Key Words in Discount Travel: Courier ...

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

For the truly adventurous, some truly cheap fares.

How does $200 to Brazil or Hong Kong sound?

You can get those fares, if you fly as a freelance air courier.

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Couriers act as agents for companies shipping cargo - usually documents - overseas. You hop on a plane, which allows the shipper to send its packages as your luggage.

For the company, it means a faster trip through customs. For the courier, it means a super cheap air fare to faraway places. Your responsibility is to sit on the plane and usher the cargo through customs.

The process is completely legal, even if the ticket prices seem like a steal. Courier flights to Europe and South America can cost as little as $200. Last-minute specials go for even less. The flights leave from major airports, such as New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.

You can stay overseas for up to 90 days, and return dates can be flexible or pre-arranged.

When you buy a courier ticket, the courier service's agent meets you at the airport, hands over the ticket plus baggage-claim stubs, and escorts you through check-in. Major airlines know the routine, so when the gate agent asks whether you packed your own bags, answer: "No, I am an on-board courier."

The Air Courier Association (ACA), in Denver, says couriers have never been held up by such security concerns.

If you act as a courier on the return flight you may not get your return ticket until you get to the airport to fly home.

One catch is luggage. You're generally allowed only carry-on luggage. Another catch: your traveling partner. Courier tickets usually come in singles. Although most services will arrange next-day courier flights.

The ACA suggests planning a month ahead, but some people buy tickets a day before leaving.

Schedules are subject to change at the last minute.

For more information, contact the ACA at 800- 282-1202. The International Association of Air Couriers publishes a newsletter with the latest deals: (407) 582-8320 (www.courier.org on the Internet).

Courier services and where they fly, according to the ACA:

Air Facility

(mostly to Central and South America)

(718) 712-1769

Halbart Express (worldwide)

(718)656-5000

(305) 593-0260

East-West Express (Asia)

(718) 656-6246

Now Voyager (worldwide)

(212) 431-1616

Virgin Express (London)

(718) 244-7244

International Bonded Couriers

(Central and South America)

(305) 591-8080

(310) 607-0125

Line Haul Express

(Central and South America)

(305) 477-0651

Jupiter Air (Asia)

(310) 670-1197

(415) 583-5074

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