Would you like to travel the world on a shoestring budget? You can, if
you live in a major urban center and don't mind doing a small errand on your
trip! It's called being an "air courier."
Here's how it works. Courier companies often have to ship small packages
(usually just documents) overseas. These packages are more likely to get to
their destinations on time if they travel as passenger baggage -- rather than
The courier company can't just buy a seat on the plane and use up the baggage
space that is allotted to that seat. This is where the budget traveler comes
in. In exchange for giving up your baggage space, you can fly for as little
as half what it would usually cost you.
In exchange for the cheap flight, there are certain sacrifices a courier
traveler has to make.
- Air couriers may take only carry-on luggage
- They must be prepared to travel alone, unless their travelling companion
buys a regular ticket for the same flight
- They must meet with courier reps briefly on either side to pick up and
drop off packages
- They must be willing to be flexible about their return date
- Air couriers must be at the airport a few hours in advance of departure
Air courier trips usually last from one week to 30 days and savings range
from a 50 percent discount to free flights, depending on how urgently the
company needs a courier.
"Basically, it's a one-time contract with a courier company. They need
someone to walk their cargo through customs and it's cheaper for them to pay
part of an airfare than to hire people full time to do this," says Mark Chadwick,
a courier traveler.
There are some restrictions, but experts say they don't mean much when
you consider you can get from Los Angeles to London, round trip, for as low
"You travel light, but that's actually a bonus because you always tend
to overpack anyway. Besides, who can argue with $250?" says Carrie Clement,
a courier traveler who recently flew from the Big Apple to Paris.
Once the flight is over, a courier traveler is free to enjoy the destination.
However, courier travelers are responsible for food and accommodation once
Since most courier companies are based in big cities and most packages
are destined for other big cities, your departures and destinations are limited.
Most flights leave through Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Chicago.
The most common courier destinations are England, Australia, France, Germany,
Hong Kong, Guatemala, Japan, and Taiwan, with the fastest growing destinations
Not everyone is cut out to be an air courier. First of all, you must be
over 21 (some companies specify only 18), have a valid passport and be responsible.
You also have to have a flexible schedule and an adventurous attitude.
"Being a courier is best for people who are good travelers. Since the company
makes no other arrangements for you besides the air travel and takes no responsibility
for you, you're on your own in a foreign country," says Taku Otsuka, a courier
Courier flights are best suited to people who can travel light and who
don't have any special requirements. It may not be the best way for those
with disabilities to fly.
In exchange for your cheap flight, the courier company may also charge
you an annual registration fee (around $50) and a deposit, to make sure you
fulfill your obligations (usually about $100 to $200).
Despite the inconveniences, there are many people who are willing to bend
a little when it comes to getting a cheap flight.
"For experienced, adventurous travelers, this is the best way to travel
to your favorite country," says Otsuka.
Once a courier becomes known to a company, they may have a chance to work
for that company in another capacity. As employees, they may arrange trips
for couriers or meet couriers at their destinations. The travel experience
air couriers gain may also give them an opportunity to work as a tour or travel
Thinking about an air courier adventure? First of all, make sure you have
an up-to-date passport. You won't get far without it!
Ask around and see if anyone you know has done this before. Experienced
courier travelers can offer really good advice.
Check travel magazines and the travel section of the newspaper for advertisements
on courier travel. Experts warn there are some disreputable companies out
there. Stick to established courier companies. Names like Now Voyager, World
Courier, Halbart and Jupiter Air come up often. Even call the Better Business
Bureau if you're suspicious.
Once you've looked into courier companies and destinations, you should
probably book your trip a month or two in advance if you can.
"Most of the time, the couriers like you to arrange your trip a couple
months in advance," says Clement.
You might want to join a courier association which can help you in your
search for discount travel. Membership fees range from about $50 to $100.
Finally, experts warn you shouldn't take your responsibilities as a courier
"If you're someone who's thinking of taking this trivially, please don't
fly. It will make things worse for the rest of us," says Mark Chadwick.
Finally, note that this is a business. While there are organizations called
associations, they are really businesses who charge you for information to
link you up with flights.
Air Courier Association
203-15000 W. 6th Ave.
The Courier Air Travel Handbook,
Air Courier Bargains,
FAQ: The Air Traveller's Handbook
Everything you need to know about flying
The Air Courier Directory
A list of companies that use air couriers
Air Courier FAQ
From the author of a book on the subject of air courier services