By Christina Talcott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008
It's inescapable: Airlines have been imposing fees left and right for checked baggage and oversize items, so taking your skis on the plane will be more expensive than in years past. So, should you rent or bring your own? Richard Savage, vice president of marketing and business development with tour company Ski Operators, offers some suggestions to help you decide.
Even before the airlines started charging for bags, Savage was hearing reports of more and more people opting to rent equipment at their destination. He says this is partly because equipment changes so fast that renters are eager to test the latest, most cutting-edge equipment. And even people who prefer their own skis or snowboard might not want to haul them to and from the airport, Savage says, if rental shops at your destination carry the same model. He points out that a tour operator can call rental shops for you to find the exact skis or snowboard you want, for the best price.
Want to avoid ski shops entirely? A few companies, including Ski Butlers (http://www.skibutlers.com) and Black Tie Ski Rentals (http://www.blacktieskis.com), offer concierge-type services in several major resort areas. For just a few dollars more than traditional rentals, these services deliver equipment to your hotel room or ski house. They'll even bring you a variety of skis or snowboards to try out, plus any items you forgot or might not have: goggles, boots, gloves, etc. And they'll pick up the equipment when you're done.
But if you decide to take along your own gear, there are a few hassle-reducing options to consider, especially if you can plan ahead. Although Savage likes UPS's Second-Day Air service (800-742-5877, http://www.ups.com) for its convenience and relatively low cost, ground service can be more economical, sometimes costing less than airlines' baggage fees. For example, to ship a 20-pound bag of skis and ski equipment from Washington to Burlington, Vt., by UPS Second-Day Air, prices start at $45; with UPS Ground, it'll cost about $12, $3 less than the first-checked-bag fee on AirTran, United, US Airways and others going to Burlington, and half the cost of the second-bag fee. The downside of ground shipping: Delivery can take up to a week, depending on your skis' destination. Other options to consider: the U.S. Postal Service (800-275-8777, http://www.usps.com); DHL (800-225-5345, http://www.dhl.com) or FedEx (800-463-3339, http://www.fedex.com). For the package detailed above, U.S. Postal Service rate starts at $63.23, DHL at $24.85 and FedEx at $20.75; rates are higher to ship to western destinations, such as the Rocky Mountains.
There are also luggage delivery services, including Sports Express (800-357-4174, http://www.sportsexpress.com), about $70 per ski bag; Luggage Forward (866-416-7447, http://www.luggageforward.com), about $80; and Luggage Free (800-361-6871, http://www.luggagefree.com), $150. United Airlines has recently partnered with FedEx Express in offering door-to-door baggage delivery; starting at $150 per bag, FedEx picks up your luggage at your home or office and delivers it to your destination.
If you decide to check your equipment on your flight, make sure to know the airline's policy and fees. Most domestic airlines will count a ski bag and a boot bag as only one piece of luggage and charge accordingly. Southwest is the one notable exception, with no fees for your first two checked bags.
On the plus side, some resorts are offering discounts to offset baggage fees (such as Vail and its "Baggage Buyout" deal). And the economic downturn means you can sometimes make up for baggage fees yourself thanks to the deals many resorts are offering this year. Look for reduced prices on rooms, lift tickets and even airfare, with resorts competing to lure skiers and boarders to the slopes. "I think every resort is looking for a magic bullet," Savage says, which translates into deals for snow bunnies everywhere.