From airports to hotels: Tips for skipping long lines when you travel

Apr 23, 2022

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My family members know me as someone who is, shall we say, not the biggest fan of waiting in line. Not many of us are. My particular affliction makes me less willing to wait in line for a roller coaster, or most recently (and to my wife’s disbelief) for an ice cream cone at a popular ice cream spot near home.

As you might expect, then, even as travel has rebounded in a big way this year, it’s to my chagrin we’ve noticed a common trend in recent months: lines. We saw them this past winter and during the spring months, and the trend seems likely to continue as we head into a busy summer travel season.

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I turned to our TPG Lounge last month looking for advice from frequent travelers when it comes to traveling during this stage in the pandemic. The word I repeatedly read was “patience.”

You’ve probably found this to be worthy advice outside your travels, too. As so many industries struggle to hire enough staff to meet demand, wait times have gone up – from the queue at the restaurant to the customer service desk at the big-box retailer.

The same is undoubtedly true throughout the travel industry. For that reason, we’ve compiled a few ways you can save time and avoid the longest lines throughout your trip.

TSA checkpoints

Enroll in both TSA PreCheck and Clear. If you’re willing to pay the fees associated with both programs, the duo goes a long way toward saving you time at the airport checkpoint. Many credit cards offer TSA PreCheck as a  benefit so you might already have access to it.

Related: The best cards for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

The two programs have different benefits. As most frequent travelers are aware, the TSA PreCheck line is generally shorter — and often significantly shorter — than the standard Transportation Security Administration line. Enrolled travelers also enjoy the benefit of not having to remove shoes or take large electronic devices out of bags, and avoid passing through the more stringent security scanners found in the regular line.

Clear members don’t wait in any TSA lines, and instead head right to those kiosks you’ve probably noticed at dozens of airports nationwide. It’s at those kiosks that members get their identity verified.

Clear has their biometric information (fingerprint and iris scan) saved. Then a Clear representative escorts the passenger to the front of the TSA line. If you’re enrolled in TSA PreCheck, you go to the front of the PreCheck line. If you’re not, you go to the front of the regular TSA line.

Related: Clear expands to 2 additional airports in California

For that reason, there’s a benefit in enrolling in both Clear and TSA PreCheck. Clear is only located in 42 U.S. airports, albeit at many of the nation’s largest.

Airport concessions

These might actually be the most confounding lines of all, specifically in the morning hours when you’re trying to grab a cup of coffee. I’ve had multiple occasions in the last year when I’ve just had to forgo my morning caffeine while traveling simply because I didn’t have time to wait in a half-hour line before my flight.

Your smartphone may be your friend here. Starbucks has worked to expand its online ordering options at airports. Additionally, check your airline’s app. American Airlines, for instance, has on-the-go food-ordering options at some of its major hubs.

A long line for McDonald’s at the airport. (Photo by Edward Pizzarello/pizzainmotion.com)

It takes a little bit of planning to know when exactly you’ll pass through a particular part of the airport, but some quick research and use of your mobile device could be your ticket to a much-needed meal or cup of coffee.

Rental car facility

Anyone who’s rented a car with some regularity knows those airport rental car check-in counters can really back up, and the line doesn’t always move especially fast. Before your trip, check the website for your rental car company to see if it offers some sort of skip-the-line option.

With Avis, for instance, you can sign up for “Preferred” status, which is free and available to anyone. With Preferred, at many locations you can do all the “paperwork” on your phone, skip the counter and head right to an electronic board to see where your car is.

The Hertz elite board shows where to find your car without the need to wait in line
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Other rental car companies have similar programs that could save you a lot of time picking up your car.

Related: Top 3 easiest ways to save on rental cars

Hotel

You’ll start sensing a trend with my recommendations here: See what type of mobile check-in options your hotel has through its app. Many hotels offer both check-in from your phone and mobile key options to enter your room.

Related: Apple and Hyatt launch digital keys in your iPhone’s wallet

My go-to strategy is to check in on my phone and go straight to the room. On my next trip downstairs — once I’m not hauling any luggage — I’ll stop by the front desk (if there’s no line) to grab a physical key to use for the rest of my stay.

I’ve also run into cases where, by checking in on the hotel’s app as early as the property would allow, I’ve gotten far earlier access to my room than I expected. I once landed in Washington, D.C., at about 7 a.m., wondering what to do with my luggage for the seven or eight hours before my room was ready. Just as I walked out of the airport, I received a notification that my room for that night was ready. For the one-night stay, I had access to the room for about 30 hours.

In the case of mass flight cancellations

This is a trick primarily for non-lounge members, and one that might make lounge members groan. I apologize in advance.

Let’s say you’re at the airport on one of those days when seemingly everyone is running into delays and cancellations. Poor weather days are often the culprit here. If your trip is affected, your best bet is to check the airline’s app and see what options there are for changing your flight right on the spot, without ever having to consult customer service.

Related: Here’s what to do if your flight is delayed or canceled

There are times when rebooking is not quite so neat and tidy, requiring you to speak with an airline representative. It’s on these types of days, though, that the lines at the customer service desks can be so long you might wait in line a couple of hours before being able to speak with someone. Wait times on the phone can be equally long.

long lines at New Orleans airport
Long lines amid flight cancellations at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Here’s one trick I’ve used in this situation. If you aren’t an airline club member, see if you can purchase a day pass, and then work with a customer service representative inside the club. American Airlines flyers, for instance, can purchase a one-day pass to the Admirals Club for $59. There’s a good chance other flyers will be lined up looking to rebook, but you can be sure the line is shorter than the one outside in the terminal.

Related: Paying for lounge memberships with miles: Worth it or bad deal?

Also, on a day like this you’ll probably be stuck at the airport for a lot longer than you expected. Now you’ve got a place to get some food, charge your electronic devices and relax in a more comfortable and less stressful environment.

This is also where a credit card like the United Explorer Card could come in handy. For the $95 annual fee, you don’t get full club access, but you do get two passes per year. Those passes come in handy to get into the lounge on days when you’re facing flight delays and having access to the customer service agent in the club can save you lots of time in the rebooking process.

Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access in 2022

Bottom line

When it comes to long lines during your travels, it may all boil down to three key things:

  1. Advance planning can help you make the reservations and arrangements needed to avoid the longest lines.
  2. Strategic use of your smartphone lets you take advantage of wait-reducing options with the help of technology.
  3. Patience, when all else fails.

Despite your best efforts though, there’s a good chance you’re going to encounter some lines along the way.

Featured photo by Mimi Wright/The Points Guy.

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