How to Save Time at (and Getting to!) the Airport

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Emily and I love Big Travel with Small Money, but the airport experience is NOT our favorite part of the trip.

That’s because I’m impatient and I especially don’t like waiting, long lines, or traffic.

How To Save Time At And Getting To The Airport

Do You Know How to Avoid Long Lines at Airport Check-In?

But, there are ways to save time at (and getting to) the airport.

At the Airport

1.   Online Check-In

You’ll save time at the airport when you print your boarding pass and check-in online up to 24 hours before your flight.

And you can do online check-in if you’re checking bags!  Some airlines like Spirit give you an online discount on your checked bag fees!  When you get to the airport, you check your bags at the curb, baggage drop area, or ticket kiosk.

How To Save Time At And Getting To The Airport

Don’t Wait at the Airport Counter, Check-In Online

2.   TSA PreCheck

Link:   TSA PreCheck

Link:   TSA PreCheck Application Program

TSA PreCheck lets you get through airport security faster.  Most folks who have been approved through the TSA PreCheck Application Program have nearly a 100% rate in getting their boarding passes selected for TSA PreCheck.

You can get TSA PreCheck for free if you’re a member of a participating airline’s frequent flyer program (see more ways here).  But it does NOT mean you’ll always be selected.

If you want TSA PreCheck all the time you have to be eligible for it.  And you must apply, pay $85, and be approved.

Some credit cards will reimburse you for the TSA PreCheck fee, including:

Or you must have a Known Traveler Number (KTN) from a program such as Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI.  But be sure to include your Known Traveler Number when you make your airline reservation!

How To Save Time At And Getting To The Airport

Having TSA PreCheck on Your Boarding Pass Saves Time Going Through Security Lines

Note:  If you have Star Alliance Gold status, you’re automatically eligible to use the new, faster Gold Track security lanes at Star Alliance hub airports.

And folks who don’t qualify for TSA PreCheck can save time at the airport by signing-up for CLEAR.  It’s another way to skip long lines, but it’s not useful for many folks because CLEAR is only available at ~10 US airports.

Visa Signature cardholders can try CLEAR free for 6 months.

3.   Global Entry

Link:   Global Entry

When you have Global Entry you can clear US customs and immigration faster.

Global Entry costs $100 and is valid for 5 years.  But you can save 50% by applying for NEXUS instead, because you automatically get Global Entry when you’re approved for NEXUS.

And certain credit cards offer a $100 statement credit when you use them to pay for Global Entry, including:

Note:  You can get either a Global Entry OR TSA PreCheck credit (not both, so choose one!).

Here’s my post on how to get a quicker Global Entry appointment.

How To Save Time At And Getting To The Airport

Got Global Entry? You Can Use the Self-Service Kiosk

4.   Priority Baggage Handling

Link:   United MileagePlus Club card

Link:   My review of the United MileagePlus Club card

Waiting for your luggage after your flight is torture (at least for me)!

But if you have elite airline status you get priority baggage handling on most US airlines.  So your bags come off first!

You can get priority baggage handling without elite status if you have the United MileagePlus Club card.  Great for folks like me who mostly travel on award tickets!

Whereas Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines guarantee that your checked bags will be at baggage claim within 20 minutes.

How To Save Time At And Getting To The Airport

This Won’t Be You If You Have Priority Baggage Handling

Getting to the Airport

1.   Check If Your Flight Is Delayed

You’ll save time before you leave for (or while driving to) the airport by checking the status of your flight on the airline’s website (or app) or on websites like:  

Have someone else look at your phone if you’re driving!

How To Save Time At And Getting To The Airport

Apps Like FlightStats Let You Know If Your Flight Is Delayed

2.   Check Traffic Conditions

If you’re running late for your flight or aren’t sure what’s the fastest route to the airport, you can check traffic conditions with these websites:

How To Save Time At And Getting To The Airport

Hmm, I Should Have Left Earlier for the Austin Airport

Bottom Line

You can save time at the airport if you use online check-in (even when checking bags) and have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.  It also helps to have priority baggage handling from elite airline status or the United MileagePlus Club card.

Before you leave for the airport you can use websites like FlightAware to check on the status of your flight.  I’d rather sit at home than sit at the airport!

What are your favorite tips that save time at and getting to the airport?

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5 responses to “How to Save Time at (and Getting to!) the Airport

  1. Some great tips here. I always check in online pre-flight and after having been stung with both traffic and flight delays in the past year, I now try and allow for ample travel time and always check flight status before I leave the house!

  2. Wait, I thought Global Entry HAS TSA Precheck built in?

  3. Curious… How far in advance of your flight departure time do you like to be at the airport?

  4. Follow-up to the Global Entry and TSA Precheck,

    Yes, Global Entry includes TSA Pre eligibility; so unless youre not planning on traveling outside the US in the next 5 years, the $15 in definitely worth it over TSA precheck as it includes both!

    “Like the Amex Platinum card, the Prestige card offers a $100 Global Entry fee credit. If you, or a family member, or friend hasn’t yet signed up for Global Entry, I think it is really worth the effort. Even if you don’t travel internationally often, this will give you automatic entry into the TSA-PRE program so that you won’t have to take off your shoes, take out liquids, or any other such hassles when going through security for most domestic trips.”

  5. Nice post and useful post. Already downloaded couple recommended applications to check. I can also add to this list – Expedite and speed up your entry INTO US after your overseas trip with Mobile Passport.
    Speed up entry into USA with mobile passport
    The new free of charge system with its smartphone app was introduced in August 2014 with the launch in Atlanta, GA. As of today Seattle, Chicago and Miami have already this system. Developers promise 22 more US airports to join the program in nearest future.