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Courier Flights
The Air Courier Path to Cheap Travel (page 1)

Carry documents for an international shipping company, and save about half off of your airfare? It sounds too good to be true. But it happens every day, and has been going on now for about 30 years. Once you have flown as a courier, you may never pay regular over-the-counter fares again.

Courier flights have always had a cult-like popularity among the savviest of travelers. Yet courier travel is now becoming almost mainstream. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal reports that travelers can cut the cost of international flights by 50 to 85 percent by taking advantage of courier flights.

When word first got out about air courier flights, insiders worried that their secret gravy-train of cheap airfares would be derailed. There were few courier flights available, and increased passenger demand would overwhelm the supply of cheap seats. This was in the mid-Eighties. Rather than dying out, courier opportunities have increased dramatically. A flock of new courier firms and brokers sprouted in the late Eighties, and the larger companies are still expanding their networks as of mid-1994. Business depends more and more each year on guaranteed overnight shipping, so the need for couriers should do nothing but increase continuously for the foreseeable future.

According to U.S. News & World Report, about 25,000 courier flights depart American cities each year. Similar patterns exist in Europe and the Pacific Rim, so the true number of courier opportunities in a given year may approach 100,000 flights. In short, there are plenty of courier flights available for those who know how to sign up for them.

What is a Courier?

An air courier is a person who delivers packages for companies that are in the international overnight shipping business. Typically, the courier must give up his checked baggage allowance for the shipping company's mailbags. In exchange, the courier gets a free or discounted air ticket.Why

Do the Courier Companies Do It?

We've all heard about those international air freight services, the ones that promise to deliver your package to any place in the world, "overnight, guaranteed!" These companies, (Federal Express, DHL, etc.) tend to handle an enormous volume of parcels, especially from one regional center to another. So it is usually cost-effective for them to use their own planes to carry the shipment.

But when a company has only a few letters (or at most a couple of mailbags) to send, it is not cost-effective to fly a whole 747 to a distant city. Instead, the shipping service turns the packages over to an air courier company.

Courier companies are the clearing houses of the express shipping business. They handle the small quantities of overnight freight that the big shipping companies don't want to deal with. Because overnight shipping is in great demand, courier services deliver at least a few items every day to the cities they specialize in.

Commercial airline seats are the cheapest way to move small quantities of freight, quickly. An advance purchase airfare (which allows the passenger to check 44 pounds [20 kg] of luggage) is relatively inexpensive. And on days when there is more than 44 pounds of freight, the firm can check the rest as excess baggage, and it will still get on the plane with the passenger. Further, upon arrival in a foreign country, passenger baggage is handled faster than cargo. The edge may only be an hour or two, but that can be the difference between overnight and second-day delivery. Largely for this reason, courier companies reserve airline space every day of the week to each of their destination cities.

Of course, courier companies could still use the freight service that all major airlines provide. But there is another problem. All packages must go through customs at the destination country. Unattended packages tend to languish in a customs warehouse somewhere (sometimes for days), until the local customs officials finally get around to inspecting them. If, however, a package is accompanied through the airport as the luggage of a responsible individual traveler, it clears customs almost immediately.

This is where you and I come in: courier companies need individuals like us to accompany their mailbags through customs. They have to get the packages from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. In fact, they need us so badly that they willingly pay about half of our airfare! In exchange, they get to use part or all of our checked baggage allowance.

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