United Airlines’ Odd New London Luggage Delivery Service

Filed Under: United

For many people, checked bags can be a big pain point of the travel experience. There’s the risk of your bag being lost, there’s the amount of time you’ll potentially spend waiting at the baggage carousel, etc.

New York to London is one of the world’s most competitive markets for premium passengers, and airlines are constantly looking to attract those paying the big bucks to fly this route in business class.

With that in mind, United is going to trial a new service at London Heathrow that seems sort of intriguing… though I’m not sure I totally get the motivation?

United Introduces Hotel Luggage Delivery For Polaris Passengers

As of November 1, 2019, United Airlines will be introducing a new service at London Heathrow. Specifically, if you’re flying United Polaris you can have your bag delivered to one of five Marriott hotels in London at no extra cost.

There are some basic things to be aware of:

  • Passengers will still need to claim their luggage, and then after clearing immigration and customs will go to United’s bag drop desk
  • The service is initially only valid for Newark to London flights, and the desk will be open from 6AM until 12PM
  • There’s no pre-registration required

So, what hotels are eligible?

  • JW Marriott Grosvenor House London
  • London Marriott Hotel Canary Wharf
  • London Marriott Hotel County Hall
  • Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
  • St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London

The Sheraton London is one of the hotels participating in the trial

My Take On This Initiative

Initially this is just a trial on United’s part. United’s VP of Loyalty suggests that this will be awesome and will be a game changer. Furthermore, it’s suggested that this could eventually be expanded to more airports, especially those with business travelers arriving early in the morning, who might be heading straight to the office or meetings.

However, there are several things that make me question the merit of this, and if we’ll ever see this on a widespread basis.

The first downside is that you still have to collect your bag, so you’re going to spend quite a while waiting, so there are no time savings there. It would be a real value-add if your bags could seamlessly be checked through to your hotel, though I recognize that customs and immigration might not be onboard with that.

Next, who are they really targeting with this? Those who would benefit from this most are:

  • Those taking the tube, where space comes at a premium, and schlepping a bag could be a pain; then again, I’m guessing most of the people dropping $5,000+ on tickets are using a car service or the Heathrow Express, where space is less of an issue
  • Most business travelers who are heading straight to meetings aren’t on long trips where they’re checking bags, but rather are likely just traveling with a carry-on, so wouldn’t benefit from this service
  • I could see this being useful for those who live in London and who are going straight to the office but want their bag delivered home, though this is limited to five hotels

Even if I would find this service useful in theory, I’m not sure I’d use it. This is just another opportunity for the airline to lose your bag, and at least when you lose a bag and have it delivered to your hotel, they give you a huge window for when your bag will arrive, which can be frustrating.

I also do wonder who is picking up the cost of this service. Were the Marriotts chosen because United has a partnership with Marriott, or are those hotels and United willing to split the cost, since the hotels hope that it will encourage people to stay with them?

United’s new Polaris seats, used on the Newark to London route

Bottom Line

I suppose this new initiative is better than nothing, though personally I would guess this won’t be expanded much, because this seems to be going after a very limited market.

This service could be hugely useful for leisure travelers on a long trip to Europe with checked bags. They know their hotel room won’t be ready until the afternoon, and want to sightsee without bags. Of course that’s not who United is going after, because that’s not all that lucrative of a market.

Most of the high yield passengers in the New York to London market that they’re trying to woo are on quick business trips without a checked bag, they’re not likely to be staying at one of five hotels, and chances are there wouldn’t even be that much value to this service if they were.

When it comes to innovations with checked bags, personally I’d much rather see United adopt the 20 minute baggage guarantees offered by Alaska and Delta, for example, which really show a respect for customers’ time.

So yeah, I’m not sure I totally get this. When I think of the high yield New York to London travelers who make this route so profitable, I don’t necessarily think of people checking bags and staying at one of five Marriott hotels in a city, which is very limiting.

