How I pack wine for plane travel

Recently I reported on US customs duties and that we carried 23 bottles with us on the plane.

In the comments section, bravawine asked how we got that packed.

Here is how we do it: We make sure to travel lightly on clothing when we travel to wine country. My wife’s favorite thing in the world are tank tops, and they are awesomely light and can be brought to good use when packing wine. We now know that we can get about 12 bottles into one suitcase and still hit the 50 lbs. mark for luggage on economy tickets.

The key for me is that the bottles stay in a wine box, and that they have no way to move in the box. To that end, we wrap up each bottle in a tank top or t-shirt or any other piece of clothing that fits. German wine cases are usually 6 bottle cases, but you can also get 12 bottle cases at the wineries. Each bottle wrapped up, we put them in the box, make sure they do not move, and then tape the box shut tightly. Then, it is pretty much impossible that the bottles can move and thereby hit each other in the box. The box goes into the suitcase and is secured the straps inside the suitcase, or you put bigger items around it to secure it.

I have also done that with less bottles (2 or 3) which I pack into cardboard wine gift boxes, the same principle applies: wrap the wine in a thin layer of clothing, make sure the wine cannot move, tape the box shut and put it in the suitcase.

A friend of mine has been bringing us wine lately when he travels to Germany. His baggage allowance gives him two free pieces of luggage. A case of 12 bottles weighs between 45 and 50 lbs, so it is the perfect size. He, again, wraps the bottles in clothing and then puts them in a shipping box which he checks as a piece of luggage. We have not had a bottle broken yet.

It is really easy to travel with 8-9 bottles, because that way you can still store clothing in the suitcase. I am convinced that the key is that the bottles cannot move. That is why I do not just wrap them up in clothing and store them in the suitcase. Any clothing that could not be used for wrapping goes in the small carry on suitcase.

Hope that helps!

How do you go about that when you travel? Curious to see whether there are simpler methods…

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16 thoughts on “How I pack wine for plane travel

  1. J Klein says:

    Very intrigued about your wine-toting abilities. I’ve always mistakenly thought I was only allowed one bottle; so will give this a go on my next Germany trip. I’m guessing that you have a hard-sided suitcase. Question- Do I dare try this with a soft-sided suitcase?

    • Thanks for commenting! It really is my wife who is the master packer here. :) We actually use soft-sided suitcases, too. The key is to get them into a box or something else that stabilizes them and prevents them from moving around. Then clothing on top and below and around.

      What we have been doing lately is to simply travel with carry on luggage and then acquire a shipping box (for 15 bottles) from a winery we visit. They usually have shipping boxes. We then use the box as our checked luggage. Has worked very well for the last five trips.

  2. […] Executive Summary (09/22/13): In case you got here through a search engine and are wandering how much wine you can bring into the United States from anywhere in the world my answer is this: As much as you can carry. The duty free allowance is one liter, which means one bottle. But, that is only the duty free allowance which means you have to pay no import duty on that amount. The thing is that US import duties on wine are very low, under $5 per gallon, which means less than $1 per bottle. So what you do is: Take as much as you can, declare it on your customs form, tell the agent that you have something to declare, and then they will most likely wave you through (we’ve brought 12 bottles per person many times and never had to pay anything). Good luck and safe travels! If you are wondering how to pack the wine, this is my post on how I do it. […]

    • Mrs. Frankie Beckwith says:

      June 2013, on our way home from our first trip to Italy, my husband and I had an expensive bottle of Italian wine, securely packed (non-opaques, non-metallic and non-ceramic packing) in my carry-on.
      At our re-entry into the United States (DCA), that bottle was confiscated. Of course I was furious, but there was nothing I could do UNLESS I wanted to risk missing my flight on into DFW by going to the ticket counter and checking my carry-on as luggage.

      Was this just a fluke or did I do something wrong?
      We are going back to Italy and I’m hoping to bring back a case or more.

      thank you,
      frankie

      • Hi Frankie, I am so sorry to hear about this. However, the rules have been really clear for many years now: No liquids in your carry-on over these minuscule amounts they allow. You have to check these bottles, there is no way around it. You can either ask the winemakers for a normal wine box, wrap shirts around the bottles, and put the box in the suitcase (just make sure their tight, just as I describe in the post linked to above). Or you can ask whether you can buy shipping boxes, and then pack those and check them as luggage. We’ve been checking bottles as luggage over ten times now…and don’t forget to declare the wines! Good luck on your next trip!!

        • Frankie Beckwith says:

          thank you so much for the response. I knew this, but based on what I had read before hand, believed that since I purchased that bottle at a duty-fee shop (leftover euros) I’d be fine. From what I’ve read, when checking as luggage, it takes a specific type of box; not the typical heavy-cardboard w/styrofoam inserts. C If I choose this method of checking as luggage, can you tell me what to look for or specifically what type of box? I’ve read that it must be a wooden shipping box.

          thank you. frankie

          • Yeah, I know, one would think. But the US just loves to come up with weird rules and enforce them mercilessly. All we can do is play by their rules. You have two options, like I said: Either a normal wine box (cardboard), and proceed as described above. Or ask a winemaker or a shop to sell you a wine shipping box (I use cardboard) for up to 15 bottles (15 wine bottles are slightly under the weight limit for checked luggage). Wrap the bottles in bubble wrap and/or t-shirts, and then check the box as luggage. The airline will likely warn you that they take no responsibility for the box, since it’s not normal luggage. The third option is to wrap the bottles individually in clothes and put them in a suitcase. You HAVE to pack the suitcase tightly then. Hope this helps.

            • Frankie Beckwith says:

              yes; this helps. I’ve had no problems at US airports checking cases (cardboard boxes w/styrofoam inserts) of wine. And since losing that one very expensive (and probably very good bottle) I’d hate to lose an entire case or two. All other sites state I must pack in a wooden box. When the time comes to pack for home, I’ll wing it. But I do like the idea of just bringing an empty box with inserts.

              thank you so much for your help.

              frankie

  3. Just brought back 17 bottles from Paris with no fees/tax. Declared the wine as its monetary value (not the number of bottles) and no one batted an eye. We always take a styrofoam shipper with us (we check it in empty on the way there) and then wrap each individual bottle in bubble wrap (that we also brought with us). Then tape it up and check it for the return trip. Any extra bottles we double wrap in clothes and put those in our suitcases.

  4. ponotet says:

    I agree that the key is that the bottles shouldn’t move. I used to bring a lot of wines back to Thailand but the biggest problem for me was not the packing but the tax and duty. You see, tax plus duty for wine to Thailand is around 400%. :(

  5. delpiero1234 says:

    How expensive was the import tax? I think I red it on one of your previous blog posts but forgot..

    • The customs duty should have been $3.45 per gallon of wine, that is 3.78 liters. So for 5 bottles. The customs guys did not bother to collect it despite the fact that we declared the wine. :)

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