Courier travel can work to the advantage of the lone traveler with patience and endurance to spare. But flying as a courier is not the incredible bargain that some consumers imagine.
It's not free, as it sometimes was a decade ago. If you're flexible and you travel light, it could be a way to save as much as 50% on overseas air fares. But demand for courier tickets has risen, and discount travel agencies have gotten more competitive, so there's not always much difference between a courier fare and a discounted transatlantic or transpacific ticket. Also, the number of companies using couriers out of Los Angeles has dwindled in recent years. San Francisco and New York both have more courier operations.
Couriers are used when express delivery companies need to get shipments (often paperwork) from Point A to Point B internationally. The most secure way often is to have those shipments travel as passenger baggage rather than as air freight.
Courier fares usually are round trip between major business cities, often in the $400 to $500 range for Europe or Asia, twice that for Australia. 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 the courier is restricted to carry-on luggage since the company uses the allotted baggage space in the cargo hold.
Couriers usually are required to sign a contract and are sometimes asked to put up a refundable deposit to ensure that the task is carried out responsibly. Some companies require a $35 to $50 fee from couriers flying with them for the first time.
Among the most common destinations for West Coast courier flights: Australia, England, France, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Venezuela.
From Los Angeles (LAX):
Air Cargo Partners, 1983 Marcus Ave., Lake Success, NY 11042; telephone (516) 358-2025, fax (516) 358-1835. Destination: London, via Virgin Atlantic. Fare: $545 through June 15. Companion fares $599. Courier is allowed two check-in bags and one carry-on.
East West Express, P.O. Box 300849, JFK Airport Station, Jamaica, NY 11430; tel. (516) 536-2112, fax (516) 536-2299. Destinations: Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia. Fare: $950 through the end of May. No credit cards. Carry-on baggage only.
Jupiter Air, 460 S. Hindry Ave., Inglewood, CA 90301; tel. (310) 670-5123, fax (310) 670-0621, Internet http://www.jupiterair.com. Destinations: Bangkok, Seoul. Fare: $400 to $450. One check-in bag, one carry-on allowed. Deposit of $100 (money order or cashier's check) refunded to courier upon return. First-time fee $35.
From San Francisco (SFO):
Air Cargo Partners, 1983 Marcus Ave., Lake Success, NY 11042; tel. (516) 358-2025, fax (516) 358-1835. Destination: London, via Virgin Atlantic. Fare: $545 through June 15. Companion fares $599. One carry-on, two check-in bags allowed.
Jupiter Air, 839 Hinckley Road, Burlingame, CA 94010; tel. (650) 697-1773, fax (650) 697-7892, Internet http://www.jupiterair.com. Destinations: Manila, Singapore. Fare: $400 to $450. Refundable deposit of $100 (Singapore) or $250 (Manila). First-time fee $35. Baggage allowances vary.
UTL Travel, 320 Corey Way, South San Francisco, CA 94080; tel. (650) 583-5074, fax (650) 583-9420. Destinations: Manila, Singapore. Fare: $435 to $485. Refundable deposit $100. First-time fee of $35 in some cases. One check-in and one carry-on bag allowed.