Airlines are very frugal with how they invest money in the passenger experience, and personally I think there are ways that money could better be spent on Polaris passengers. But that’s just my take on this.

What do you make of this service? Would you like to see it expanded?

(Tip of the hat to Scott Mayerowitz)

  1. Well I thought it was odd at first but after reading that you have to claim your luggage first I think it’s perfect. Just travel with your carry-on, go through immigration, take your laptop and work stuff you need, check your carry-on at the bag drop and head to the office/meeting. When you arrive at your hotel, your carry-on is there. I wouldn’t want to have my carry-on with me all day when going to meetings…

  2. For individual business travelers, I dont see the attraction. For them, time is money so if they still have to wait for bags, unless they are going VFR-direct to an offsite meeting/function from the airport and want their bags to go to their hotel while they conduct business, I dont see it.

    The other possible scenario where this might work is if business travelers have more than one bag (with, for example, presentation material of some sort) it might ease the transition from airport to hotel – especially if the extra baggage is bulky.

  3. I disagree and think this is a very smart move on UA’s part. I used luggage delivery services all throughout Japan. Its super convenient and I can go about my day until its time to check in without having to lug my stuff around everywhere. Its especially great on family vacations. Just have everything delivered without wasting time traveling to the hotel, asking if I can drop luggage off, etc.

  4. Luggage forwarding services are commonly used in Japan, where taking public transport (ie. Buses/Trains) is far more common over taxis from airports and so hauling around large items of luggage is kind of not expected or frowned upon. It seemed odd to me at first, but I tried it on my last trip there as we had some really large suitcases and it worked a charm. It was a really nice service to be able to drop off our luggage at the desk in Haneda, go to our hotel at our leisure and have our luggage show up a short while after check-in.

  5. Ben, agree that it is annoying to still have to wait for the bags. However my guess would be that this is due to having to clear customs yourself.

  6. If you think of the time and money behind this programme and the set up involved, it just feels like a waste when so few people are going to benefit. Especially when United has plenty to improve. I feel like doing a refresher customer care course for a few dozen flight attendants would have benefitted many more passengers for a similar outlay!

  7. For a leisure traveler or some infrequent biz travelers, getting into London (or anywhere in Europe, really, involves a morning arrival and a schlep to a hotel that’s not usually ready to let you check in, followed by dropping your bags at the hotel before venturing out for shenanigans or work until such time as you can check-in. If your bags went straight to the hotel, you could easily bypass that extra trip to the hotel. I might even use this for my roll-aboard, actually, if it meant I could skip a trip and be gear free for my first hours in London.

  8. ”This is just another opportunity for the airline to lose your bag.”

    I believe this sums it up perfectly.

  9. There is a paid service ( .,or used to be..); I used it once on an early arrival: it was the final day of something I wanted to see at Kew; so I sent the bag off and went by Tube. Otherwise I wouldn’t have had time after waiting for hotel checkin. It worked well and wasn’t very expensive, IIRC.

  10. I’d be interested to see you review this to see how it works in practice.
    Would be great if you didnt have to pickup your bag, but I dont get it being valuable as is.

  11. The other thing about London is it has a number of highly-utilized arrivals lounges where a lot of business travelers stop to shower and freshen up before they head to the office. So having the luggage sent directly might actually be unappealing for that reason. But having the luggage delivery service integrated with the arrivals lounge experience might have some value, I guess.

  12. First off for arrivals in T2B, 99% of the time, the bags are on the carousel before you reach it yourself, so collecting you bag and wheeling it through Customs isn’t a pain. I can see that it would be useful going with your bag to the Arrivals Lounge, showering and changing and then getting your bag taken to your hotel so you can go to a meeting unencumbered would be an advantage. But it’s such a limited range of hotels that it’s difficult to see many people using it.

  13. It’s not free because Marriott typically costs more than other equivalent chain hotel names. I assume Marriott gets a kickback here.

