limited niche," says Joseph Carino Jr., president of The Carino Collection, a hotel marketing firm.

Still, for those who can afford it, such amenities are in vogue. FedEx is the service of choice at The Pierre, Mr. Dancer says. "FedEx has their guarantee that they will deliver the next day. Our guests are looking for that convenience."

New ventures like Luggage Free, Luggage Express, a company based in Boca Raton, Fla., with a small office in Manhattan, and Sports Express in Durango, Colo., are trying to deliver more than mere guaranteed shipping. They are offering service, too.

For Luggage Free, a customer need make only one phone call to place the order, and the company handles the rest. It supplies proper shipping labels and containers, picks up the bags from the home or office, tracks the cargo, and alerts customers via their chosen method, whether by e-mail or by phone, when the bags arrive.

The service is priced at an approximate 30% discount to FedEx, says co-founder Eric Mautner. "We're cheaper, and we're more personalized," he claims. "You're not another box." Bags are priced per pound, from $1.55 to $2 per pound. The minimum order is $75, about the cost of shipping a set of golf clubs.

Luggage Free began as an outgrowth of Need It Now, a courier service based in Chelsea, after clients started asking if they could have their luggage sent along with packages to trade shows and conventions.

Avoiding inspection

When new federal regulations enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack required all bags to be inspected at airports-the regulations went into effect Dec. 31, 2002-Need It Now decided to devote more energy to developing Luggage Free. "It fits our skill sets well," says Mr. Mautner.

He figures the service could eventually bring in some $10 million to Need It Now, a private company with billings in excess of $5 million. Luggage Free is profitable, but for now represents only a small portion of Need It Now revenues.

To reach its potential, the company needs significant advertising and marketing support, Mr. Mautner says. That may be coming in the form of a possible joint venture with Luggage Express, itself a division of a larger shipping company, Universal Express Inc.

Until then, Luggage Free is catching on by word-of-mouth. Dr. Rosenberg first read about it in In Style magazine. He plans to use it for his next vacation. Indeed, he was so satisfied that he's signed up his medical office as a courier client with Need It Now.

Copyright 2003, Crain Communications, Inc