When it comes to modern air travel, the journey really can be as important as the destination.
As anyone who has taken a commercial air flight in the last decade knows, long lines, delays, and cattle-car-like compartments can quickly make you wonder whether even the most amazing trip can possibly be worth the price.
That’s why even cost-conscious frequent travelers opt to pay extra for some relatively inexpensive upgrades that can make a world of difference for your comfort.
Below, they share their top picks.
Premium Economy Seats
Airlines have been offering premium economy seats, which have a few extra inches of legroom, for years. The extra cost can vary widely—from as little as $20 to $400 or more, depending on the carrier and flight.
While a couple of inches might seem like a negligible amount of extra space, it can make a huge difference in comfort. “Especially if you’re tall like my husband,” says Wendy VanHattan, 67, a veteran travel writer and blogger who, along with her husband, Rick, travels frequently.
What you might not realize, however, is that many carriers also give premium economy passengers a host of extra goodies such as priority boarding, expedited luggage delivery, better meals or entertainment, and more frequent flier miles—and even the occasional bump to business class.
VanHattan says that she’s generally willing to pay about $300 more, roundtrip, to fly premium on international flights. To get the best deal on premium seats, she suggests searching for flight times and prices via online travel aggregators, such as Orbitz or Kayak, but then booking directly with the airline. “If you need to make changes or something happens with your flight it’s usually a lot more user-friendly,” she says.
The government-service that speeds you through security was widely hailed by business travelers and other frequent fliers when it came on the scene in 2011.
Yet at a cost of just $85 for five years, TSA PreCheck is a perk that makes sense even for infrequent travelers.
Most of us know that sinking feeling of getting to security and encountering a line so long you’re sure you’ll miss your flight. Even when the wait is manageable, there is still the ordeal of taking off your shoes, removing your laptop and doing the same in reverse on the other side.
Consider this: In October of this year, 93% of PreCheck passengers waited in line for security less than five minutes—and kept their shoes on their feet.
To get PreCheck, you’ll need to fill out an application with TSA, agree to a background check and schedule a short in-person meeting.
If you regularly travel overseas, you may also want to get Global Entry, which includes PreCheck and puts you on a fast track through passport control and customs at major U.S. airports, as well as some airports overseas. Global Entry is only $15 more than TSA PreCheck—$100 for five years.
Wendy Lee, 50, who retired from a 30-year career in fundraising to become a travel writer, says that Global Entry is a must-have.
“To arrive tired after a long international flight and see hundreds of people in Passport Control is overwhelming,” says Lee. “When you go to Global Entry? There’s zero. The difference is so stark that the first time I used it I thought I was in the wrong place.”
If you’re a cost-conscious traveler, lengthy layovers are a fact of life—and delays are a reality for everyone.
But those layovers don’t have to involve miserable hours spent on uncomfortable seats, enduring constant noise and a dearth of power outlets.
Instead, you could be heading for an airport lounge, which typically offers a wide range of food and drinks, comfortable seating and faster wi-fi; some even offer access to showers and sleep pods.
A couple of years ago Wendy and her husband, Jason, who live in Southern California, signed up for PriorityPass, which gets them into more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide. A standard membership is $299 and includes 10 free visits, while unlimited access is $429 a year. But infrequent travelers can opt for the $99 membership and pay a $32 entry fee each time.
“We liked it so much that we also got an American Express Platinum card, which adds a whole other list of lounges,” says Wendy. And they’ve seen plenty: in past year, the couple have visited Barcelona, Guadalajara, Quebec City, Hong Kong, Prague and New York, with plans for a trip to Rwanda underway.
Says Wendy: “There are lots of things you can do to make your travels more comfortable—without having to upgrade up to first-class or something ridiculously expensive.”