Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express is a Million Mile Secrets advertising partner. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.
Airport security lines often have long lines of people waiting to go through.
There are usually two lines – one line for folks who have elite status with airlines, or who are traveling in first or business class, or who need assistance. Usually your boarding pass is noted with “Priority Access” or “Premier Access” or something similar.
The other – usually longer -line is for regular folks who are traveling in coach.
In the US, I’ve been able to go through the airport elite status line just by showing a card – sometimes a regular frequent flyer card which I got for free just by signing up for a program - to the agent manning the shorter elite lines!
Sometimes it is just a regular frequent flyer card for an obscure foreign airline which you can get for free, sometimes I show my Southwest Companion Pass card and get access to the shorter lines for Southwest business ticket holders and A-List members, and sometimes I show my American Airlines gold card and get access to the United (or other airline) elite lane!
Emily is usually with me when I’m traveling and gets to enter the elite line with me. She’s always happy when we skip the longer lines! The unwritten rule in my experience (or maybe it is written somewhere) is that only 1 person in a traveling family needs to have the elite access and the other members can get though.
This isn’t going to work all the time, but it has worked more than ~95% for me in the US. As always, your experience will vary!
Some of you will be uncomfortable with this, so as always, do what you feel comfortable with. Some of you will feel that elite status should be “earned” the hard way by flying, but you could say the same about regular frequent flyer miles. Today, someone can earn more frequent flyer miles for applying for 2 credit cards than a frequent flyer would earn in an entire year of flying.
Why This Works
1. Untrained Agents. In the US, the agents standing at the shorter elite status lines are usually NOT airline employees. They are often contract workers, paid the lowest possible wage with no benefits.
These agents appear to just check whether the name on your boarding pass matches the name on the card you show them. They don’t check to see, for example, that you are showing them a Star Alliance elite status card if you are trying to enter the United (a Star Alliance airline) security line with a United boarding pass.
In my experience, any card which looks like a frequent flyer elite status card gets accepted in the US – particularly if it is from a foreign airline (which you can get for free by signing up for the airlines frequent flyer program).
Or they don’t check that you actually have a Southwest A-List card when trying to enter the shorter line for A-List and business select customers. I’ve successfully used my Southwest Companion Pass card to get into these shorter lines.
This doesn’t work as well outside the US where the agents are paid more and better trained.
2. Lots of Different Airlines. There are literally dozens of global airlines each with different elite status levels. I’m pretty sure that many (most?) travel bloggers and airline managers wouldn’t be able to tell you ALL 27 Star Alliance member airlines, or ALL the 11 Oneworld alliance airlines & 20 affiliates without looking it up.
Add to that non-alliance airline partners and reciprocal status recognition and it is easy to see why you’re given the benefit of the doubt if you have a frequent flyer card by an untrained minimum wage worker at the airline elite security line.
3. Inconsistency in Elite Cards. Different airlines have different names and different colors for their elite status. For example, the lowest level on American Airlines is Gold and the elite card is, well, gold colored.
The lowest elite level on Aegean Air is blue, and the elite card is blue colored. United, Delta, and US Air have silver as their lowest level, and the card is silver color. All this variability again means that showing the agent at the security line a card – almost any card usually means that you often can enter the shorter elite status line.
Bouncers in bars and TSA agents at check-posts usually have a book which lists the features of the different US state’s drivers license. The airline agents at the elite security lines have nothing to help distinguish among the different airline elite status cards.
This isn’t a marketing blog, so I’ll spare you my thoughts on the poor job airline alliances do with marketing and branding.
4. Be Polite, but Confident to the Agent. The agent’s job is to ensure that folks don’t slip into the shorter elite status line. Frequent travelers sometimes also ignore the agent and walk right pass the agent flashing their boarding pass.
I always make it a point to smile at the agent and show him or her my boarding pass and frequent flyer card as soon as possible. After all, if I voluntarily slow down and present the cards and boarding pass to the agent, I must be qualified to use the shorter line, right?
The agent almost always cursorily matches the name on the boarding pass to the name on the ID and lets me enter the line. Since I’m usually traveling with Emily, she gets to enter with me even though she doesn’t have a frequent flyer card with her!
If the agent asks why your boarding pass doesn’t say “Priority Access” or something similar, you can always say that you wanted to credit the miles to a different airline account or that the computer entered the wrong number (yes, this is a white lie, so do what you’re comfortable with) and you don’t have time to fix it. For what its worth, I’ve never been asked this question
5. Common Entrance. Some airports have common entrances to different departing airlines. For example, in Detroit most domestic airlines (except for Delta) depart from the North Terminal. The sign just says “First Class Priority And Premium Only (sic).” It doesn’t say that you have to have “priority” status for the airline you’re flying – just priority status in general.
So I’ve shown an American Airlines elite card with a Southwest boarding pass, or shown my Southwest Companion Pass with a United boarding pass and got through the shorter line!
