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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to

How to Fly as a Courier

Jason Stevens owns a small television and video service in Los Angeles. He
was negotiating financing for a film project with an investor in Bangkok,
Thailand. Stevens needed to fly to Thailand on three days notice to close
the deal, but couldn't afford the $3,900 roundtrip airfare. Through a friend
Stevens heard about courier travel. After a few phone calls Stevens boarded
a flight to Bangkok at a cost of just $450 roundtrip.

Major companies all over the world save money and time by employing couriers
to escort important documents, cargo and other materials to overseas
locations. Businesses use the couriers checked baggage allowance to transport
their cargo in exchange for drastically reduced airfare.

No, this isn't something out of a James Bond movie. These are legitimate
business with a need to transport materials without the delay involved in the
air cargo industry. The Federal Aviation Administration monitors courier
travel, so you don't have to worry about carrying drugs, smuggling nuclear
weapons or some equally nefarious act. Travel writers, retirees, vacation
travelers and companies with a need to get their employees to meetings around
the world have used courier travel for years. It's one of the best-kept
secrets in the travel industry.

And the savings can be as much as 85 percent of the cost of a roundtrip
ticket according to Bruce Causey, President of the International Association
of Air Travel Couriers (IAATC). At press time, IAATC was offering a
roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Singapore for $150. By comparison,
Internet giants Travelocity and Expedia had the same flight for $750.

Causey says 85 percent is an extreme case, but discounts like this happen
often especially if the courier/passenger is flexible and available to travel
at a moments notice.

John Ferry of the Air Courier Association says a person can book courier
travel as much as 60 days in advance and in some cases all you carry is paper
work, meaning you don't have to give up your baggage allowance. Ferry
concurred with Causey and said the best deals are definitely those last
second specials where a business might be desperate to get their cargo to
some overseas destination.

The traveler's responsibilities are simple. Show up at the airport on time
to meet a representative of the courier service. They will hand you all the
shipping documents and customs forms along with your ticket.

Once you arrive at your final destination, hand the documents over to a
designated representative at the airport and you're done. The tickets are
roundtrip with liberal return dates. And the best part, in about 90 percent
of the cases there's nothing to bring back to the United States, which means
your return baggage allowance is all yours.

Couriers travel to international destinations only. Passengers fly out of
major airports such as LAX and JFK and use major carriers, so you don't have
to worry about being placed on some small airliner you've never heard of.

There are a few drawbacks to traveling as a courier. First, you must learn
how to pack light. In some cases, you'll only have carry-on luggage since
the courier used your checked baggage allowance.

Second, you will be traveling alone unless you want to pay full fare for a
companion ticket. Another option would be to see if another company has a
courier need on a different flight to the same destination that your spouse
could take.

Third, unless it's a rush job or last second deal, you will usually be
required to pay for your own hotel accommodations. There are exceptions
depending on how desperate the courier is to transport their cargo.

The IAATC and the Air Courier Association monitors the needs of more than 30
courier companies and can assist you in making the appropriate travel
arrangements. If you would rather contact the couriers direct, look in the
yellow pages under Air Courier Services or Messengers.

Before signing on as a courier, check the other discount options available to
you such as the Internet. You'll often find deals comparable to courier
travel where you don't have to give up your checked luggage allowance.