Q. What's the scoop on air courier associations? I'm 58, retired, and free to go anywhere with very little advance notice. From what I've gathered so far, all of them want you to buy their newsletter and/or pay a registration fee before they'll even let you see what might be available and judge whether or not it would be a good deal. I'm getting the feeling that it's a scam. Am I wrong? Are any of these companies legit?
Also, I live in Denver. Most international fights out of the country originate somewhere other than here. Am I wasting my time thinking that I could compete with somebody living near a major coastal airport with lots of overseas flights?
A.Shipping companies do indeed use couriers to shepherd time-sensitive deliveries through customs, and these couriers do fly for next to nothing at a moment's notice. Technically, you don't have to join a courier association to get in on these deals; you just have to find out where the shipping companies are and get in their good graces. Once they know and trust you, you can get assignments directly from the companies themselves. Couriertravel.org ($39 annual membership) and Aircourier.org ($40 annual membership, 800/461-8856) are the oldest courier organizations in the business, and are perfectly legit. But just because you join them doesn't mean you'll be flooded with "free" travel assignments right away. In some cases you'll still have to pay for your travel, albeit at reduced rates. And you're right, most courier trips leave from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other big cities. You'll have to pay your own way to connect with onward flights.