Call a courier company
Courier flights are the cheapest way to fly--usually costing less than half the lowest coach fare--but they can also be the most inconvenient, so know what you're getting into.
Does the term "courier" conjure up visions of espionage and smuggling, of shady characters handcuffed to briefcases? Relax: no one's asking you to do anything illegal. They're simply asking you to trade some of your luggage allowance in exchance for a discounted ticket. It's not a job, just a temporary arrangement--one that's arranged thousands of times a day.
How can you be sure you're not smuggling contraband, you ask? Legitimate courier companies can only operate with a license (if you have any doubts, legit firms will be happy to show you theirs before you sign on). In any case, the shippers leave a paper trail plenty long for the authorities to find them--leaving you off the hook. In fact, the cargo is never even checked in your name.
Here's how it works: you arrive at the airport two to four hours early, where a representative from the company presents you with your plane ticket and receipts for bags he or she has already checked. You may also be asked to bring an additional carry-on item--usually quite small. You fly coach, usually on a regularly scheduled flight on a major airline.
When you arrive at your destination, you pass through immigration, after which a company representative will meet you, collect the necessary documents, and send you on your way. In most cases, you'll never even see the cargo--and you certainly won't have to ferry it through customs. (If on the outside chance you're asked to do this, simply refuse). Most couriers report that their duties are so slight that they hardly notice them at all.
Flying courier has one distinct advantage--it's cheap (particularly for overseas flights)! And
unlike commercial flights, courier flights grow cheaper and cheaper as the departure date approaches. It's even possible to fly for free if you're willing leave immediately.
However, you must be willing to cope with some potential inconveniences:
- You're usually limited to carry-on luggage, so you have to be capable of packing light.
- Except for very busy routes (New York to London or Los Angeles to Tokyo, for example), the choice of dates and times are limited. In addition, the length of your stay can also be limited, since you're often required to carry cargo back on a certain date.
- Though unlikely, you could face last-minute delays and cancellations--not good if you're on a tight schedule.
To learn more about courier flights, your best bet is to join one of the many courier clearinghouses; the Air Courier Association (www.aircourier.org) and the International Association of Air Travel Couriers (www.courier.org)are two good places to start.They coordinate many different courier companies, and for a fee of around $50 they'll provide you with extensive flight listings for twelve months.