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Is the airport a weak link in your cruise vacation?

Is the airport a weak link in your cruise vacation?

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You are treated like royalty once you board your cruise ship. It’s why you love cruise vacations. Unless the ship sails and returns to your home town, you have to get to the ship to start your vacation. This usually means flying. How can you improve the front and rear ends of your cruise vacation?

If you are flying First or Business Class, the airlines take great care of you. However, most of us fly Coach. If you travel during peak season, you are confronted by long lines at check in and long waits at your gate.

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Cruise experts offer several ways you can move the airport experience up towards the standard of your cruise experience.

1. Get status with your airline. Pick a favorite airline. Try to centralize your travel. This should get you into a higher tier. This means getting on the shorter priority line at the ticket counter and getting onto the plane earlier in the boarding sequence.

2. Get the airline’s credit card. This should earn miles towards free flights or seat upgrades. The higher priced cards often include free checked bags and priority boarding. It might even include lounge access.

3. Use the airline’s lounge. You either join the lounge outright, have a credit card providing access, get access through your status when traveling internationally or buy a day pass. The lounge gives you quiet space, munchies, usually free drinks and a dedicated customer service desk if you need to make flight changes. You can ask about swapping seats in your designated cabin.

4. Lounge hopping. Your airline likely belongs to an alliance like Oneworld, Star Alliance and Skyteam, tying in with other airlines around the world. The higher status frequent flier levels allow access to lounges operated by partner airlines. At Heathrow Terminal 3, the American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas and Cathay Pacific lounges are located close to one another.

5. Use the cruise line’s transfer service. It’s doubtful you can do it better and cheaper. With cruise line transfers, you are one of the first groups off the ship. You get your luggage. There’s a line of busses. You depart virtually immediately.

A lot depends on how much you travel.

•You travel a lot. It’s vacation or business travel. Get everything. Higher frequent flier status. Airline lounge membership. The AMEX platinum card. You are ready for anything. You are also traveling “in a bubble.” Air travel is like it used to be. You don’t see why people are complaining.

•You travel a bit. It’s mostly vacation travel. Try to concentrate your flying with one airline. Align your everyday spending to get airline miles. Use them for upgrades where possible. Decide if joining your airline’s lounge club makes sense or buy day passes at the airport.

•You travel rarely. It’s the trip of a lifetime. It’s on your bucket list. If you are flying First or Business class, you shouldn’t have problems. If you are flying coach, see if your airline’s version of American Airlines’ premium economy is cost effective. It’s like “baby business class.” It gets you priority check in, which means the shorter line. Buy a day pass for your airline’s lounge.

Your time at the airport doesn’t need to be the weak link in your cruise vacation experience.

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