Summer travelers may well find themselves stuck in a long security lines and squeezed into tight seats. For frequent travelers or those who can and want to pay, perks are available, including upgrades to the first class seats, airport lounges and free food.
The benefits are worth the costs? The Associated Press sent two reporters on a two-day visit to Orlando, Florida — a with perks, and one without.
Scott Mayerowitz, who until recently covered in the aerospace industry, has elite status with airlines, hotels and car rental companies. He also has a five-year membership in a Transportation Security Administration program that allows him to use fast-track lanes at the airport security. Premium credit cards aimed at frequent travellers get him in the airport lounges.
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Candice Choi, who covers the food industry, it has no advantages.
Scott saving of more than 45 minutes in total for the row at the airport, avoided crowds and got free food along the way. Candice thought that Scott’s greatest advantage was the time that he rescued. The extra space and food he seemed nice, but less useful for a short trip.
Here is how their experiences differed:
Scott cool by the TSA’s checkpoint in less than 2 minutes without having to take off his shoes. His laptop remained in his trunk, thanks to its membership of the Global Entry program, which includes an expedited screening process.
It took Candice almost 15 minutes to get through regular security, including taking off her shoes and jacket. There was also a delay after they forget to remove a water bottle from her bag, and to wait for shoeless her belongings as a TSA agent searched her bag.
On the return flight, Scott cleared security in about 3 minutes. It took Candice 19.
Scott walked up to the big airline lounge, and made use of the free Wi-Fi, newspapers and breakfast that included bagels, muffins, hard boiled eggs, fruit, yogurt and coffee. A day pass costs more than $50, but credit cards aimed at frequent travellers often have lounge access as a benefit that comes with a hefty annual fee of $450 to $550. Scott, the card is also refunded him the $100 TSA Global Entry fee.
At the gate with everyone, Candice took a seat with a table. There were electrical outlets for charging phones and a tablet to order food and get flight updates. They generally avoid eating a lot just before and during the flights, though, and not buying food for the port.
BOARDING AND FLIGHTS
Scott carrier status means plates he asked for, and often get a free upgrade to first class — where there are no middle seats and passengers are still warm meals. The finding of space for luggage in the trunk, also not a worry.
Elite status starts after a flight of 25,000 miles per year, or five return flights between New York and San Francisco. Rack up more miles, and the benefits increase substantially.
On this trip, Scott got upgrades both ways for Delta Air Lines. He was served with an egg sandwich, yogurt and fruit on the way to Orlando, a second breakfast after the first, he found it earlier in the lounge.
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Candice waited in a disorganized crowd by the gate to board. Her pass said “Zone 3”, that was really the sixth of Delta’s seven boarding groups. The last passengers to board often have difficulty to find space for their bags, but there was still space in the trunk by the time that Candice approached her chair.
Booking the flight a week before left Candice with a handful of middle seats to choose from. That can feel suffocating for longer flights or with annoying seatmates, but was tolerable for a two-hour flight. She got cranberry juice, and peanuts and defended her sliver of an armrest.
Once in Orlando, Scott was out of the plane in seconds. Candice was six minutes behind as the other passengers gathered their belongings and from the plane.
The members of car rental loyalty programs, even those without status, skip the lines at the counter. So Scott headed straight to the garage. He saw a BMW X3 SUV in a lane of the cars for people with National “executive elite” status, which comes with 12 annual rent. He settled down in the posh leather chair, turned on the nine-speaker stereo, and drove away.
Candice is not a member of a rental car. But on a Thursday morning, there was only one person for her in the row. The registration was fast and could they have chosen a car from a fleet that included medium-sized options like the Hyundai Elantra and the Toyota Corolla.
In the end, Scott picked her up in his rental SUV.
UNIVERSAL THEME PARK
At the parks, it was Candice’s turn to be the elite. Both paid $165 for a two-park ticket, but Candice added at $99 “Universal Express” pass that let her skip lines. With Orlando at 94 degrees and humid that day, she couldn’t have been happier.
On The Incredible Hulk coaster, Candice went through a separate entrance and to the front of the line. It took about 10 minutes for the entire experience. On the way out, she waved at Scott, who had barely moved in the line in the sweltering heat.
It took Scott 42 minutes, despite that it is a slow day in the park.
Scott got a corner of the room on the 26th floor of a newer tower with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the city. He also got access to the hotel’s club with free breakfast and drinks, and a nightly happy hour with free beer, wine and desserts.
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The Elite status at hotels, begin with 10 nights in a chain. The benefits of starting at the check-in, where the members often get a special line. On this trip, there was no one waiting to check in, so there was no advantage.
Candice had a room with similar furniture on the 12th floor of the hotel is the older tower. But they are not the large windows, and a view of the pool was somewhat hampered.
Scott was rousted from sleep at 6:45 a.m. the following morning, when an electrical fire meant an evacuation or a trek down 26 flights of stairs. Later, the front desk manager left a voicemail to apologize for the rude awakening and the give of Scott 15,000 points, enough for a free night in the same hotel.
The interference was not a problem for Candice — there was no fire alarm in her tower, so she got to sleep in.