Small Air Travel Upgrades You Can Totally Afford

Travel Upgrade

There was a time when air travel was luxurious, with comfortable coach seats, free food and drinks and flight crews that offered service with a smile. But those days are gone as airlines try and pack as many passengers as possible in the back of their planes. However, all is not lost. There are things travelers can do to upgrade their overall travel experience. Below are seven affordable upgrades to consider before your next flight.

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Photo courtesy of Clear

To make your time in an airport security line go even more quickly, you may want to consider enrolling in the biometric Clear program that works with or without access to TSA PreCheck. For $179 a year (free for children and $50 for additional family members), travelers can use a special line where fingerprint only identification moves you directly to the top of PreCheck or regular screening lines. Travelers can join Clear either online or in person at the airport with Clear lanes. A concierge does iris and fingerprint scans, a government ID scan and a quiz that verifies your identity. Once the process is done, you can go directly to Clear lanes located in 24 airports across the country, including JFK, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Dallas/Fort Worth airports.

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TSA PreCheck

Airport security lines can get long during peak travel times. They can also be a hassle, with travelers forced to take off their shoes and jackets, along with removing laptops and tablets from their bags. But the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows travelers in special screening lanes to leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt, keep their laptops in their cases and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in carry-ons. After paying $85 for a five-year card, travelers go to an approved interview facility for a background check. Once approved, they can go to an application center to give personal information including name, date of birth, address, their fingerprints, payment and required identity and citizenship/immigration documents. Once your card arrives, you can use your Known Traveler Number when booking a flight online or making a reservation by phone.

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Airport Lounge Pass

Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Airports can be crowded, noisy places. Sometimes you need a sanctuary, and that’s where an airline or airport lounge comes in. You don’t have to be a high mileage frequent flyer to get in. Most airlines allow travelers to pay a fee to gain access to lounges that include comfortable seating, food and drinks, a business center and magazines. There are also independent domestic lounges including The Club, Escapes and Airspace. On the international side, there are brands including Plaza Premium, American Express's Centurion Lounges (open only to those with Platinum cards) and No. 1 Lounges.

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Premium Economy

Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines

It’s been well documented that airlines are trying to cram more seats into their economy class cabins. While business or first class may be out of reach financially, you may want to splurge on premium economy. Seats are located toward the front of the plane, there’s more legroom, travelers can board just after business class passengers, and airlines try to keep the middle seats empty in these rows.

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Exit Row/Bulkhead Seats

If a premium economy seat is out of your price range, buying an exit row or bulkhead seat may be a better option. There is more legroom, but with the exit row, the seat may not recline.

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Noise Canceling Headphones

Aircraft cabins can be noisy places, with the drone of engines to screaming children. Travelers can reduce their stress levels by carrying a pair of these headphones or earbuds designed to filter out ambient noises and giving you the bliss of quiet aboard your next flight. Popular models include Bose QuietComfort 35, Sennheiser PXC 550 or Powerbeats2 earbuds.

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Old Fashioned Carry-On Cocktail Kit

Photo courtesy of Amazon

The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t allow travelers to bring their own booze on a flight. But that won’t stop you from creating your own cocktails once you take off using this personal cocktail kit for two. Buy alcohol from the flight attendant and use the kit to make drinks including an Old Fashioned, a Moscow Mule, a hot toddy or a Gin and Tonic. Each kit, contained in a sturdy metal box, includes pure cane sugar, small-batch bitters, a mini bar spoon/muddler and a linen coaster.