Which Cards Should I Use & How Do I Get Them?
1. Existing Elite Status Cards. If you have an elite status card on any one airline, say American Airlines, you may be able to use it to get through the line when you’re traveling on United, or Southwest or US Air or a different airline (i.e your boarding pass is for a different airline than your elite status card).
Note that that my American Airlines card doesn’t say “elite” status anywhere. It just has a red oval at the bottom right which is supposed to indicate elite Oneworld ruby status or the lowest Oneworld status corresponding to American Airlines Gold elite status. But I’ve used this card to get access to the United security line!
2. Free Foreign Airline Frequent Flyer Cards. Foreign airline cards (which you get just for signing up for a program) are often obscure enough that the staff at the elite security lines will just look at them and let you go. Here are a few of my favorites:
a) Asiana Silver
Anyone can sign-up for the Asiana Club program for free and get a free frequent flyer card. Asiana is a Star Alliance airline whose US partners include United & US Air. The card actually says “Silver” on it, so it is easy to understand why some agents think it equates to Silver “elite” status and let you go to the shorter line with the card.
In reality, “Silver” is Asiana Club’s base membership level, but US airlines usually have “Silver” as the first tier of their elite program. Also, there is a Star Alliance “Silver” elite level. But with the Asiana card, you can honestly say “Here’s my Silver card and boarding pass!”
b) ANA Mileage Club
Japanese Airline Al Nippon Airlines (ANA) will give you a silver colored card when you sign up for their mileage program. ANA is a Star Alliance airline whose US partners include United & US Air.
The card is silver colored and from a foreign airline, so you can always smile at the agent and truthfully say “Here’s my Star Alliance silver card and boarding pass” as you go through the shorter line!
c) Iberia Plus Card
Now, Oneworld elite status is ruby, sapphire, or emerald but the “Plus”on the Iberia card sure sounds elite to a time-strapped and poorly trained US agent at the elite security line.
Compare this card to my American Airlines card (in #1 above) which doesn’t mention my elite status anywhere except for a red colored oval at the bottom of the card!
3. Southwest Companion Pass
You get the Southwest Companion Pass after earning 110,000 Companion Pass qualifying points within 1 calendar year. Many readers have got 100,000 of the 110,000 points needed for the Southwest Companion Pass by applying for 2 Southwest credit cards.
However, Southwest doesn’t let Companion Pass holders use the shorter Business Select and “A-List” security lines at airports.
But, in my experience, I’ve shown my Southwest Companion Pass to the agent at the “A-List” line and got entry to the shorter security line. Sometimes, I’ve even used it to get entry to the shorter security line at airports where there are common security lines for different airlines.
4. Aegean Blue
Aegean is a Star Alliance airline whose US partners include United & US Air.
This is a “real” Star Alliance Silver elite card (despite being called “blue” elite level by Aegean). However, it is really easy to earn since Aegean gives you blue elite status for earning just 4,000 elite miles compared to the 25,000 elite miles you’d need with United or US Air.
Can you quickly determine what is the true indication of Star Alliance Silver on this card? Answer: The “Silver” notation at the bottom right below the Star Alliance sign.
You currently get 2,000 Aegean elite miles when you sign up for an Aegean frequent flyer account, so you need only 2,000 more elite miles to get Aegean Blue or Star Alliance Silver Status. Star Alliance Silver status gets you 1 free bag on United and US Air and the ability to enter elite security lines at some (but not all) airports.
You can credit US Air, United or other Star Alliance flights to Aegean to get the remaining 2,000 miles. US Air coach flights earn 100% of the flown miles, but most United coach discounted flights earn only 50% of the flown miles and some airlines don’t earn any miles on Aegean. Here’s a link to the miles earned when you credit a flight to Aegean.
Is This A SECURITY RISK?
No. You still have to go through regular security at airports even when going through the elite security line (unless you have have TSA Pre).
Can I Use This to Board the Plane Early?
The gate agents are airline employees who actually do have a lot of experience, so this will not work as well (if at all) as using a frequent flyer card to get through to the elite security line.
However, you could try boarding with the elite status passengers (Star Gold or Silver, etc.), and smile and show the gate agent your frequent flyer card before she asks for it. But it could be embarrassing if you’re not allowed through.
I also wouldn’t flash an American Airlines elite card when boarding a United flight, though a Star Alliance card mentioned above could be worth a try.
That said, I wouldn’t push my luck and try to board the plane early with a frequent flyer card or elite card from a different airline.
This won’t work for everyone and not all the time, but I’ve had very good luck with using frequent flyer cards or other airline elite cards to get access to the shorter elite status security lines.
Keep in mind that the elite status security line isn’t always the shortest line, and always have a buffer in case you have to use the regular security line.
Emily always likes it when I flash a card and get her through the security line quicker than it otherwise would take. We used our Southwest Companion Pass to get access to the shorter lines over Thanksgiving and it worked like a charm!
*If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 7,500+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in a RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!