“Forget student discount airfare,” said my friend Holly. “Courier travel is where it’s at.” In terms of pricing, courier travel beats any student or youth discounts hands down. New York to Hong Kong for less than $200 round-trip sounds pretty close to unbeatable.
The concept behind courier travel is fairly simple. Shipping companies have found that, for certain kinds of cargo, its cheaper and easier to ship freight as checked airline baggage than it would be to send it explicitly as air cargo. Checked baggage needs to have a passenger accompanying it, though, so they’ll offer you a deeply discounted ticket price for sitting in the seat that belongs to their cargo.
Becoming a courier is simple — the Web site for the International Association of Air Travel Couriers provides all the information you need to register, and once registered, you’re automatically eligible for the discount rates. Some shipping companies require their couriers to be 21 and over, but in general all you need is a passport and a sense of adventure. You can also find out more about air courier travel by going to http://travel2rp.com/courier.shtml.
Air-travel couriers do not get paid for their services, and the shipping companies will not provide housing for you during your stay. You’re also generally not allowed to have checked baggage on these flights, and it’s close to impossible to schedule multiple people on the same flights, so you’ll probably have to travel alone.
Courier travel is available from most major “gateway” cities in the world, with the most options available in New York, London and Hong Kong. Flights tend to be round-trip and have fixed departure and return dates, usually with a one or two week stay in the destination country. The closer to the departure date that you book the flight, the better rate you’ll get, so flexibility in your schedule is an asset.