Is it still possible to fly as an air courier? Back in the day, being an air courier used to be a popular travel hack that would get you free flights. Ever since the attacks on September 11th, though, the industry took a nosedive and looked like it would never recover. But…has it?
Earlier this year, I took a round-trip flight between Los Angeles and Shanghai for the sole purpose of trying out a new air courier service that intrigued me.
Everywhere I’d read online told me that air courier jobs are dead and being an air courier is seldom practical today. Yet here I’d run into a company that was promising to revive the industry in such a way that regular travelers like me (no, I’m not a professional air courier) could save some money by selling their unused baggage.
Armed with just a backpack and plenty of questions, I set off for Los Angeles, the headquarters for this new-ish company known as Airmule.
Note: Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. What this means is that, at no extra cost to you, you will be helping to support FarWestChina if you decide to use some of the services listed. I hope you find this helpful…thanks for your support!
My Experience | Being an Air Courier
I’m happy to write out my experience for you here, but you might best be served by actually watching me go through the process. I took a couple cameras along with me on my journey and the result was this awesome video I suggest you watch:
As I showed in the video, Airmule has essentially taken the concept of the “gig economy” or “shared economy” and applied it to the opportunity of wasted checked luggage on international flights.
Honestly, if you’re traveling for vacation and you’re checking two bags, you’re doing something wrong. Even business travelers don’t need more than a carry-on most of the time.
Being an air courier used to mean connecting with businesses that needed items shipped fast and being available to fly at a moment’s notice. Jobs were hard to find and it wasn’t practical for most travelers.
This new method changes the game a bit. Let me explain:
MY Luggage on MY Flight
When I decided to give Airmule a try, I signed up for their service and listed my flight. In all, it took about 10 minutes.
Notice here that I haven’t committed to anything yet and I’m not scheduling around their needs. I’m listing my flight and offering my luggage. Maybe I have only one piece of luggage; perhaps I have two. It’s my choice.
When I list my flight, I’m providing Airmule with the following information:
- My Flight Details: This could be just one way or round-trip flight details.
- My Luggage Availability: I can get more money offering two pieces of luggage, but will that work with my travel needs?
- Contact Information: Obviously they’ll need to be able to reach me.
During my time in Los Angeles, I met up with a member of the Airmule team named Winston. He explained to me how they work with logistics companies to match shipping needs with travelers who have listed their luggage.
I’m never guaranteed that my luggage space will be purchased, but since I listed my trip a couple weeks before departure, the odds were in my favor.
Checking the Digital Manifest
The biggest concern that I had being an air courier is that of security – and I suspect most people feel the same way. Can I trust that what I’m bringing across an international border won’t get me in huge, huge trouble?
How can I know what I’m taking as an air courier?
About 24 hours prior to my departure from Los Angeles back to Shanghai, I received an email from Airmule saying that my luggage had been purchased. If I wanted to, I could log into my account to see exactly what I would be bringing with me to China.
So I did.
Photo courtesy TravelChinaCheaper
Attached to my trip listing, Airmule had given me a digital manifest, a listing of every item that would be packed in each piece of luggage. Turns out, I would be taking over a number of designer hand bags, a couple iPhone X’s, a porcelain statue and even a gold coin.
Is this for real?
Checking in as an Air Courier
I woke up the next morning and drove to the LAX airport. I already had all the contact information for the Airmule concierge that would be dropping off the luggage. All I had to do was arrive at my terminal and let him know I was there.
There are two things that were going to be very important to me in this process of being an air courier:
- I wanted to open the luggage and see for myself what I was taking.
- I wanted to be clear to the airline what I was doing. No sneaking around.
When Airmule dropped off the luggage at the curb of the LAX airport, I spend about 5-10 minutes looking through the bags and comparing it to the digital manifest I had been given. Thankfully, all the items were wrapped in see-through bags.
At this point the luggage was closed and sealed with special tape and I finally signed a formal agreement with Airmule. The agreement stated that I would deliver the bags to an Airmule representative in Shanghai, but should anything happen with customs or lost baggage between now and then, Airmule would take responsibility.
So far, so good.
After standing in line at the airport, I walked to the counter to check the two bags I had been given. Within 2 minutes I had announced that I was acting as an air courier, these weren’t my bags and I hadn’t packed them. The lady looked at me a bit surprised and then went to speak with her supervisor.
I was ready to prove this concept wrong, yet she returned with a smile on her face and checked in my bags. She never asked for my digital manifest (though I had it ready) and she never asked any further questions.
Flying as an Air Courier
The flight was long and boring. That’s pretty much all there is to say about that.
Landing in Shanghai, I picked up my bags at the baggage claim and made my way through customs. According to Winston at Airmule, the company is very careful to pack the bags based on customs regulations.
In other words, I didn’t have to declare the bags at customs. I just walked through.
An Airmule representative met me on the other side of customs and I handed off the luggage. Within 24 hours I had been sent an email saying that the luggage had been processed and payment would be forth coming.
I had just saved $300 on my $650 round-trip tickets by being an air courier!
Conclusion | Being an Air Courier 2019
I realize that being an air courier isn’t for everybody. And you’re not going to get a full flight paid for by using a service like Airmule.
But is it possible to be an air courier in 2019? Yes. Yes, it is.
If you’re willing to place a little bit of trust in this startup, you can easily save hundreds of dollars on the most expensive part of your trip: your flight.
Being an air courier has been around for decades. It’s certainly not illegal, although there’s no doubt some risk involved. One thing’s for sure: it was incredibly easy and a lot of fun.
READER BONUS: If you read about my experience and decide to give it a try yourself, click on my link for Airmule and use the code TCC10 to get an extra 10% added to your air courier fee!
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