You are treated like royalty once you board your ship. It’s why you love cruise vacations. Unless the ship sails and returns to your home town, you have to get to the ship to start your vacation. This usually means flying. How can you improve the front and rear ends of your cruise vacation?
If you are flying first or business class, the airlines take great care of you. However, most of us fly coach. If you travel during peak season, you are confronted by long lines at check in and long waits at your gate.
There are several ways you can move the airport experience up towards the standard of your cruise experience.
- Get status with your airline. Pick a favorite airline. Try to centralize your travel. This should get you into a higher tier. This means getting on the shorter priority line at the ticket counter and getting onto the plane earlier in the boarding sequence.
- Get the airline’s credit card. This should earn miles towards free flights or seat upgrades. The higher priced cards often include free checked bags and priority boarding. It might even include lounge access.
- Use the airline’s lounge. You either join the lounge outright, have a credit card providing access, get access through your status when traveling internationally or you buy a day pass. The lounge gives you a quiet space, munchies, usually free drinks and a dedicated customer service desk if you need to make flight changes. You can ask about swapping seats in your designated cabin.
- Lounge hopping. Your airline likely belong to an alliance like Oneworld, Star Alliance and Skyteam tying in with other airlines around the world. The higher status frequent flier levels allow access to lounges operated by partner airlines. At Heathrow Terminal 3, the American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas and Cathay Pacific lounges are located close to one another.
- Use the cruise line’s transfer service. I was a latecomer to this strategy, always convinced I could do it better and cheaper. We took Cunard’s Southampton to Heathrow transfer last year. You are one of the first groups off the ship. You get your luggage. There’s a line of busses. You depart virtually immediately. We reached Heathrow in plenty of time. It cost about the same as a taxi from the ship to the bus station and the bus to Heathrow would cost.
At this point you have solved several major problems: Check in, relaxing in the terminal and boarding the plane. But you see problems on the horizon. One of your cities doesn’t have a club from your airline. Maybe the cruise company booked you on a different airline. What now?
The American Express Platinum Card costs $ 550/year. That may sound steep, but it comes with benefits including a $ 200.00 annual credit for airline fees for things like checked bags or fees for better seats. (You specify your airline.) That $ 200.00 can be used towards your airlines annual lounge membership fee, which is how I use mine. There’s a $100/$85 credit for Global Entry or TSA precheck, which you can use once in every four years.
Most important is lounge access. American Express had a brilliant idea! Build it’s own Centurion Lounges at airports in nine US cities plus Hong Kong. Five more are on the way. I’ve visited the Dallas (DFW) lounge a few times. It’s excellent.
What about other cities? Another perk is membership in the Priority Pass program. It provides access to about 600 lounges in 100 countries. This is very useful if you find your homeward bound flight leaves from a city not serviced by your major airline.
A lot depends on how much you travel.
- You travel a lot. It’s vacation or business travel. Get everything. Higher frequent flier status. Airline lounge membership. The AMEX platinum card. You are ready for anything. You are also traveling “in a bubble.” Air travel is like it used to be. You don’t see why people are complaining.
- You travel a bit. It’s mostly vacation travel. Try to concentrate your flying with one airline. Align your everyday spending to get airline miles. Use them for upgrades where possible. Decide if joining your airline’s lounge club makes sense or buy day passes at the airport.
- You travel rarely. It’s the trip of a lifetime. It’s on your bucket list. If you are flying First or Business class, you shouldn’t have problems. If you are flying coach, see if your airlines version of American Airlines’ premium economy is cost effective. It’s “Baby business class.” It gets you priority check in, AKA “the shorter line.” Buy a day pass for your airline’s lounge.
Your time at the airport doesn’t need to be the weak link in your cruise vacation experience.
Story courtesy of Bryce Sanders