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How to Buy Your Way into VIP Travel Status

an upgrade because of my VIP travel status

Some people aren’t so stressed when they head to the airport for their next trip because they have VIP travel status. Then there’s everyone else…

Are you always in the last group to board the plane, stuck in a middle seat, scrounging for an outlet in the airport waiting area? Do you stand in long lines at customs or security while those business travelers whip through the Global Entry and TSA pre-check lines? Do you spend $5 on coffee or bottled water in the airport and then get a crappy standard room when you get to the hotel?

Even if you only experience one or two of these things on a regular basis, you might start feeling like a schmuck. You probably start harboring a little “us vs. them” resentment and feel like the deck is stacked against you.

Really though, you can spend a little money and get a new deck. You don’t have to be elite to join the elite. You just have to target your spending to achieve a VIP travel status goal.

Here are some ways to move to the top of the priority rank with more comfort and airport speed.

Global Entry, Nexus, and TSA Pre-check

You can do a little research and get the low-down on any restrictions, but these programs are open to anyone who’s not on a watch list or has a criminal record. You pay some money, submit to a background check, and in some cases do an in-person interview at an international airport. After that you’re good to go for years. Global Entry automatically gets you TSA pre-check in the USA, so not only do you breeze through immigration, but you also get to leave your jacket, shoes, and belt on most of the time in the security line. Nexus is what to get if you’re Canadian or you travel to Canada a lot. In Europe, many of the airlines have their own similar program. I just saw it in action in Sweden and Denmark with a separate line for SAS members who have been checked out.

TSA pre check Global Entry

Costs vary, but are $100 for Global Entry, which is good for five years. If you pay the hefty Amex Platinum card charge this fee is included.

Airport Lounge Access via Priority Pass Priority Pass airport lounge

When I was flying home from Europe this week I had a 3.5-hour layover in Copenhagen. This is an airport where a cup of coffee can cost you $7 and you don’t even want to look at the prices for food. Since I have a Priority Pass membership though, I just showed the QR code on my phone and camped out in the Aviator Lounge there. I had a couple cups of coffee, got complimentary breakfast, and did a few hours of work in a comfortable environment. I picked up a copy of the New York Times international edition on the way out. Had it been a bit later, I could have drunk a few Carlsbergs or glasses of wine on the house.

This option is much better than a pass from a single airline because you have access to 900+ lounges around the world.

My wife and I once had an eight-hour layover in the Madrid airport. We spent so long in the lounge there that we had two meals and a nap. I had to pay for her visit, but I think she got her $27 guest fee’s worth. Go to the Priority Pass site to see the details, but prices range from $249 (10 annual visits) to $399 (unlimited visits). Get 10% off with this link.

Hotel Credit Cards With Instant VIP Travel Status

The Starwood Amex card is popular for its Boingo internet access and points that can transfer to airlines, but I prefer the ones that give me VIP treatment and free hotel rooms instead. I especially like the Chase one from Intercontinental Hotels Group. It gives you instant elite status for room upgrades when available, which often puts you in a suite instead of a noisy standard room by the elevator. It also provides a free hotel stay when you pay your annual fee, which just saved me $120 for an upcoming night in Anchorage. That’s about double the annual fee. IHG also seems to have the lowest points levels of any of the major chains when redeeming. I’ve gotten many rooms for just 5,000 or 10,000 points.

Hotel elite status credit card

Current offer, likely to change frequently…

The Club Carlson (Radisson Blu and others) Visa gives you automatic silver or gold club status, with room upgrades and a dedicated check-in desk line. Point redemptions here are generally reasonable.

The Amex Hilton card gives you silver elite status, which is not as generous as IHG’s, but it does ensure free internet access and late check-out. They won’t put in writing that you get a room upgrade, but there’s a much better chance you’ll get one by asking nicely if you have this status and the hotel is half empty. They’re currently giving 75,000 points when you get the card if you spend $2,000 on it in the first 90 days.

Airline Credit Cards with Perks

I have credit cards from United (Chase), Delta (Amex), and American Airlines (Citi). I don’t have all these because I love these airlines and am loyal to them. I have the cards because they give me points and status. All three give me the ability to check a bag without paying the hated baggage fee. (Just be advised they’ll wriggle out of the free bag promise on some flights just to be greedy jerks.) When I buy the ticket with the appropriate card I also get to board in group one or two, right after the elite status people. So I never have to worry about finding overhead bin space.

If you fly another airline regularly, you’ll find similar perks from them probably, though they’ll be less status-oriented on an airline such as Southwest or JetBlue—they already give everyone more to start with and don’t punish the plebeians with so many fees. (Avoid the Spirit Air one at all costs though—it’s one small step up from a scam.)

What about you? Where have you ponied up some cash in order to move up your status or save time?

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Ashley Bailey

Tuesday 2nd of October 2018

It's really great post.Thank you for sharing.


Friday 7th of April 2017

Amazing Sharing about VIP Travel Status. I have booked marked your site and am about to email it to a few friends of mine that I know would enjoy reading.


Wednesday 27th of July 2016

Great tips! I used the American Airlines Admiral Lounge already and loved it!


Saturday 23rd of July 2016

I applied for Nexus on 5/25. Two months later my application is still in "pending review " status. :-(


Saturday 23rd of July 2016


Our NEXUS application took a total of two months to process. I suspect that the large amount of applications due to the TSA airport hassles just bumped the process time a bit longer.

Good luck, and you'll like using your NEXUS cards at border crossings and the other perks. It makes things easy-peasy.