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Missing travel as much as we are? While grounded by the global pandemic, some of our favorite flying memories and perks are left in the clouds.
And before someone chimes in that there is absolutely nothing to miss about flying (middle seats, long lines, security hassles, etc.), consider that maybe you’ve been doing it wrong. If you’ve been suffering through every flight because you thought the pleasant aspects of air travel come only with the priciest tickets, good news: Some of the best perks for flyers have nothing to do with spending a lot on airline tickets.
Look to your wallet for many high-flying benefits offered by your credit cards. Whether it’s free Clear or TSA Precheck membership, lounge access in airports or pre-boarding on flights, the flying experience can be a treat even if you don’t spend a ton.
Travelers already well aware of these little luxuries know there’s lots to long for while we’re staying safer at home. But there are ways to re-create the in-flight experience for yourself while grounded. For example, many hotels are making some of their signature amenities available to buy online. But that’s just the beginning.
This guide delivers right to your doorstep some of the more enjoyable aspects of flying.
» Learn more: NerdWallet’s best travel credit cards
Lounging before a flight
If it’s the lounge experience you miss, you’re in luck. The Centurion Lounge at Home has recipes for popular food items and cocktails served in these airport lounges. The recipes use ingredients you might already have at home to make dishes like Chef Dean Fearing’s popular guacamole.
Delta Sky Club members and frequent visitors have surely tried Campbell’s Wicked Thai-Style chicken soup served in many of its lounges. If you, too, got hooked, you can buy the consumer version of this soup.
Cathay Pacific has unveiled the recipe for its signature Cathay Delight “mocktail,” which is often served as a pre-departure drink in the premium cabin or available during the flight. It’s also available in its airport lounges and can be enjoyed with alcohol, should you wish.
The drink was developed in collaboration with the Hong Kong Bartenders Association, and with reduced air travel at the moment, the airline wants to remind its passengers of one of its popular amenities. To go with it, pop a ramekin of nuts into the microwave to enjoy this quintessential in-flight snack the same way you might on airlines like American or Delta.
Forget what you know (or think you know) about airplane food. For travelers seated in the pointy end of the plane, it is often much more appealing. United Airlines thinks so and has even published a cookbook of its favorite recipes from Polaris business class.
It contains 40 recipes, including those of chefs from the Trotter Project. Grab a cocktail, dim the lights and enjoy one of these entrees on a tray while watching a movie (or one of the hundreds of “trip report” or “flight report” videos uploaded to YouTube by travelers documenting in-flight service). It’s like being in Polaris without having to search for award availability or save up MileagePlus miles by spending on one of the airline’s many credit cards.
» Learn more: Benefits of United Airlines credit cards
Delta may have introduced Biscoff cookies to the U.S. airline passenger, but many domestic airlines now serve them. These ever-popular European cookies are available from many grocery stores and online. If you order through Delta’s own Biscoff store, you can earn 1 SkyMile per dollar spent.
United brought the Dutch stroopwafel (15% off using coupon code FLYAWAY15) to U.S. airline passengers’ attention, but American has doled out these distinctively delicious treats, too. Similarly, JetBlue gets credit for its signature Terra Chips that it serves on flights. Both are snacks that, for many frequent flyers, can transport you from home to another setting with every bite.
Because airlines are seeing fewer passengers, their perishable snacks and meals are going to waste. Many airlines are donating them to food banks where possible. You can buy them from purveyors like Imperfect Foods, which is selling familiar airline fare like cheese plates and snack boxes at a discount.
Mile-high comfort and style
Airline boarding music can put you in the right mood for travel, even if it’s armchair travel. American Airlines posts its boarding music — usually a compilation of indie rock bands and emerging artists — on Spotify and Apple Music. The playlist changes monthly.
If you want to host a dinner party in the style of airline business class service, you’re in luck: Many airlines sell the same service items used on their planes. Delta sells some of its in-flight items, including old aircraft seats and service carts, from its flight museum in Atlanta. Keep an eye out for their frequent sales if you’re interested.
Don’t forget to watch one of the many popular airline safety videos that have been uploaded to YouTube before you dig into a meal on airline china. Air New Zealand has a webpage dedicated to its current safety video as well as the full transcript, should you wish to read it aloud.
The Lufthansa WorldShop sells all kinds of airline-branded accessories including a coffee table crafted out of an airplane wing. Austrian’s Jetshop has a variety of airplane models, vintage-logo items and coffee cups.
Air France has an online store selling logoed souvenirs, travel items and clothing. Why not dress like a pilot while at home? These TAP Air Portugal notebooks and office supplies can also help satisfy your urge to travel for the time being.
United sells the bedding from its Polaris business class cabin. The Saks Fifth Avenue pillows and blankets are apparently so sumptuous that the airline had to issue a polite reminder to passengers not to pilfer them from the plane. The airline provided a reference to their online store so passengers could buy them instead.
And if you plan to prepare meals from the airline’s cookbook, you might as well order a branded apron to go with it.
Many websites sell fond reminders of traveling the globe, as well. Airportag is known for everything from T-shirts to pillow covers featuring airport codes, or gifts that resemble the boarding passes we all wish we had. Pilot Mall is geared toward pilots but has commemorative models and gifts that will appeal to everyone.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card