    Anyway since I travel only ever with a carry-on, this is worthless to me. I prefer having my bags in my sight at all times.

  14. There is a company who serve LHR called Airportr who I use ALL The time. They’re excellent, for about £30 I hand my bag over to them at Heathrow once I’ve collected it and they transport it to wherever I am going, home, office, hotel etc… makes life so much easier. They also do it for outbound flights taking it from me wherever I am and checking it all the way through to my final destination.

  15. I wouldn’t be happy paying, even indirectly, for a service I would never use. And frankly, it sounds like more of a hassle than a benefit. Most of the time when I arrive at my hotel my room is available and if it isn’t, I drop my bag and continue with my day. I’d hate to be waiting around all day for my luggage to arrive getting stressed out that it’s lost or stolen. I don’t find it difficult to roll my bag to the curb or onto a train at European airports.

  16. @Betty London used to have in-town check-in at both Paddington (for the Heathrow Express) and at Victoria (for the Gatwick Express). This was shut down some time after 9/11. Not necessarily for security reasons, but because it could no longer be used for U.S. departures, which cut its usage significantly. I used it several times when flying AA out of LHR and LGW back in 2000-2001. It was a nice service.

  17. As for the United baggage delivery service, no thanks. As others have noted, another potential fail point in the system and I’d likely be in my room well ahead of my bag arriving, which would annoy me.

    Frankly, based on my experience living in London, logistics is not something the Brits do well. I wouldn’t trust it.

  18. You are also forgetting the last category of people who will find this service useful – those who cannot (or would rather not) move their luggage themselves. My grandparents use a service that picks up their bags at their home before they fly and ship them directly to their hotel wherever they are going because it’s too much work for them at their age to bring luggage and carry-ons.

  19. I occasionally fly to London on Business Class on United (not from Newark or NY), and never have a checked bag if I can avoid it. I never stay at Marriott properties when in London because there are alternatives that I prefer. However, I must disagree with the author who stated that Business Class travelers generally don’t take the Tube or perhaps the Paddington Express train; I always take one or the other, because it is generally faster than surface travel in from Heathrow on a Monday morning when my overnight flight lands. It is not too difficult to have a carry-on on the Tube, especially because when boarding at Heathrow , the cars are empty. It does get crowded when the train reaches central London, but it isn’t really that much of a hassle. While a Million-Miler and 1K with United, I don’t see that this service will be of benefit to me.

  20. I think Marriott has more to gain from this than United as I think it is unlikely someone would select UA over BA or whoever just because of luggage to hotel delivery. More likely that someone already flying polaris would be guided to Marriott for this. “Thank you for booking your London flight in Polaris. Now can I book you in a Marriott where you can have your luggage delivered for free from the airport” will be the Hertz speech for London flights.

  21. One thing massively wrong in this article – it DOESN’T have to be a checked bag. You can drop off your carry on if you want.

  22. As someone who travels with his parents fairly regularly I’m surprised you aren’t more open to the utility of this scheme for older/disabled travelers. Having spent 3 weeks in England recently with an aging sister who has trouble getting about, I would have jumped at the chance to say farewell to the luggage before the trek to Heathrow Express. However, I do have to concur that this will only be used by a limited category of travelers. There is no way we would have stayed at a Marriott in London just to get the free luggage transport. There are excellent services at Heathrow which already perform this service for a reasonable fee.

  23. I feel like with your site all you focus on is service, and the same airlines.
    I want more critique on airlines besides UA & AA.
    And Delta is just as bad as the rest, please start using the same analysis for their lousy service as well.

  24. I suppose it started off as a great idea on paper but ran into obstacles at the time of implementation.
    I suppose the Marriott is probably sponsoring this in some way and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are even executing the delivery by themselves.
    Wouldn’t it have been simpler to instead offer a chauffeur driven ride to Central London to high fare Polaris buckets and TOP Tier elite members? Doesn’t need to be as inclusive as Emirates.

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