With Around 32,000 Courier Flights a year, courier travel is probably the greatest opportunity for getting really cheap (possibly even free) tickets. Although courier travel isn't for everyone, for those people with time on their hands and a sense of adventure, it's a great way to see the world a little bit at a time at a very affordable price.
First of all, what exactly is an air courier? Simply put, an air courier is a person (could be either you or me or the guy sitting next to you on your next flight) who accompanies time-sensitive business cargo that is checked as excess passenger baggage on international flights.
There will always be a need for air couriers because commercial air cargo is too slow. There are only two ways to send an international air shipment: as commercial air cargo or as excess passenger baggage.
Commercial air cargo must be at the airport 6 hours prior to departure for manifesting and loading into containers. On arrival the large containers go directly to a bonded warehouse for customs inspection and release. This takes two to three days, and the chance of loss increases the longer the cargo is held in the warehouse.
The only way to send international overnight freight is by using passenger baggage. International airline regulations require that passenger baggage must belong to a ticketed passenger traveling with the baggage. Customs officials require that all baggage be picked up by an arriving passenger. There are no exceptions to this rule. Courier companies enjoy the late check-in privileges allowed passenger baggage. Courier bags can be checked at the ticket counter up to 30 minutes prior to departure. Passenger baggage is the first freight off and clears through customs as soon as the passenger arrives.
Overnight freight wholesalers consider this process hassle-free and fast. Most courier runs are the last flight of the day. You arrive at your destination the next morning.
All courier flights to Asia, the Pacific Rim and Australia are served by Singapore Airlines, Japan Air, and United Airlines. You travel along with other coach passengers, but at a greatly reduced price and sometimes without paying any airfare at all. Seating is in the coach section and you get all the usual service provided to coach-class passengers.