7 On Your Side: Sail through airports with perks


It's been 13 years since the September 11th attacks and tighter security at airports has made for longer lines, but that may be changing. Now airports and airlines are offering extra perks to make traveling more luxurious, without having to pay first class prices. Here is how you can get in on those deals.

At San Francisco International Airport while everyone was rushing to get to the security lines, I found flyer Todd Saunders casually walking to an empty TSA Pre-check security line.

"It saves me a lot of time at the gate or at the security line. I don't have to take my belt off, take stuff out of my bag and there's never a line," said Saunders.

"The girl that lets the A-list guests go by, stopped me and said I was pre TSA accepted and I didn't know what that meant," said Barbara Forde from Walnut Creek.

"TSA Pre-check" costs $85 and requires travelers to pass a background check and get fingerprinted. Anyone accepted into the program is excused from having to remove their shoes, belt, jacket and they don't have to take out their computer or any liquids from their carry on.

TSA Pre-check was launched last year by the Transportation Security Agency at all three Bay Area airports.

Scott Wintner is the spokesperson for Oakland International Airport. He told us, "It's really designed to expedite the screening process, but not necessarily put people into a shorter line."

Recently, the TSA expanded this program to random travelers who don't have to pay for the program and don't even know they've qualified. The TSA has, on its own, cleared some travelers they think are low risk through information already provided by passengers through existing secure flight programs. Some of that information includes passenger's name, birth date and gender.

"TSA's hope is that these modified screening processes become the norm," said Wintner.

But for now, the TSA Pre-check lines are much shorter and travelers at Oakland and San Francisco airports are saving as much as 30 minutes in line at the airport. Baggage handlers and ticket agents won't generally point this out.

So, to find out if you've been randomly selected, check the designation on your boarding pass. In some cases the designation is just embedded in the bar code and not marked anywhere. If you're in a hurry, it can feel like a big win.

Another perk is for $179 a private company called Clear will escort you to the front of the security line at San Francisco International Airport or Mineta San Jose International Airport.

We watched this traveler enter Clear's kiosk, pass TSA, go through the TSA pre-check point and get to the other side all in a minute and a half.

Simply getting to the terminal from the parking lot can be frustrating too. At Oakland International Airport, travelers can choose premier parking to make it easier.

"Premier parking is our most exclusive parking option and travelers have the ability to part directly across the street from the terminals," said Wintner.

This parking option costs $36 per day in comparison to $16 for economy parking. Premier parkers also get to use an exclusive security line reserved just for them.

"It's just another example of how you pay a little bit more and you can get these added benefits without necessarily have to shell out for the entire first class experience," said Wintner.

With first class, checked bags are free, but there are cheaper ways to score free bags on some airlines. If you use a United Visa card when you book on United, then your first checked bag is free. Plus every year you'll get two free club lounge passes. And finally, you can drive to the airport in style. For just $12 you can drive an electric BMW from Downtown San Francisco to SFO.

"DriveNow is an electric vehicle car sharing program brought to you by BMW. We have 70 vehicles here in the San Francisco Bay Area," said Rich Steinberg, the DriveNow CEO. "You can use our service on a one way basis. So you can pick it up here in SOMA, our headquarters and take it one way to the airport very affordably."

Read more about the TSA Pre-check program here.

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