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 on 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 are sometimes asked to put up a deposit, to be refunded upon completion of the round trip. (Some companies require a $35 to $50 payment the first time you fly with them each year.) Fares may include airport departure tax.
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: Australia, England, France, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Venezuela.
East West Express, P.O. Box 300849, JFK Airport Station, Jamaica, NY 11430; telephone (718) 656- 6246, fax (718) 656-6247. Destinations from LAX: Auckland, New Zealand; and Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. Fare range: $750 to $850. Check-in luggage permitted on return flight to U.S.
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. Destinations from LAX: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manila and Seoul. Fare range: $400 to $495. $500 deposit refunded upon return.
Jupiter Air, 460 S. Hindry Ave., Suite D, Inglewood, CA 90301; tel. (310) 670-1197 or 1198 or 5123, fax (310) 649-2771, Internet http://www.jupiterair.com. Destinations from LAX: Bangkok, Seoul. Fare range: $350 to $450. One check-in bag (up to 65 pounds) and one carry-on allowed. Deposit of $100 (money order or cashier's check) refunded to courier upon return. $35 first-time fee.
Now Voyager, 74 Varick St., Suite 307, New York, NY 10013; tel. (212) 431-1616, fax (212) 219-1753, Internet http://www.nowvoyagertravel.com. Destinations from LAX: Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. Fare range: $699 to $1,099. Registration fee $50, good for one year. Refundable deposit $100 (personal check).
VEX Wholesale Express, 1983 Marcus Ave., Lake Success, NY 11042; tel. (516) 358-2025, fax (516) 358-1835. Destination from LAX: London. Fare: $529 through May 31. Courier is allowed two check-in bags and one carry-on.
International Bonded Couriers (IBC Pacific), 5793 W. Imperial Highway, Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, CA 90045; tel. (310) 665-1760, fax (310) 665-0247. Destination from SFO: Bangkok. Fare range: $400 to $495. Deposit of $500 refunded upon return.
Jupiter Air, 839 Hinckley Road, Suite A, Burlingame, CA 94010; tel. (650) 697-1773, fax (650) 697-7892, Internet http://www.jupiterair.com. Destinations from SFO: Manila, Singapore. Fare range: $400 to $450. Refundable deposit of $250 for Manila, $100 for Singapore. Registration fee $35, good for five years. Courier may check one bag to Singapore and two to Manila.
UTL Travel, 320 Corey Way, South San Francisco, CA 94080; tel. (650) 583-5074, fax (650) 583-9420. Destinations from SFO: Manila, Singapore. Fare range: $400 to $435. Refundable deposit $100. First-time fee of $35 may apply. Luggage allowance varies by airline.
VEX Wholesale Express, 1983 Marcus Ave., Lake Success, NY 11042; tel. (516) 358-2025, fax (516) 358-1835. Destination from SFO: London. Fare: $529 through May 31. Courier is allowed two check-in bags and one carry-on.