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6 Secret Airline Perks Most Travelers Don’t Know About

By Peter Vanden Bos
Read time: 6 minutes

We can probably all agree that the golden age of air travel is long behind us, but that doesn’t mean flying these days has to be run-of-the-mill — you just have to know what to look for. From helpful (and free) amenities for families to the invite-only memberships airlines keep under wraps for their most loyal customers, these are six of the coolest secret airline perks you never knew existed. 

Hidden Check-In Lounges

Passenger reading in airport lounge
Credit: Koh Sze Kiat/ E+ via Getty Images 

If you’re willing to shell out the big bucks for first or business class (though it might be cheaper than you think), you can expect quite a few more perks than you’d receive flying in economy class. These include early boarding, larger seats with more legroom, free meals and booze, and, often, access to airport lounges. 

As the competition among airlines heats up, some are going even further to woo top-dollar customers. While first- or business-class tickets almost always grant you access to a priority check-in line at the airport, some airports offer even more exclusive areas. In 2023, Delta opened a private check-in section for its business-class (Delta One) customers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) that most customers probably don’t realize exists. That’s because it’s on an entirely different level, separate from the regular check-in lines. It’s downstairs by the baggage claim, and you have to show your Delta One ticket just to enter. 

Once inside, you can sit back and relax with a glass of bubbly or a snack as the check-in agents take care of everything for you. Then, you’ll go through a private security screening area that leads straight to the Sky Club lounge upstairs — a far cry from the typical airport experience.

Invite-Only Elite Status

Airport agent checking passenger's passport
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If you’ve joined an airline loyalty program, you’re probably familiar with the concept of elite status. Airlines award their most frequent flyers with perks such as priority boarding, free upgrades, waived baggage fees, and more. There are usually a few levels of elite status — at Delta, it starts with Silver, followed by Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion. The more you spend, the higher you climb in the ranks.

But did you know that some airlines have secret elite status tiers? Membership in these programs is so exclusive that the airlines don’t even publish the details of how to qualify — in fact, the only way in is typically by receiving an invite from the airline. While it’s anyone’s guess as to how much you have to fly (and spend) with the airline, it’s typically well above $50,000 on plane tickets in a calendar year. At American, it’s called Concierge Key; at Delta, it’s known as Delta 360; and at United, it’s named Global Services. 

With those requirements, obviously only a select group will qualify, but those lucky few can expect an incredibly elevated travel experience. Not only will these members have upgrade priority over other customers, but they’ll also receive personal escorts through the airport and often free, private transfers between connecting flights. If you’ve ever arrived at the airport and seen a Mercedes-Benz marked with the airline’s logo parked by the gate, it’s usually there to whisk away a top-tier elite status member to their next flight, so they don’t even have to step foot in the airport.

Free Family-Friendly Perks

Family seated together on airplane
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Even if you don’t splurge for business class or spend enough to qualify for elite status, there are plenty of other perks you can get with airlines that are entirely free — particularly for family travel. In recent years, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has urged airlines to accommodate families with young children so they can sit together without having to pay extra for seat assignments, even with basic economy fares. The DOT launched a handy dashboard that shows which airlines guarantee adjacent seats for children 13 or under and an accompanying adult. 

It’s no secret that flying with young children comes with its challenges, but many airlines also offer free child amenities onboard. Simply ask a flight attendant if one is available on your flight. For example, United offers a “Children’s Travel Kit,” designed by the people behind Sesame Street, which includes crayons, an activity book, a puzzle, and a sensory strip to calm anxiety in young ones. Plus, Delta has secret trading cards, a program created by employees in which passengers can collect card designs featuring different aircraft in the airline’s fleet. All you have to do is ask your pilot if they’re available — and they’re just as fun for adults as they are for kids.

Free Stopovers on Award Tickets

Traveler taking photo of companion next to canal
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Let’s say you’ve racked up some credit card points and are looking to cash them in for a free flight. While in most cases that would be a simple round-trip ticket from point A to point B, a few airline loyalty programs let you get creative with your points, essentially allowing you to add another city to your trip for the same price.

This is what’s known as a “stopover,” which is typically defined as staying more than 24 hours in a connecting city along your journey (versus a typical layover at an airport). Say you’re booking a trip from New York to South Africa, and you’ll be connecting in Amsterdam. With Air France-KLM’s Flying Blue loyalty program, you might be able to stay a few days to explore the Dutch capital before continuing your journey. Other programs that offer free stopovers include Air Canada’s Aeroplan and Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan. 

Miles or Vouchers for Delayed Luggage

Baggage arriving on airport carousel
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Nobody likes waiting an hour at baggage claim after a long flight for their checked bags to arrive at the carousel. And most airlines won’t offer you anything for the inconvenience. Thankfully, there are a few exceptions. Delta Air Lines has a 20-minute bag guarantee, promising that your bag will arrive in 20 minutes or less at the carousel after a domestic U.S. flight. If your bag takes longer, you can complete this simple form online and automatically receive 2,500 bonus miles toward your next flight. Alaska Airlines offers a similar guarantee, but with a $25 credit instead of miles. 

Free Checked Wine

Travelers in airport clinking wine glasses
Credit: Mykhailo Lukashuk/ Tetra images via Getty Images 

If you’re a wine lover, you’re probably familiar with this scenario: You’ve enjoyed tastings at a few (or quite a few) wineries on vacation and decided to purchase some bottles to enjoy later. But getting them home is tricky. The unique “Wine Flies Free” program from Seattle-based Alaska Airlines simplifies things. This valuable perk allows passengers to check an entire case of wine without having to pay extra baggage fees. It’s offered from 32 West Coast cities, including ones near renowned wine regions such as Napa Valley or Willamette Valley. 

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