The 3 Best Innovations At the Airport to Skip Lines and Earn Miles

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One of the things I love about having moved to Austin three years ago is the airport. It’s got the smell of barbecue, even if I don’t think Salt Lick Barbecue is very good — let alone the airport’s version. There’s often live music.

The airport’s free internet is provided by Boingo, and Boingo account holders get premium internet (American Express offers premium Boingo via their Platinum cards and their Starwood card.

But mostly,

  • I live downtown yet the airport is less than a 20 minute drive away
  • When you walk into the airport PreCheck is right there and the gates are just past security

It’s easy to get to, and easy in and out. The airport has both an American Airlines Admirals Club and a United Club.

Now not everything about the airport is perfect. I don’t love Austin Java’s coffee. American no longer has gate 13 directly below their club (so you could see when a flight departing that gate was boarding and know when to leave the club).

But there are three areas where they’re ‘cutting edge’ for me.

Earn Miles For Your Airport Spend

Many airports work with the majority of their merchants to sign up for Thanks Again a program that awards miles in your preferred loyalty program for spend at their stores.

That’s a way for the airport to get data on who is spending at the airport, and to encourage you to spend more. You may choose to park instead of Ubering, if your company is paying, knowing the parking will generate more miles. Or if they know you park, they can communicate with you, and encourage you to spend on retail as well.

The app has beacon technology to deliver relevant sales based on where you’re at in an airport, if you’re in front of Brooks Brothers they can serve you a discount on shirts for instance.

That’s the why, I can ignore being marketed to, and I prefer earning more miles than fewer miles.

Don’t Show Your Boarding Pass at Security

I’ve written that Austin is one of a handful of markets where TSA is testing scanning your ID only, no boarding pass required.

They already have your flight information. In fact you wouldn’t be able to generate a boarding pass in the first place if they hadn’t ok’d your permission to fly. So there’s no reason to actually show or scan a boarding pass at the checkpoint.

TSA has their data hooked up now so that they scan your boarding pass, ask you to verify your flight number as a backup piece of information, and that’s all. But the flight number piece is problematic because most travelers will need to pull out their boarding pass to know that.

Pre-order Food and Pick Up When It’s Ready

The ‘Grab’ app lets you pre-order food and then you don’t have to wait in line. You walk up, depending on the merchant to a special window or just to the counter, and pick up your order. The app tells you how long your order will take.

I like it because I can sit in the American Airlines Admirals Club above the food court in the Austin airport and then if I want some food for my flight I place my order while I’m still in the club. I can head down right before boarding, pick up the food, and right onto the plane.

At a major hub order while you’re still on the jetway from your arriving flight, pick up food, and head to your gate. You need to know exactly where you are and where you’re going to pull off this trick, but it makes for an efficient connection and one where you can still get some food even at a banked hub like DFW where connections are often short and transfers between gates long.

Grab uses your location to serve the correct airport. It won’t have all food and beverage options at the airport, but it will have several, and the menus from each.

American integrated Grab into their mobile app. It’s available under ‘terminal maps’, and then ‘order food.’ I’m not sure what the benefit of doing this inside the American app is, although presumable American gets either a marketing fee or commission for doing this. I’d rather American focused on things like letting you buy and change tickets inside their app personally.

This sort of makes you an ‘airport restaurant VIP’ skipping the line, sort of like walking right in front of everyone at Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart and just ordering meat. Like a boss.

With American, via Grab’s app or American’s, the service is available at Dallas Fort-Worth, Los Angeles, Austin, and Atlanta. They’re in 13 other airports as well so far.

If you’re referred by someone you get 20% off your first order. I won’t leave my referral code here, if you have one please leave yours in the comments for other readers to use. That way readers will get discounts on their orders for referring folks, too.

What’s Missing From the Airport Experience

There are a few things still missing. I love that Dallas Fort-Worth has a barber shop on the C concourse. But the airport isn’t renewing their lease, airports don’t just care about businesses that make rent payments but also the percentage of gross sales they take. High end retail and high volume stores.

What I’d love is a real drug store, not just a 7-11, one with a pharmacy. And a dry cleaner. I’d love to pick up my cleaning when I get to the airport, drop it off at the end of a trip. Or vice versa. And fill my prescriptions. I use the ATM when I’m at the airport, why not pick up dinner on the way home too? Space is at a premium, but the incentives for how that space is used isn’t aligned with the interests of the road warrior.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Austin is in the sweet spot for sure. It almost makes it worth enduring the bad traffic and hipster invasion. The airport has direct flights to Europe (yes I’m jealous and nostalgic at my MCi home in Kansas City).
    Does Austin have CLEAR like DFW or others ?

    I’ve never flown into Austin yet I have regular business in South Texas. I usually choose to fly into Houston, San Antonio or McAllen (which is a really nice small airport) even if they don’t have glass jetbridges like Amarillo.

  2. Grab is such a time saver for food when you’re at an airport and don’t have a lounge you can access.

    My referral code: 92833796

  3. I think you meant to say “TSA has their data hooked up now so that they scan your ID”, not “TSA has their data hooked up now so that they scan your boarding pass”.

  4. I agree on the Austin airport being very quick to get to from downtown, and with PreCheck you can basically get there right before boarding begins. There’s not much to do in the terminal and the lounges are super basic, so no reason to hang out early.

    Get 20% off with my Grab referral code: 4C45E57D

  5. There is a full Rite-Aid pharmacy located in the gate area of Pittsburgh International Airport. It’s the only airport pharmacy that I recall. I always end up buying something there. Your point about airports wanting only high-end retail tenants is probably the reason there aren’t more airport pharmacies.

  6. Thanks for the good info, but why tell us you don’t like Salt Lick or Austin Java? There are many places in all airports I don’t like… why bother being a food critic (for only two) in an article about skipping lines and earning miles?

    Also, if the PreCheck line is long inside the door, there is another at the other end.

  7. Everything in Austin is better.

    I finally went to Blacks in Lockhart recently as a side trip on the way to Gruene Hall. I wasn’t blown away, although the beef rib was fun.

    I’m good with Ironworks. F Franklins.

  8. DFW Terminal D will soon have a pharmacy and a Doc in a Box (urgent care center). Signs announcing the new installation are up in that terminal. Dont recall the opening date but it’s soon.
    It may be like Boots in Heathrow Terminal 5, where there is a consulting pharmacist on staff; really makes sense if there is an urgent care center right there.

  9. With “Thanks Again,” why should you have to enter a credit card number? Why not provide a discount card or app on phone? I’m not providing that information.

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