Travel Tip #14. Sign up for Global Entry, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.
If you are like me, just the possibility of missing a flight because of long lines at the airport is stressful. Some of my older single friends have quit traveling because “travel is just no fun any more.” We are old enough to remember the glamor of commercial air travel. We dressed up for our trips and enjoyed gracious service and decent, free food and beverages en route. No more. I have found two ways to dodge long lines, along with two related ways to minimize anxiety when I miss my connections and get stranded at the airport.
Sign Up for TSA Global Entry
IF you travel out of the U.S. at all—or there is any possibility that you might—register for TSA Global Entry. I suppose that one who always flies into JFK or Newark can get by without it; but for those of us who clear Customs and Immigration at a major hub and then transfer to a domestic flight home, unexpectedly long lines can be overwhelming. Shortly after I qualified for Global Entry, I flew into DFW on the last day of Spring Break. I smugly whipped past the two-hour-long line to swipe my passport at the kiosk. Since then, I have repeated the experience more than a dozen times. Even if American Express had not picked up my $100 fee (good for five years), it would be worth it to me.
The TSA registration process requires answering security questions online and then scheduling an appointment at a customs entry site. You can allow extra time between flights in airports like DFW or Houston Bush Intercontinental to avoid making a special trip. Interviews tend to run on time and last about 30 minutes.
Register for TSA Pre-Check program
Once you qualify for Global Entry and receive Trusted Traveler status, you can register to qualify for Pre-Check with your preferred airlines. This is the short line at security check-in locations. Not only do you breeze past the long lines, but you don’t have to shed shoes or coat or pull out your computer and small liquids. And you pass through a metal detector, not a scanner. Full service is not available at every airport or at every security station within airports. However, all but the smallest airports have “expedited check-in” with a separate line and metal detector. You still have to put out your computer and liquids.
If you absolutely do not need Global Entry, you can sign up for Pre-Check for $25 less, and some premier credit cards will again pick up the cost. Even if you are 75 or older, I think the shorter lines are worth the charge. Some argue that requesting wheelchair assistance gives them more privileges; but aside from the ethics of asking for what you do not need, wheelchair assistance is not always there when you need it.
Earn elite status on your favorite airline
I never took advantage of Lev’s executive platinum status with American when he was alive; but as a widow, I work hard to maintain platinum status–usually through points on my credit card rather than miles in the air. When things go wrong, I want that 800 number. Last December 23, I joined hundreds of people at DFW who were taking one of the seven daily flights back to Corpus Christi for Christmas. Weather was terrible, and most of the flights were canceled. When I arrived at the stand-by line for the one flight that was still scheduled, 94 people were ahead of me. With every flight for the rest of the week fully booked, there was no way that some of those people would get home by the 25th. I checked my status on my AA app on my iPhone. American had automatically re-booked me on the first flight out the next morning. I rode Skytrain to the Grand Hyatt, booked a cheap room and enjoyed a glass of wine and a good dinner. Crisis averted.
Join an airline club
Lev never thought that joining the Admirals Club was worth the money. Since we used miles to upgrade to business class when we went abroad, we had free access to lounges before our flights. And for awhile, my American Express platinum card gave me free access to American lounges.
But this is a place where I have given myself permission to do things differently than Lev did. I pay for my airline tickets because I want the points and the perks. Going back and forth through DFW at least monthly, I want access to clean rest rooms, quiet workspace and free wifi. When flight delays grow long, crashing at the Admirals Club is definitely preferable to the concourse, and agents at the desk are eager to help solve problems. So I pay my annual membership fee with miles.
Back in June, I blogged here: “Spend more on hotels and transportation if necessary to assure your safety and comfort. It costs less for one to travel than for two.” These are just a few examples of where spending a little more pays off.
One final “for instance”—A friend with elite status bought a first-class ticket for herself for a long, complicated trip to Europe; and she used miles for a companion ticket. Due to extreme weather, they missed their connection and had to overnight at DFW. Because the second ticket was free, American would not book them on an alternate airline to get them to their destination on time. Beware. We often give up perks and privileges when we take advantages of discounts and freebies.
This is my final blog in this series of travel tips for women traveling alone. My first blog, back on April 29, was the list of 14 Travel Tips for Safe, Solo Travel. Next Tuesday, I will re-post that list, with links to my subsequent travel blogs.
Feedback: Do you want me to keep on writing travel tips? What would interest you?