Airlines offer path to shorter security lines, for a price
CHICAGO — Travelers are feeling the effects of long security lines at airports, and the chances of breezing through the concourses during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend seem increasingly unlikely.
Fliers looking for faster ways to get to their gates have options, but some don't come cheap.
At least three major airlines offer credit cards whose perks include shorter lines to get through airport security screening. The annual fees for those cards: more than $400.
American Airlines' Aadvantage Executive Citi card has an annual fee of $450. Its benefits include club access and "priority airport screening (where available)."
American spokeswoman Leslie Scott said the airline's priority security line is always open at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and, while those travelers still must kick off their shoes and remove their laptops, the line to get to security is typically shorter than the line for the masses. Elite-level frequent fliers and first-class passengers also use the line. Other airports served by American might not have a priority line, she said.
American's Aadvantage Executive Citi cardholders are also eligible for rebates on Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check application fees. Those are government programs in which travelers who pass, in the case of TSA Pre-Check, an $85 background check can move through security quicker by not having to remove shoes, belts and light jackets from carry-on bags.
But one travel analyst says the priority security lanes that airline credit cards generally provide access to are neither faster nor more convenient than TSA Pre-Check.
"A TSA Pre-Check lane can process 300 people an hour, and a non-Pre-Check lane processes about 150 people an hour," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst for Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco. "The wait may be slightly less in the 'priority' lane than the nonpriority lane, but a traveler must still take off any shoes, belts, or jackets they're wearing, and remove toiletries and laptop computers from carry-on bags."
Pre-Check costs $85 for five years, or $17 a year, Harteveldt said.
"That may not be in everyone's budget, but it does seem like a reasonable investment to save valuable time at the airport, along with your sanity as a traveler," he said.
United Airlines' MileagePlus Club Chase card, which also has a $450 annual fee, provides access to airport clubs and to priority security screening at select airports. Other select United customers also have access to priority screening. The Chicago-based airline might allow customers not included in those more exclusive groups to purchase "premier access," including the priority security lane, for a particular flight. Premier access on a round-trip flight from Chicago to Newark, N.J., for example, can cost $118.
Delta's credit-card lineup includes a Reserve SkyMiles American Express card that also carries a $450 annual fee and that entitles holders to enter an "expedited" security line, called Sky Priority, with their printed boarding pass at participating airports.
Matt Schulz, senior analyst for CreditCards.com, said a Citi Prestige card carries a $450 annual fee, but will also provide a $100 credit toward the Global Entry application process, which enables travelers to avoid long lines. It also provides access to American Airlines Admirals Club airport lounges, a $250 air travel credit that can be used on tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more, and triple points on air travel and hotels, among other things.
"But you have to make sure you take advantage of the perks offered," Schulz said. "Otherwise $450 is a lot."