About 600,000 people are enrolled in PreCheck, the program that promises a dedicated airport security line. Members of PreCheck, which costs $85 for five years to join after giving the TSA detailed personal information, don’t have to remove their shoes or light jackets and can leave their laptops in their from carry-on luggage.
Now the TSA wants another 9.5 million Americans to sign up.
Occasionally, passengers in regular security lines area invited to step into PreCheck lines. Why? Because there’s nobody at the PreCheck line. This irritates PreCheck passengers, but it’s meant to not only move people through security faster but also to keep TSA employees busy.
The TSA budget was cut by half a billion dollars last year, and the head of the agency is worried that passengers seeing TSA agents standing around doing nothing will foster an image that the TSA is overstaffed or its employees are lazy.
So the TSA has hired an outside firm to market PreCheck in an effort to boost business in a big way.
PreCheck does almost always mean spending less time in line, and you can sign up at most airports. Is it worth it if you only fly once or twice a year? You be the judge.
Earlier this month, the front man for the hit-making group Black-Eyed Peas—he goes by the name Will.i.am—arrived at Los Angeles’ airport 45 minutes before his flight to China was due to depart. The airline said, sorry, too late. Don’t let this happen to you.
The rule of thumb when it comes to international flights departing from the US is, get to the airport two hours before departure. An hour ahead is pushing it. And 45 minutes ahead, as Will.i.am found, just doesn’t cut it.
I happen to know that Will.i.am is habitually late to lots of things. And he wasn’t very happy with United, noting his displeasure in a Twitter posting to his 12.5 million followers:
The singer said other airlines will make exceptions for premium passengers. And sometimes they do, but don’t count on it. I once arrived 45 minutes late for a flight from LA to Bermuda on American. The airline wouldn’t take my luggage, wouldn’t put me on the plane.
I’ve met Will.i.am because a friend of mine works with him. He’s wealthy, talented, and has a large staff. Oh, and he flies first class. But with this incident, Will.i.am and I now have something in common.
Once, it was the number of miles you flew that determined if you reached elite status. Then, this year, Delta and United required you spend a minimum amount of money with their airline, as well. And two weeks ago, Delta upped the ante again. For 2016.
Here’s what’s new.
Instead of having to spend $2,500 to achieve silver (along with flying 25,000 miles, of course), the threshold will be $3,000 in 2016. Gold will go from $5,000 to $6,000. Platinum jumps from $7,500 to $9,000. And diamond flyers that this year and next must spend 12-5 on Delta tickets will have to spend $15,000 in 2016.
Most who fly the requisite miles will have little difficulty meeting the spending requirement. But it’s another blow to mileage experts who knew how to rack up thousands of miles by spending frugally. I’m betting American and United will follow Delta’s lead for 2016.
Public relations experts advise airlines that are about to change rules that will adversely affect some passengers to get the news out as early as possible to diffuse the shock. Which may be why Delta Air Lines this month unveiled its new rules for achieving elite status as a frequent flyer in 2016.
Until this year, passengers only had to accumulate miles flying a specific airline to reach various elite levels that provided an escalating set of perks such as early boarding and bonus miles.
Delta’s tiers mimicked the competition: Fly 25,000 miles in a year and you’re silver; 50,000 gets you to gold; 75,000 is platinum, and 125,000 miles makes you a diamond member. Then Delta said, flying isn’t enough. So Delta decreed that this year, silver flyers had to spend at least $2,500 on Delta tickets. $5,000 for gold, $7,500 for platinum, and 12-5 for platinum.
Then came the new, 2016 chart. The mileage remains the same but the dollar amounts went up. Is this the future for Delta’s competitors?
At least three times a year I nag you to make your Thanksgiving airline reservations in the spring if you know where you want to be and when. If you’re only getting around to it now, you’re going to pay more than lots of other folks on that plane, and you may be consigned to a middle seat.
I offer the same advice for December holiday travel: BOOK NOW.
Enterprise has brought back its el cheapo, weekend car rental deals. Ten bucks a day for smaller cars, Friday through Monday; larger cars cost a bit more, $15 to $20 a day. This promotion runs a long time—all the way through May 20th. The deal is only good at neighborhood Enterprise offices, not at airports.
And if you want to receive free Wi-fi, breakfast, and a possible upgrade at Hilton’s family of hotels, you must be an HHonors Gold member that normally requires staying at a Hilton 20 times or 40 nights. It’s a lot easier if you apply for the $95-a-year Hilton VISA card. That automatically makes you a gold member.