Traveling as an air courier can save you hundreds of dollars on your next international flight. Betsy Stevens, a professor at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, details the ups and downs of traveling as an air courier in a new 51-page guide titled "How To Travel as an Air Courier."
"I'm a firm believer of the old adage 'you get what you pay for,' but this is an exception," Stevens said of traveling as an air courier. "It is a great opportunity to see much of the world at bargain prices."
Traveling as an air courier, Stevens saved close to $1,300 on a round-trip ticket from New York City to Hong Kong, $2,500 on a round-trip ticket from New York City to Bangkok and $800 on a round-trip ticket from New York City to Caracas.
An air courier, also known as freelance courier or casual courier, is an individual who carries documents on international flights for a courier company. Using air couriers enables courier companies to check packages through as luggage which is often cheaper and more expedient than shipping material as cargo which can sometimes take days to clear customs.
"It's a quick way to get mail and other goods to a company or individual overnight," Stevens said. As an air courier on a trip to Tokyo, Stevens accompanied computer software and international mail for a major U.S. advertising company.
The chief benefit to traveling as an air courier is the sharply reduced air fare. Savings as high as 80 percent can be found on various routes. As an air courier, Stevens paid $579 for a round-trip ticket from New York City to Bangkok in 1995, compared to the ticketed fare of $3,049. Her trip to Hong Kong in 1994 would have cost her close to $2,000, but as an air courier Stevens paid only $740.
"These are terrific savings and well worth the minor inconveniences one encounters in traveling as an air courier," she said. In most cases air couriers are prohibited from checking any baggage on a flight, which means you will only be permitted to board with carry-on luggage. Also, someone traveling as an air courier will have a less flexible travel schedule. Flights carrying air couriers are not as frequent and seats tend to be limited.
"You need to be ready to travel when the courier company has tickets available," Stevens said. Most courier companies require at least a seven-day stay on round-trip tickets.
Reservations can be made as much as two weeks in advance, but often the best deals are available within 24 hours of departure. Payment for tickets, in most cases, is required in advance of receiving the tickets.
"The courier company wants to make sure that you will be at the airport, because you are the person who's making it possible to get this cargo on its way," Stevens said, noting that exchanges or refunds usually are not granted. In most cases, individuals receive their tickets from the airline reservation clerk or air courier agent upon arrival at the airport. At that time, the courier company will give the air courier the paperwork for the materials being shipped. "From then on it's as if you are traveling as any other passenger," Stevens said.
A frequent question that usually gets posed to freelance air couriers like Stevens is how does one know the packages they are escorting are not contraband?
"You never touch the package; there's no responsibility on your part for its contents," Stevens said. "Courier companies are legitimate shipping businesses that must adhere to all airline regulations." Packages shipped by courier companies are examined by customs and require proper documentation.
Stevens did take a peak inside an unsealed manifest during her flight to Bangkok. Inside the packages were receipts for dancing shoes, corporate software, New Guinea impatiens and corporate mail.
Traveling as an air courier, Stevens contends, is still something of a well-kept secret. "Some people don't know this is an option," she said. "That's why I wanted to write this guide, so those who are willing to be flexible travelers can find terrific savings."
Industry estimates say that more than 40,000 international flights a year carry air couriers.
Stevens' guide also offers information on how to use the Internet to find good airfare values. Some airlines, she writes, post last-minute deep-discounted fares on their web pages.
How to Travel as an Air Courier (Finger Lakes Press, 1997) is available for $8.95 by writing Finger Lakes Press at 162 Westview Lane, Ithaca, N.Y. 14850
Note: This release was originally posted in 1997. Since then, Finger Lakes Press has ceased to exist.