Checking a Plastic Tote on Airlines

Helpful Travel and Moving Advice

Whether for a move, holiday gifts, a vacation or other trip, shipping to far destinations brings hassle and expense. In general, flying is the most economic way to travel long distances, especially when your airline luggage is checked. What about driving? High gas prices have simply made flying cheaper than driving, especially when factoring in food and lodging expenses on the road. For these reasons the option of checking a plastic tote on airlines is worthy of serious consideration.

With the exception of Jet Blue and Southwest, most airlines now charge to check airline luggage[864]. And the exact baggage allowance changes between airlines. So when an individual, family, or group flies to a distant destination for a move, vacation, or trip of other sorts, what's their best option for transporting belongings? Well, one secret travel tip few share is the practice of checking a plastic tote (or even boxes) on the airline instead of shipping boxes. When deciding whether to ship or check belongings, there are a number of important considerations.

moving boxesCredit: stock.exchangeShipping vs Checking

There's no one answer to the question of whether it's cheaper to ship items or check them on the airline. Sometimes it's cheaper to ship items long distances, other times it's cheaper to check them as baggage on the airline. A number of variables contribute:

  • Amount, size and weight of the "extra" items
  • Amount of the "normal" items
  • Distance traveling
  • flexibility with time frame
  • Constraints with time frame
  • Delicacy of items

General Guidelines:

  • USPS Priority Flat- Rate boxes are by far the cheapest route for extremely heavy items.
  • Otherwise, shipping is usually more expensive than the checked baggage fees. Unless it's with flat-rate, there's no way to ship 50 pounds for under $25 - generally making the shipping option more affordable.
  • Fly Jetblue or Southwest if possible. It's free to check one bag with Jetblue, and both the first and second bag are free to check with Southwest[864].
  • In some ways it's more convenient to ship items: It's all taken care of once the packages are dropped off. No extra luggage to carry into the airport, no worries of luggage being lost, etc.
  • In other ways it's more convenient to check luggage: When shipped, the traveler likely arrives before the extra items. This inconvenience might make the question a no-brainer for some.

So what's the best method of checking luggage at the airport? One wonderful option: The plastic tote.

Checking a Plastic Tote

As a #1 piece of travel advice, and a common item in most modern households, the plastic tote is the mover's solution to that extra stuff too expensive to ship. Most if not all airline luggage guidelines allow any type of luggage container. The usuals include duffel bags, backpacks, and rolling suitcases, but they'll also accept boxes and plastic storage containers. The oversize rules still apply, so make sure the container's length+width+height totals to or under the size limit, which can easily be found under the particular airline's baggage policy. And the reasons to use a plastic tote abound:

  • Common! Most people have a plastic tote or know of one to borrow.
  • Inexpensive! Generally, plastic totes are less expensive than official travel luggage (though there are certainly nice and practical types of travel luggage).
  • No squashed belongings! All thanks to the non-collapsible nature of plastic totes.
  • Light! Lightweight means more storage for heavy items.

In case you're still not convinced, there are plenty of other reasons to check a plastic tote when flying.

    2 Helpful Tips

    • Label your tote! Lost luggage happens, especially with airline luggage. Clear packing tape to secure a paper labeled with name, address, and phone number works great - be sure to write clearly with a bold pen or sharpie. 
    • Secure your tote! Tape it well with heavy duty tape to secure the lid tightly to the body.

    Other Travel/Moving Packing Advice

    Perhaps you the reader like the idea of using a plastic tote to help with your next big more but still wonder what to do with those awkward items too bulky to fit into a plastic tote. Thankfully, airlines do have oversize and awkward luggage allowances, just check your particular airline for details. And if you do check an awkward item (gun, sports equipment, etc.), there are plenty of specialty travel case luggage options to choose from. But the other option that, perhaps, might make more sense is to ship these awkward items. In this case, it's difficult to say which method might be the cheapest. The flying option necessitates a special travel case, the shipping option necessitates a special box.

    Happy Toting!

    If you read the above header and mistook it for having the letter "o" twice, shame on you! If you mistook the second "t" for a "k," perhaps you've been in front of the computer screen for too long! Regardless, may your endeavors of checking a tote on an airline (or other prefered moving method) go smoothly and be free of any unnecessary hassle and headache - afterall, simply moving is work enough!

    Uhal Moving Truck - One Option for the Long Move
    Credit: public domain