Hopefully, you’re stocked up on travel rewards points, because 2020 is shaping up to be a big year for travel. It’s not all about rewards points, however — many membership programs are available to optimize your travel experience beyond free flights and hotel rooms. Consider these five programs to make 2020 your best year of adventure yet.
Who it’s for: People wanting a bit of peace and quiet at the airport
Priority Pass Select is the best thing to happen to the airport lounge since the self-service wine bar. Members enjoy up to 10 complimentary lounge visits per year at airports worldwide, for $249 — a roughly 50 percent discount were you to pay full price at each lounge. The best part is that many travel rewards credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum, offer free Select membership to cardholders. So, if you’re a member of one of the top rewards programs, you can sign up for Priority Pass Select, scan your digital membership card at 1,300 lounges worldwide, and enjoy all the Scotch and fax machine access your heart desires.
Should you burn through the 10 passes, additional entries are $32 each. Note that we’re talking about Priority Pass Select membership — not the $99 basic membership, which offers only two $32 lounge entries and no free entries. To actually make your membership worthwhile, opt for the Select plan.
Who it’s for: People who want affordable comfort while flying
Perhaps your legs are feeling a bit cramped, and you could really use a bit of extra legroom on that long-haul flight to Seoul. ExpertFlyer is far more reliable a companion in this case than even the airline website itself, as the service allows you to monitor the best seats on your flight and will contact you immediately should they open up. ExpertFlyer also details frequent flyer programs to help you get the most points for your buck and works as a flight monitoring tool to boot, for $99.99 per year.
It has even gone so far as to provide a crash course on every common airplane model so that you’ll know which seats to look out for when booking a flight. Did you know that the aisle seat in row 47 on that long-haul flight has no seat in front of it and thus offers three extra feet of legroom? You will with this service, and will have the best chance of snagging it before everyone else.
Who it’s for: People who don’t like waiting in line at airports
CLEAR, currently operated by the private company Alclear, LLC, is a program that uses biometrics to identify a person before they pass through security screening at crowded facilities like airports and stadiums. At first glance, it looks familiar to federal programs like TSA PreCheck, but rather than being designed to speed you through the entire security process, CLEAR focuses specifically on the first part — the identification check. Instead of having to wait in line to hand your boarding pass and ID to a TSA agent before you pass your bag and self through the scanners, you visit the CLEAR stand and scan your eyes or fingerprints. Then, a CLEAR representative will direct you to the nearest, and hopefully shortest, screening line.
Besides having your irises and fingerprints filed in binary code, the only real “catch” to CLEAR is that it’s not available at all airports — currently, only 30 airports in the US have it. Membership costs $179 annually, though many travel rewards credit cards and other programs offer discounted membership ranging from $109 to $149.
4. TripIt Pro
Who it’s for: People who doesn’t like wasting time at the airport
TripIt isn’t new, but it has optimized its paid membership (TripIt Pro) so much over the past two years that it has essentially become the Siri of airport navigation and itinerary organization. The app keeps track of all of your travel plans and organizes them into neat and easy itineraries that are easy to access and share. For $49 per year, you’ll gain access to airport terminal and concourse maps with voiced directions that can navigate you between gates on a tight layover, updated security wait times, and the ability to change flights and seats within the app.
TripIt Pro also has international travel guides that include currency, tipping, and other handy information. It allows you to monitor fares and receive text messages of delays and gate changes, and there’s even a tool that tells you what time you need to leave your location for the airport, making the nail-biting drive through traffic to the airport a thing of the past.
Who it’s for: Adventure travelers who want to remain safe on the road
While not nearly as fun a topic as travel hacking and free lounge buffets, the issue of what to do when something goes wrong on the road is worth every traveler’s attention. GEOS is a company that provides search and rescue and medical evacuation support to its members, along with accident coverage up to $50,000 or $100,000 depending on the level of membership. If you’re injured while rock climbing abroad and need to be evacuated, or on a backcountry expedition and get stuck in the elements, the last thing you want is to have no one to turn to for help — let alone question whether the event will leave you in financial ruin. GEOS can be activated through a mobile app or a supported satellite device that you bring with you while traveling. Coverage plans include Search and Rescue, Medical Evacuation, and bundled options that tie the two together, with costs starting at around $24.95 per year for a basic SAR package, depending on your situation and needs.