United Airlines to customers: Check your bag for $150

When it's backed into a financial corner, what's an airline to do? Gas prices are saner now, but they won't give our money back for the fuel surcharges because now they're using that cash to plug mortal wounds. Americans have grudgingly accepted the implementation of luggage fees, too. As consumers, we've all been led down the primrose path with the airlines, and they're finding that we're actually pretty compliant when it comes to these extra charges.

So why not try out a hefty optional one? United Airlines has partnered with FedEx to sell passengers door-to-door overnight delivery of your luggage. FedEx retrieves your luggage from your house, preferably the day before your flight, and you pick it up the next day at your destination, such as a hotel or at a specified address. The one-way price deviates from the usual FedEx rate scheme: $149 for flights under 1,000 miles and $179 for longer flights. As always, without this splurge fee, your stuff can travel in the cargo hold just below your feet for $15 each way for the first bag and $50 each way for each second bag.

Marketing-wise, I'm not sure what the message is here. With this new optional charge, United seems to be tacitly acknowledging that you might be better off entrusting your valuables to someone else. Is United admitting that paying ten times the usual price is the only way to make sure your bag actually makes it to your destination? Like the cruise lines' efforts to offer premium restaurants on its ships, United seems to be saying that its usual service isn't good enough. And it's not like the lack of a bag will speed your passage through security in any meaningful way, because you can only move through it as quickly as the person in front of you.

I have heard plenty of stories of passengers who love sending their belongings through third parties. Personally, I find the option a silly waste of money unless you've got an extremely unwieldy or fragile piece of luggage to check. Furthermore, it means that in most cases, someone else is going to sign for the delivery your luggage and you'll often have to trust a stranger to keep watch over your bag until you are reunited with it. For most casual travelers, the logistics are more complicated than even dragging your checked items around airport terminals.

For the customers who don't mind this hassle and expense, perhaps United is being clever--it presumably gets a cut of this added shipping business. And the same customers who don't care about cost will not particularly care that had they shipped their bag without United's FedEx partnership, you could pay as little as $42 get it to the same place. Then again, this charge isn't about price. It's about convenience, or at least the perception of it.

And as the airlines wholeheartedly embrace a la carte pricing, the American consumer has now been primed to accept optional buy-ins. You've already eaten the first potato chip, so why not binge on the whole sackful? FedEx will deliver that to you tomorrow for $150.
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