If you have monitored the news at all lately you have likely seen a story or two about absurdly long TSA security lines. We are coming into the summer travel season, kids going home from college, vacations galore, graduations, you name it! There are going to be a lot more travelers clogging things up over the next four months (myself included).
Security lines at airports have become so bad in the last few weeks that you can see this hashtag floating around the Twitter-sphere, ‘#ihatethewait‘. You, like me, really do hate-the-wait. Congress is actually calling on airlines to waive baggage fees to help speed up the screening process. Naturally, when airlines charge $20-40 to check a bag, people carry on as many items as possible to save a buck. By offering free checked bags that would encourage folks to travel more lightly through the security line thus speeding things up. Will the airlines comply? I would guess no. US airlines collected $3.8 billion last year in checked baggage fees.
While you wait for airlines to waive baggage fees and TSA to add more staff (don’t hold your breath), what can you do to get through security without being forced to run to the gate?
• I’ll start with the obvious, some airports are now suggesting you arrive three hours before your flight departure. No thanks!
• You can enroll in TSA Precheck or Global Entry for expedited screening. Yes!
• Fly midweek like Tuesdays and Wednesdays and fly in the middle of the day (the slowest times at the airport)
• Look for other concourses with shorter lines that will connect to your gate. Make sure you don’t wait and then ultimately not be able to connect to your gate.
TSA Precheck and Global Entry will grant you access to expedited screening. I have it and I honestly don’t know what I would do without it. Seriously. TSA Precheck is $85 and is good for five years. Global Entry includes TSA Precheck as well as expedited screening through customs when returning to the US on international flights. Additionally, Global Entry gives you SENTRI access which is great if you cross the Mexican border on foot. It takes us only 10 minutes to return from Tijuana to San Ysidro because we have dedicated SENTRI line access.
Does $85 for Precheck scare you, does $100 for Global Entry seem like a royal-waste just to speed up the security wait? Keep in mind that TSA Precheck access (which is included with Global Entry) means you do not need to take off your jacket, take off your shoes, take out your laptop, or go through the full body scanner (just a metal detector). Being that you don’t have to go in the body scanner you can keep many things on your person like belts, wallets, sunglasses, etc. On average I get through security in three minutes. That is from the time I get to the back of the line to the time I grab my things off the scanner. At times it has taken 10 minutes, other times it has taken as little as 75 seconds (no joke, I set a timer).
You can get TSA Precheck or Global Entry for free, keep reading. The American Express Mercedes-Benz Platinum card currently offers 75,000 Membership Reward points after you spend $3,000 in 90 days. This card will automatically reimburse you when you pay for either TSA Precheck or Global Entry. It doesn’t matter who applies for the Precheck/Global entry, just pay with the Platinum card and you will be reimbursed in about a week. So the catch, because there is always a catch, the annual fee is $475 for the Mercedes Platinum card. Before your jaw hits the floor, stick with me.
This card will give you $200 each calendar year in airline “incidental” credit reimbursement. It is supposed to be used for seat upgrades and baggage fees but is well documented for use on gift cards from airlines and even Amazon.com. If you buy $200 in Southwest gift cards and then next year on January 1st (each new calendar year resets the $200 credit) buy $200 more in Southwest gift cards you will now hold $400 in Southwest gift cards. You can sell a $100 Southwest gift card for $85 on Gift Card Granny. So $400 in Southwest gift cards will net you $340 in cash. That means you will only need to come up with an additional $135 to cover your $475 annual fee ($475 – $340 = $135). Keep in mind, the annual fee is paid on the first statement and isn’t due again until the 13th statement. You can cancel at anytime with no penalty to avoid paying the second year annual fee.
After meeting your minimum spend you will have earned 75,000 Membership reward points which can be used for purchasing travel, transferring to travel partners, or for purchasing gift cards. If you purchase a $250 Hyatt Hotels gift card it will require 25,000 of your membership reward points leaving you with 50,000 points. (50k points is close to the usual sign up bonus for this card so don’t wait to sign up at 75k). You can sell that Hyatt gift card on Gift Card Granny for $187.
Okay let’s break it down:
$475 annual fee
$340 in Southwest gift card liquidation (using each calendar year $200 credit to buy gift cards)
$187 in Hyatt gift card liquidation (using 25,000 membership reward points)
You will end up with 50,000 points left over + $52 in surplus cash from selling the gift cards after paying the $475 annual fee
Those remaining 50,000 Membership Reward points can be transferred to a number of airlines such as JetBlue, British Airways, Delta, and Hawaiian. 50k points is more than enough for a round-trip to Hawaii on Delta or Hawaiian.
You will also receive FREE TSA Precheck or Global Entry, as a reimbursement credit. Remember, you must have your passport book to sign up for Global Entry so don’t waste the credit if you don’t have the passport book. (not required for $85 TSA Precheck) The Platinum card also grants you access to airport lounges like the Centurion Lounge, AirSpace Lounge, Delta lounge and gives you a Priority Pass membership (access to around 900 partner lounges worldwide).
If you don’t feel comfortable meeting the $3,000 minimum spend requirement, remember that you can pay bills like mortgage, rent, car payments, and student loans using a credit card on Plastiq.com. Keep in mind that the Mercedes Platinum card is treated as a different product than the standard Platinum card meaning you can get the sign up bonus for the standard Platinum card and the Mercedes one!