Sell unused space in luggage
Airmule - focuses on the shipping for its approach, allowing travelers to post open space in their luggage allocations and shippers to pay for each pound.
Grabr - focuses on creating a pathway for consumers to get a specific item such as a drone or a pair of shoes delivered to them directly by hand, putting the onus on the traveler to locate the product and pitch a competitive price.
A new crop of mobile apps wants to monetize unused airline luggage space by paying travelers to carry items for third parties.
The new technologies come from Airmule and Grabr, two similar mobile apps that allow travelers to match their upcoming itineraries to customers who want an inexpensive tool for shipping. Each app takes a security-first approach to the transactions. Shippers and travelers must be verified and a rating system much like Yelp YELP is used to rank the integrity of each party.
Where the two new apps differ is in their approach towards goods shipped. Grabr focuses on creating a pathway for consumers to get a specific item such as a drone or a pair of shoes delivered to them directly by hand, putting the onus on the traveler to locate the product and pitch a competitive price. Airmule focuses on the shipping for its approach, allowing travelers to post open space in their luggage allocations and shippers to pay for each pound. One traveling from New York to London with a 50 lb allocation over three checked bags, for example, could post 150 lbs of shipping available at $4 per lb, generating a potential income of $600. In both cases, traveler and shipper need to coordinate the property exchange.
In principle, the services are a unique way to capitalize on unused luggage space while providing boutique delivery service and a pathway for budget travelers to make a bit of side income. But the programs are neither without complexity nor risk.
On a recent leisure trip that I took from San Francisco to Rio De Janeiro, I posted 210 lbs of available space on Airmule. Though a shipper quickly reached out to me for courier service, her package was a one pound envelope and she needed to overnight it to me in the Bay Area. Once in Rio, I needed to find a post office and send the envelope to São Paulo. On a weekend. For the $4 shipping fee plus a few extra dollars for my time.
There's also the matter of airline security. While both programs thoroughly vet their respective parties, many potential travelers are uncomfortable shipping items that they aren't completely familiar with. Grabr counters this by pointing out that consumers or shippers only need ask for particular goods while the onus is on the traveler to purchase the items and package them. Airmule says it provides an extra layer of security by requiring senders to upload photos of their items and providing a thorough paper trail of the transaction.
The airline and customs side of security is a bit more murky. Neither spokesmen from United nor American would comment for this story while a Transportation Security Agency spokesman could only confirm that the agency is reviewing the applications.
Constraints within the airline industry paired with the general comfort of travelers shipping potentially unknown items will be the biggest challenges for Airmule and Grabr apps. Like sharing a car or a vacation rental, however, the travel industry and the consumer base may eventually adapt to sharing luggage -- and when they do, I'll be the first person selling my unused cargo space.