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Courier Flights
The Secret of Flying Free (page 3)

Courier companies usually charge you about half of the coach fare for your flight. However, sometimes a courier cancels his reservation at the last minute. This puts the courier company in a real bind, but it can be a real opportunity for you.

When someone cancels more than two days before the flight, the company will try to sell the seat, often at a hefty discount (Look for companies who offer last minute discounts in the courier listings, below).

In the end, someone must accompany those mailbags. The company wants to avoid sending an employee, because it would have to pay for his wages, hotel, and meals while he is abroad.

Instead, the company will cut its losses, and send an independent courier for free! To get in on this deal, you must be willing to fly on less than 48-hours notice. These offers happen frequently. Sometimes you have to be lucky and call them at the right time in order to take advantage of a cancellation that just occured. Other companies keep an index card file of people who are willing to fly to a particular destination at the last minute. These companies will actually call you and ask you if you are interested in filling their suddenly available flight. Because the person who canceled forfeits his payment, you have the chance to fly cheap, and maybe even free.

If these impromptu flights interest you, call the companies who offer a last-minute phone list (see courier company listings, below) and tell them that you are available. Couriers who have previously flown with that courier company will have priority, since they have proven themselves to be reliable, but first-time couriers may also be accepted. Keep a bag packed - sometimes they call you the same day!

Another option, if you are feeling especially adventurous, is to call around to see if any company has a cancellation that it needs to fill. If you just want to get away, and destination doesn't matter, you can usually find something. And you can't beat the price! Last-minute flights are most common in the low season, or on holiday weekends. From mid-May to September, the system is overloaded with college students, making your chances for catching a last-minute flight much lower. If you want to fly courier in the summertime, try to book as early as possible.

Courier Flights

• Extremely cheap airfare.
• Forces you to pack light; with carry-ons only, you can skip the whole baggage carousel experience, and get on with your vacation.
• Occasional VIP treatment by airline employees.

• You usually must give up your entire checked baggage allowance.
• Tickets are non refundable, and dates are typically not changeable once ticket is paid for.
• Choice of schedules and destinations is limited.
• Trips usually require you to return after some fixed length of time, often between one and four weeks.
• Minimum age of 21 years on some flights.

Courier Travel, Step by Step

Courier travel is so easy - it amazes me that more people do not take advantage of it. Your duties are simple and unburdensome, yet your airfare is half that of other passengers. And if you are a seasoned traveler, you probably already pack light and bring carry-on luggage only.

To illustrate how easy it is to fly as a courier, let me walk you through a courier flight that I took recently from New York to London.

The first step was to plan my date ranges. The more flexible you are, the easier it is to fly cheap. I decided to stay for about two weeks, and to depart between March 17 and March 19.

I would have preferred to fly from California to London, but by the time I called the courier companies, all of the flights from the West Coast to London were booked. Not easily deterred by such minor details, I started calling the New York courier companies. (New York is, after all, on the way.) Sure enough, I found a flight as a courier for Halbart Express, one of the world's biggest courier companies. The dates were perfect, so I booked the flight by telephone.

Next, I used some frequent flier miles (earned on a previous courier trip; I've also used American Express student tickets to fly across the United States cheaply) to get a free flight from San Francisco to New York. That meant that the total cost for the flight from California to London was only $239. Not a bad deal!

I got into New York City the night before my Halbart courier flight, and spent the evening enjoying the Friday night bustle in the East Village. I had called Halbart to reconfirm my flight, and was given very simple instructions: "Meet the Halbart representative at the American Eagle counter at JFK Airport at 2pm."

A friend dropped me off at the airport a bit before 2pm the next day. We noticed a Halbart truck parked outside the American Eagle counter. "Good sign," I thought. Inside, I saw a man with a Halbart jacket and a Halbart cap. "This is too easy," I thought to myself.

I walked up and said, "Hi. I'm the courier for London." He handed me my round trip ticket, and three pages of written courier instructions. On the flight out, I would be stopping in Boston, where the mailbags would actually be loaded onto the plane. On the flight home, I would go directly from London to New York. Each page of the instructions corresponded to one leg of the round trip. I asked the Halbart representative to wait while I read through the brief instructions (Reprinted in Box ). The Halbart man verified that I was accompanying mailbags only on the Boston-London leg. I was to call Halbart's London affiliate upon my arrival, to ask if there was anything further to be done. I was also instructed to call two business days before my return flight, to request instructions.

The Halbart rep left, and I headed for my flight. In Boston, I arrived early at the designated meeting place, under the large London banner at the American Airlines counter. A few minutes after the listed meeting time, the Boston Halbart rep arrived, toting two large orange plastic mail sacks. He checked me in, wished me a safe trip, and pointed me towards the gate.

The flight was easy, and really no different from any other flight. I arrived in London early in the morning, and promptly called the local Halbart office. I said, "Hello, I'm the courier from Boston, and I've just arrived." He said, "That's all, you may go, sir." I didn't have to do a thing, and I was now officially on vacation.

At the end of my trip, I called Halbart's London affiliate for instructions. It turned out that they had nothing for me to accompany. I did very little to earn my discounted airfare on the way to London, but I did absolutely nothing on my return flight. I was just another passenger. Too easy.

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