When you travel with a bike, you have to choose how to do so. Will you ship your bike or fly with it? As a bicycle shipping service that was founded to help people adventure by bike, of course we here at BikeFlights are biased toward shipping. But we know that there are advantages and disadvantages to both shipping and flying a bike. In this article and YouTube video, we explore the pros and cons of these two options, so you can pick the one that’s best for your next trip.
Photo by Robert Barranco (FTGU)
Bike Shipping Pros
Let’s start with what makes bike shipping a great bike transport option.
1. Bike shipping is a convenient, door-to-door service. Schedule a pickup, and a driver will come get your packed bike from your ship-from location. At the end of its journey, your bike will be delivered directly to your ship-to location. Ship locations can be places such as your house, workplace, hotel, a friend’s house or a local bike shop.
2. You get to travel to and from the airport with no bike. That means you won’t have to source a ride on either end of your trip in a vehicle that’s large enough to fit your bike bag, case or box (and those of any traveling companions).
3. Life is easier once you get to the airport. You won’t have to figure out how to simultaneously juggle your carry-on, roller bag AND your bike bag, case or box. You may even be able to completely skip bag check-in lines if you’re not checking any luggage.
4. You stop worrying about whether your bike bag or box will actually make it onto the same plane(s) as you – a common capacity issue for small planes or for larger planes flying full. Delayed flights and tight connections are a lot less stressful when you don’t have to wonder if your bike will make the transfer, too.
5. You won’t have to figure out exactly to what special location in baggage claim you need to go to pick up your bike. And if you flew without any checked bags, you can completely skip bag claim, reducing your total time spent in the airport.
6. You’ll never have to drag your bike box or case up and down narrow stairs at airports, metro stations or train stations en route.
7. You can ship your bike in a box or hard or soft case.
8. You can include in your bike box or case items like spare wheels and parts and other bike-related gear, so you don’t have to figure out how to fit them in your luggage.
9. When you ship via ground service, you can even include items like your CO2 cartridges and tire sealant so you don’t have to purchase them again at your destination.
10. Your packed bike box or case can weight more than 50 pounds without significantly affecting your shipping cost.
11. You can purchase exactly the amount of Premium Protection (insurance) you want (up to $20,000) to cover your bike in the event of damage or loss.
13. And last but not least, you get to ride your own bike that’s set up just right for you!
Bike Shipping Cons
There are a few reasons you might decide not to ship your bike. These include the following:
1. You have to source a box or case prior to shipping. [Note: You can purchase a BikeFlights Bike Box and have it shipped directly to you to make this easier!]
2. You have to pack and assemble your bike or hire someone to do it for you [Note: See BikeFlights Bike Shop Finder for recommended local bike shops that offer this service.]
3. You will be without your bike while it ships – from the time you disassemble and pack it until you reassemble it. BikeFlights offers several shipping service speeds between one and five business days. Exact transit times depend on the shipping speed you choose.
4. Bikes can get accidentally damaged or lost when you ship them. Shipping carrier loss or damage issue rates are 1-2%. [Note: BikeFlights offers Premium Protection amounts available for purchase up to $20,000 to cover the full market value of your bike.
Photo by Robert Barranco (FTGU)
Flying Your Bike Pros
Taking your bike on the plane with you is another option for many travelers. Let’s take a look at the advantages of flying with your bike.
1. You and your bike will (hopefully) only be apart while you are flying.
2. Some airlines will count your packed bike as a checked bag if it is small enough and light enough.
3. You get to ride your own bike that’s set up just right for you.
Flying With Your Bike Cons
There are a few reasons you might decide not to fly with your bike. Here are some of them:
1. You have to source a box or case prior to flying.
2. You have to pack and assemble your bike or hire someone to do it for you.
3. Your packed bike box or case can’t weigh more than 50 pounds without being subject to additional fees, and these vary by airline.
4. Your packed bike box or case may be subject to additional luggage fees if it is above a certain size, and these vary by airline.
5. Airline insurance coverage amounts for bikes is limited and varies by airline. The maximum amount of coverage according the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is $3,800. Available coverage amounts are often less than the value of your bike. Some airlines also won’t cover any damage if you fly with your bike in a soft case.
6. Bikes can get damaged or lost when you fly with them. Airline loss or damage issue rates are 4-6%.
7. You can’t check an e-bike (with its battery) on a commercial aircraft. You would have to remove your e-bike battery, leave your battery at home, then rent or borrow a battery for your e-bike while at your destination.
For many budget-conscious travelers, cost is an important consideration in deciding whether to ship or fly with a bike. So how does the price of shipping a bike compare to the costs of flying a bike?
The answer depends on the size and weight of the box or case you’re shipping or flying, where your bike is going to and from and what carrier you are using for shipping or flying.
When you ship a bike, you always know exactly how much your shipment will cost at the time you book, including shipping rate, pickup fees, customs & clearance fees (if applicable) and insurance.
In contrast, you often don’t know exactly what most airlines are going to charge you (no matter what it says on their websites). The amount you are charged can depend on each airline’s policy, your frequent flier status, your airline credit card (if you have one), the size and weight of your bike case and sometimes even the generosity of the person checking you in. It’s not uncommon for airline passengers to pay different amounts for flying with their bike on the way there vs. on the way back.
When comparing the costs of shipping vs. flying with a bike, be sure to consider the total cost of both options. Factor in, for example, any additional costs associated with larger rental or for-hire (Uber, Lyft, taxis, shuttles, etc.) vehicles needed to transport your bikes to or from the airport, especially if you are traveling in a group.