There’s Actually No Need to Stand in Line When Traveling

There are ways to skip lines at hotels, rental car counters and the airport. Some cost money, others are free.
Sam Kemmis
By Sam Kemmis 
Edited by Meg Lee

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Why is standing in line so aggravating? After all, there’s little tangible difference between waiting in line and hanging out near a departure gate. And still, one feels almost subhuman, and the other totally fine.

Whatever the root psychological cause, standing in line can be a major hassle for travelers. About 626 million passengers passed airport security in October 2022, according to the Transportation Security Administration, which would form a line long enough to reach the moon.

Yet waiting in airport security and other lines is almost completely avoidable. Savvy travelers know how to skip the most frustrating lines and — most importantly — how to avoid paying to do so. Here we share some of our favorite line-skipping and budget-saving tips.

Airport security

Little sends a traveler’s heart sinking faster than the sight of a snaking airport security line.

If this past summer is any indication, airport security lines could get slammed this holiday season. Almost half (46%) of travelers plan to fly this holiday, more than the 40% in 2021 and 33% in 2020, according to a survey of 4,000 people by PwC, also known as PricewaterhouseCoopers.

There are generally three ways to avoid these lines, though the way they interact and overlap is not always clear.

TSA PreCheck

TSA offers a PreCheck program for U.S. passengers. Members get several benefits when passing through airport security:

  • A separate checkpoint, available at most airports. According to the TSA, 90% of wait times were under five minutes in October 2022.

  • Fewer restrictions at checkpoints. Members don’t have to remove their shoes or light jackets or pass through body scanners.

  • Children are automatically included. Travelers age 12 and under can join a TSA member in the expedited lines, as can travelers 13-17, but the latter must have the TSA PreCheck indicator on their boarding pass.

PreCheck costs $78 for five years of membership, which works out to $15.60 per year. But there are plenty of ways to offset the PreCheck fee, including many travel credit cards that will reimburse it.

You can also use some travel points and miles to pay the fee, but that isn’t always the most economical method.

Global Entry

You know that long line that takes forever to move when trying to return to the U.S. from another country? You don’t have to wait in that one, either. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program allows pre-screened passengers to use self-service kiosks when passing through immigration.

And here’s the thing: TSA PreCheck is included with Global Entry membership (but not the other way around). You might be scratching your head, wondering why anybody would sign up for TSA PreCheck rather than Global Entry. Truthfully, there’s a lot to consider when deciding between the two programs.

See the table below for a full breakdown. Basically, travelers who don’t travel internationally much and don’t want to deal with the hassle of an in-person interview should choose TSA PreCheck. Everyone else is probably better off with Global Entry.

TSA PreCheck

Global Entry

Length of membership

5 years.

5 years.

Application fee

$78 ($70 online renewal).


Enrollment centers



Access to TSA PreCheck security lane



Can bring minor children with you (12 & under)


No, child must have their own membership.

Access to expedited U.S. Customs lanes



Best for

Domestic travelers.

International travelers.


Yes, there’s one more option, though it’s actually an add-on to the previous options. Clear is a private company that provides biometric screening at many airports, and lets passengers skip the beginning of the security line (up to where they check your I.D.)

You can have Clear membership without TSA PreCheck membership, which means you’ll still have to take off your shoes. Or you can combine them both for an even faster line (at participating airports).

The big catch is the price. Clear costs $189 per year (not every five years, like the two other services). Though it’s easy to find discounts and credit card offers that will knock this price down.

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Rental cars

It’s frustrating to get off a long flight, take the shuttle to the rental car facility and then get stuck in a long line at the rental car counter. Yet even this line, like most others, can be skipped — usually for free.

  • Avis Preferred. In many locations, simply signing up for Avis’ loyalty program lets you skip the line and pick up a car directly from the lot.

  • Hertz Gold Plus Rewards. It might sound fancy (and expensive) to earn “Gold Plus” status, which lets you skip the Hertz rental car counter altogether, but it’s also free.

  • National Emerald Club. This free loyalty program tier lets you grab a car from the “Emerald Aisle” (get it?) when booking a midsize or larger car.

Some travel credit cards and airline and hotel elite status programs also offer higher levels of benefits with these rental car loyalty programs. But if you’re just looking to skip the line, all you need to do is sign up.


There are two lines that frequent travelers know to skip when staying at a hotel. (There’s nothing anyone can do about slow elevators, though.)


Most hotel loyalty programs offer special lines for elite status members. While these status levels aren’t free, like those for rental cars, they can usually be earned from branded credit cards, many of which carry low fees.

Failing that, more and more hotel brands are now offering mobile check-in, which is just what it sounds like. You can use your phone to check into your room and even unlock the door. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy app features contactless check-in, so you can pass right through the lobby and its line of worn-out travelers.


This tip is the simplest of the bunch. At most hotels, you don’t have to wait to check out. You can just drop your keys in a box at the front desk, check out with your phone or (in many cases) simply walk out. This is especially helpful when checking out late, to avoid the line of afternoon newcomers.

The bottom line

Nobody likes standing in line when traveling (except, apparently, those people who stand around the gate before their boarding group has been called). Yet many of the worst lines are completely avoidable.

Signing up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry is the most labor- and money-intensive of these options, but membership lasts five years and eliminates a huge amount of hassle. And rental car loyalty programs and hotel mobile check-in apps are free.

But believe us: Hitting the hotel elevator button several times does not make it show up any faster.

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 2023, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $900 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.


Intro offer

Up to $300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.


Intro offer


Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

See more travel cards
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