Though the old days are gone when you could get a free airline ticket for carrying a small pouch of documents, air couriers are still alive and well. But things are different.
You can actually travel and get up to $500 US for letting a company called Air Mule take the baggage spots you are alotted as a passenger. You can only fly between US and China. Prices vary and some locations pay less, it has to do with demand and how many travelers are going and how many packages are being sent.
The company organizes shipments for individuals and companies so they can have from three to 17 different packages all inside one shrinkwrapped suitcase. You take their luggage and load it onto the plane instead of taking your own checked bags. Air Mule arranges for an easy pick up and drop off on each end of the trip.
There are many other restrictions, but this is probably as close as you can get to Air Courier deals as you’ll find. Here is a detailed story about how to participate in Air Mule, from FarWestChina.com.
You need to fly from one of the following US airports to participate.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
San Jose International Airport (SJC)
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Flying only to these Chinese Airports:
Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU)
Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (CKG)
Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport (XMN)
Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport (SZX)
Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport (CGO)
Wuhan Tianhe International Airport (WUH)
Changsha Huanghua International Airport (CSX)
Nanjing Lukou International Airport (NKG)
Xi’an Xianyang International Airport (XIY)
Shenyang Taoxian International Airport (SHE)
Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)
Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG)
Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN)
Qingdao Liuting International Airport (TAO)
Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport (HGH)
Air Mule’s Restrictions:
Courier travel is not for everyone, and there are serious restrictions:
- Destinations are limited to major business routes, in this case, select US and China cities.
- Your luggage will be limited. With Air Mule, you go with carry-on luggage only. Occasionally, you may get a full luggage allowance on the return trip only. In that case, you’ll have to buy new luggage or a large, sturdy box at your destination. Of course, you’ll be subject to customs duty when you arrive back home.
- You need to book well in advance for popular routes or seasons.
- You pay the airfare, and don’t’ get paid until you’ve reached the destination in China.
- Most courier tickets are for a round trip, usually with a stay between seven and 30 days.
- If you cancel close to your flight time, do not expect a refund.
- Visas, if required, are your responsibility. Air Mule pays these fees if you’re transporting their ‘luggage’
- Tell immigration and customs at your destination that you flew as an Air Mule courier. There is nothing at all unusual about this, as they encounter it every day.
- Air Mule has booked a daily flight with one airline, months in advance. You cannot change anything — airline, route or even flight.
- You may or may not be able to get air miles for the trip.
- If you want to travel with a friend (both having courier fares) then they will need to travel on a different day or for a different company.
The Points Guy published a detailed review of the Air Mule Experience.
Try out Air Mule find out more about them on their blog, and tell us what you think!
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Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel in South Deerfield Mass since 2002. He worked for newspapers and other sales positions for 23 years until he finally got what he wanted and became the editor at GoNOMAD. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and does exactly what he wants to do every day.