The latest move by the nation's airlines to degrade the already horrendous experience of flight came with United's recent announcement that it intends to start charging for a second checked bag beginning in May. Look for the same to spread throughout the industry, barring a customer revolt.

It will charge $25 for that second, normal-size bag. Airline charges for additional bags and overweight/oversize bags is also on the rise. Continental charges an outrageous $100 per extra bag, while American demands an extra $100 for each bag weighing over 71 pounds.

There are alternatives, though, although they involve pre-planning and often more money. A number of companies like luggagefree.com offer full concierge service. They will pick your bags up at your home/office and deliver them to your hotel or destination. Expect to pay for the service, though; $4.15 per pound for bags delivered the same day by 3:15 p.m. If you can ship five days before departure, this charge drops a much more affordable $1.65, beating the crap out of Continental's charge. Peter Greenberg has a great list of these companies on his web site.

Even cheaper rates can be had through UPS, Federal Express and the like, although you'll have to do more of the work yourself, including convincing your destination hotel to accept delivery and store the bag for you. I've never had a problem in this respect. In all cases, the further ahead you can plan, the more you'll save.

Schlepping baggage through an airport has never been something I enjoy, and a lost bag can mean disaster to some vacations and business trips. Increased reliability and service is worth a lot to me, so the next time I travel by air, I'll probably bypass the airline's baggage piňata service in favor of a private one.


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