While Amazon is now well established in Australia, there remain significant differences in both the range and pricing of items available through the local outlet compared to the Amazon mothership in the USA.
That includes many products which, for a variety of reasons, can’t be shipped to Australia.
But if you regularly travel to the US, there’s a canny way to access the full Amazon product line – and avoid often-outrageous shipping charges to Australia, which for some items can be as much as the product itself. It’s what I do ahead of each trip to the US, and it’s a practice since adopted by the many friends and colleagues I’ve shared it with.
(Of course, this tip also applies to other countries with a local Amazon presence, such as the UK, as well as almost any online retailer.)
Sending Amazon deliveries to your hotel
First up, on an ongoing basis, add anything you think you’d like to buy from Amazon into your account’s online shopping cart or a specific shopping list you might choose to create.
Ten days to one week ahead of your trip, revisit the shopping cart or list and fine-tune your selection.
You might be in the mood to buy everything you’ve added over the months, or you could choose to stick with a handful of items and moving others out of the cart using the ‘save for later’ link.
I find that one week is usually sufficient for Amazon’s free ‘standard’ shipping to arrive at my hotel, although you should check your order for items which are not being fulfilled by Amazon but instead have to come from a third-party retailer, as these can take longer to arrive and might need to be ordered earlier.
Set your hotel in the US as delivery address, listing your name and the dates of your stay on the top line, such as Jack Smith, guest: 3/22 – 3/25 (note the reversed US-style format of month/day rather than day/month).
Just be aware of how much stuff you’re ordering: you’ll need to either leave sufficient room in your luggage or bring along a spare bag (or add a piece of luggage to your Amazon order!). I usually pack a collapsible ‘weekender’ bag squashed down inside my checked luggage for shopping sprees.
Take advantage of Amazon Prime
If you’re offered free 30-day trial membership of Amazon Prime during this process, or shortly before your trip, take it up: it’ll give you fast two-day US shipping so you can place orders closer to you trip and, depending on the length of your stay, even while you’re in the US.
You can always cancel the trial Prime membership within 30 days, before the annual membership fee kicks in.
Watch for hidden hotel ‘handling and delivery’ fees
There’s a good chance that some parcels may arrive at your hotel before you do – especially if you order using Amazon Prime. In that case, some hotels will charge you – or at least attempt to charge you – on a per-item basis for receiving and holding your deliveries.
This is one reason to time the deliveries to reach the hotel no more than a day before you check in, and ideally to land while you’re at the hotel, assuming your stay is more than just one or two nights.
This fee is especially common in large ‘convention hotels’ and doubly so in Las Vegas, where some hotels outsource their mail and package handling to an on-site Fedex branch.
It’s usually possibly to dispute the fee at checkout and have it removed, either entirely or in part – just make your objections know calmly, and keep them logical and fair-minded.
(For example, I once brought down to the checkout desk a slim A5-sized document envelope for which I’d been charged a US$5 ‘holding’ fee even though it arrived during my stay, to use as an example of how unrealistic the surcharge was – the receptionist found herself in agreement and struck all the charges off.)
Obviously, if the parcels are delivered to your room, you should expect to hand over a tip – it’s typically US$2 for one item or a flat $5 for several boxes.