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Backpack & Budget

From Here to There for Next to Nothing

June 02, 1996|LUCY IZON

If you can be flexible, you may be able to wander throughout North America and travel abroad cheaply, using courier flights and drive-away services.

The International Assn. of Air Travel Couriers (IAATC) acts as a clearing house on information about companies that will offer consumers discounted air fares in return for use of their luggage space. IAATC monitors more than 60 courier companies worldwide. Travelers who join (there's a $45 annual fee) are kept informed of available flights and prices on a daily basis.

The courier companies need the luggage space to transport time-sensitive items, such as replacement parts for broken machinery. As a courier you carry the item, which helps them clear the items through customs within minutes of arrival.

Usually the items are not valuable enough to require a courier to be bonded, so members of the public can be used. Generally you must be over 21 (there are some exceptions), have a valid passport and a suitable appearance (don't count on wearing jeans, shorts or a T-shirt). The company you work with may require that you don't drink alcohol before or during the flight.

In the March/April edition of the 60-page IAATC Bulletin, available round-trip courier flights included: London to Tel Aviv, with a seven-day stay for $267; Miami to Quito, Ecuador, for $250 (the traveler could stay four to 30 days); Hong Kong to Bangkok for $103 (with a stay of up to 14 days); and San Francisco to Bangkok (with a stay of up to two weeks) for $370. One of the most surprising deals listed was a day return flight from Paris to Milan or Geneva that was available for free to travelers age 18 to 25.

Couriers are used on flights departing from the North American cities of New York, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Canadian flights are sparse, but some couriers are used on flights from Toronto and Montreal to London, from Montreal to Paris and from Vancouver to Hong Kong and London.

You can also look for a flight while abroad. Foreign courier departure points include cities in England, Australia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Venezuela. They fly into 57 foreign destinations.

IAATC advises that last-minute flights usually offer the best discounts. They keep their members informed through daily last-minute updates by fax or computer modem on a 24-hour online computer system.

In addition to the bulletin, which lists hundreds of opportunities and gives details on rates and requirements (a few companies charge a first-time user fee), members also receive the Shoestring Traveler, a courier travel newsletter that contains reports and advice from fellow couriers about their experiences.

For more details, contact IAATC at P.O. Box 1349, Lake Worth, FL 33460; telephone (407) 582-8320.

Courier flights are not available for domestic travel, and they are only a good deal for foreign travel if you have some way of getting to the appropriate gateway. For covering long distances inexpensively in North America, an option worth considering is a drive-away service.

Drive-away companies team up drivers with people who need their cars delivered. If you don't have your own transportation, it can be a way of covering long distances for just the cost of fuel.

For example, Auto Driveaway, which has 75 offices in the United States and Canada and has arranged 45,000 deliveries per year, will use travelers who are licensed and at least 21 years of age.

You must put down a deposit of $250-$350 (depending on your departure point). Before you set off, a condition report is done on the car, and any damage is noted so that you won't be held responsible for it at the end of the trip.

You're given a free full tank of gas to start (on average that will get you the first 400 miles), and you're expected to travel about 400 miles per day, driving between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. You may be able to arrange to use some extra miles for a short detour to a key tourist site en route, but this is determined in advance with the concurrence of the car owner. It may also be possible for you to break your journey by delivering one car to a city partway along your route, then picking up a second vehicle after your visit and continuing on.

When you deliver the car, a second condition report is done, and if everything is satisfactory your deposit will be refunded. You'll probably get your money by check and the office will direct you to a bank (usually within walking distance) where the checks can be cashed.

If there is a breakdown en route, drivers are authorized to spend up to $100 on repairs. For more expensive problems they must call their company contact for permission. In the case of a wreck, the deposit is held until responsibility is established by police report.

You can find these companies by looking in your telephone directory under automobile and truck transportation. Auto Driveaway Co. can be contacted at (800) 346-2277.

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