How travellers can avoid shipping fees

By David Flynn, February 4 2011
How travellers can avoid shipping fees

At Australian Business Traveller we're all about sharing tips, tricks and strategies – including the ones we use during our own travels.

Here is one of my own for avoiding Amazon's international postage or 'shipping and handling' fees. While it'll sound fairly obvious I remain surprised at how few travellers take advantage of it.

The problem: you love to buy books and DVDs from but you find their delivery fees to Australia are a bit of a hit to your hip pocket.

The solution: if you're travelling to the US, go on a bit of a shopping spree at Amazon and have these delivered to the hotel you'll be staying at. If you place your order about 10 days in advance of your trip the order will usually qualify for free ground shipping (with the exception of some items that come from Amazon's third-party suppliers).

Put down your hotel as the delivery address for the order, including your name and the dates you'll be staying – don't forget to use the US format of month/day/year rather than the more sensible Aussie format of day/month/year (and if there's room, precede the dates by the word "Guest:" just to make things exceedingly obvious).

The upside of this is that a US delivery address means you can order some products which Amazon would not allow to be sold and shipped internationally.

The downside? Some hotels will charge you a delivery or handling fee for receiving items on your behalf. Yes, it's sadly typical of US hotels (especially in Las Vegas) to treat customers as revenue-raising opportunities rather than valued guests.

Some of these fees are outrageous: I've seen $5 added to my bill because the hotel accepted a slim A5-sized envelope on my behalf. However, I've successfully protested hotel handling fees at checkout and had them removed from the bill.

If you've placed a sizeable order on Amazon, choose the option to have all the items shipped in one delivery if possible; and contact your hotel to determine if they do in fact charge any handling fee for receiving items on your behalf.

If you'll be working from an office in the city, you can avoid hotel handling fees by having your order delivered to the office.

Here are three more tips to round things out:

  • If you don't have a date set for your next US trip, just add items to your Amazon shopping list to keep track of them – you can move them into your shopping cart once the trip is locked in and imminent.
  • You can get a free three-month trial of the Amazon Prime express delivery service, which gives you free two-day US shipping (handy for placing last-minute orders at the Qantas lounge) by signing up for the free Amazon Mom program. You don't have to be a mum, or even a mom - dads and caregivers also qualify (and if you're kid-free, well, Amazon has no way to know if you're fibbing about your status. Just make a diary note to cancel your Amazon Prime membership before the trial period expires or you'll be hit with a US$79 membership fee.
  • It's best to collect your delivery from the hotel at the beginning of your stay in case you need to return any product to Amazon. There's free postage for returns sent within the US, and you'll have more time to do this than if you pick up your Amazon order the night before you check out.

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

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