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How to Fly as a Courier: An Update on a Cheap Way to See the World

March 29, 1998|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

Not much in the world of travel works to the benefit of the single, spur-of-the-moment traveler. Courier travel is the exception. It's no longer free (as it was for some a decade ago) but it remains a good way for a flexible traveler to save as much as 50% on overseas air fares, and it's a strategy that's far easier on solo adventurers than couples.

Couriers are needed because express-delivery companies are paid to get shipments (often paperwork) from Point A to Point B internationally, and the cheapest, most secure way often is to have those shipments travel as passenger baggage rather than as air freight. Thus companies rely on "casual couriers" to fill the airline seats.

Courier fares (often in the $400 to $500 range) usually are round trip, and there are several catches: Routes lead only to major business cities; to get the best bargains, a courier must be prepared to fly on a few days' notice and to accept limitations on the timing of the return trip; often you may bring only carry-on luggage (because the courier company is using the space that would go to your bags in the cargo hold).

Couriers usually are required to sign a contract and sometimes asked to put up a deposit, to be refunded upon completion of the round trip.

Courier flights leave North America principally through gateway cities: Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Among the most common destinations: England, Australia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Venezuela.

LOS ANGELES

International Bonded Couriers (IBC Pacific), 5793 W. Imperial Highway, Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, CA 90045; telephone (310) 665-1760, fax (310) 665-0247. Courier contact: Yolanda (call 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri.). Destinations from LAX: Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Manila and Seoul.

Length of stay (one to three weeks) determined by destination and departure date. Book up to three months in advance. Courier carries documents both ways and signs courier contract. $500 deposit refunded upon return.

Halbart Express, 1000 W. Hillcrest Blvd., Inglewood, CA 90301; tel. (310) 417-3048. Courier contact: Greg (call 10 a.m.-4 p.m.). Destinations from LAX: London; Sydney, Australia; Manila.

Book flights up to three months in advance; London and Manila flights fill fastest. No credit cards accepted.

East West Express, P.O. Box 300849, JFK Airport Station, Jamaica, NY 11430; tel. (718) 656-6246, fax (718) 656-6247. Courier contact: Tracy Arato. Destinations from LAX: Auckland, New Zealand; and Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns, Australia. No credit cards accepted. No deposit required. Book flights up to two months in advance. Courier can receive frequent-flier credit on Qantas. Carry-on luggage only on outbound flight from U.S.

Jupiter Air, 460 S. Hindry Ave., Unit D, Inglewood, CA 90301; tel. (310) 670-1197 or 1198 or 5123, fax (310) 649-2771. Courier contact: Grace (call 10 a.m.-3 p.m.). Destinations from LAX: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul and Singapore.

Courier carries documents both ways. Book up to two months in advance. One checked bag and one carry-on allowed. Requires a $100 deposit (money order or cashier's check) refunded to courier upon return, and a $35 sign-up fee the first time you fly with them. No credit cards.

Now Voyager, 74 Varick St., Suite 307, New York, NY 10013; tel. (212) 431-1616 (call 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m.). Destinations from LAX: Auckland, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia.

Now Voyager charges an additional $50 fee the first time you fly with them each year. Book up to two months in advance. Generally carry-on luggage only. They also require a refundable deposit of $100 in the form of a personal check.

VEX Wholesale Express, 149-32 132nd St., Jamaica, NY 11430; tel. (718) 529-6814, fax (718) 529-6817. Courier contact: Leslie or Jannette (7 a.m.-3 p.m.) Destination from LAX: London.

No minimum stay required. Courier is allowed two check-in bags and one carry-on. All flights are round trip. Bookings up to six weeks in advance. All prices include departure taxes.

SAN FRANCISCO

International Bonded Couriers, 5793 W. Imperial Highway, Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, CA 90045; tel. (310) 665-1760, fax (310) 665-0247. Courier contact: Yolanda (call 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Fri.). Destinations from SFO: Bangkok and Manila.

Courier must carry documents both ways and sign courier contract. Carry-on bags only. $500 deposit refunded upon return.

Jupiter Air, 839 Hinckley Road, Suite A, Burlingame, CA 94010; tel. (650) 697-1773 (call 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.), fax (415) 697-7892. Courier contacts: Joy (ext. 213) or Sherill (ext. 216). Destinations from SFO: Beijing, Singapore, Manila, Bangkok and London.

Jupiter requires a $100 deposit on London, Beijing and Singapore; $250 for Bangkok and Manila. Also requires a $35 registration fee, good for five years. In some cases, couriers can check baggage. Bookings up to two months in advance.

VEX Wholesale Express, 149-32 132nd St., Jamaica, NY 11430; tel. (718) 529-6814, fax (718) 529-6817. Courier contact: Leslie or Jannette (7 a.m.-3 p.m.). Destinations from SFO: London.

No minimum stay required. Courier is allowed two check-in bags and one carry-on. All flights are round trip. Bookings up to six weeks in advance. All prices include departure taxes.

UTL Travel, 320 Corey Way, South San Francisco, CA 94080; tel. (650) 583-5074, fax (650) 583-9420. Courier contact: Grace or Rosella (call 9 a.m.-6 p.m.). Destinations from SFO: Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, London and Beijing.

Do not call UTL for last-minute flight availability. Courier carries documents both ways. Bookings up to two months in advance. Most flights require a $100 refundable deposit, but figure $250 for Bangkok and Manila. A $35 first-time reservation fee is charged, plus $20 departure tax. Luggage allowances vary by destination. UTL Travel is a courier broker for Jupiter Air.

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