Airlines are increasingly offering their frequent flyer benefits -- fast track security, extra bags, lounge access, early boarding -- for a price.
If you're flying an unfamiliar airline, one where your silver, gold or platinum frequent flyer card doesn't have any reciprocal benefits, it's a useful option to smooth your way through the on-the-ground and in-the-air experience.
Fortunately, since the US is one of the most frustrating places to fly if you don't have access to the queue-jumping perks, US airlines offer the most "buy your way in" benefits.
While US airline lounges are generally disappointing compared with their Australian, Asian and European counterparts, the extra-empowered staffers are a godsend in case anything goes wrong.
PreferredAccess is US Airways' version of the priority access queue for check-in, security and boarding.
When you check in online, select PreferredAccess as an option, starting at US$10 per one-way trip.
The priority boarding option isn't available everywhere, but you'll find it at over 20 major US airports.
For US Airways Club lounge access, you have the choice of booking online for US$29, as a walkup guest for US$50, and for a 90-day membership for US$120.
Most Australian frequent flyers with Qantas Silver, Gold or Platinum cards will have reciprocal status with American Airlines, but if not, consider choosing a full-fare economy class ticket.
The only way to speed your way through an airport when flying AA is the American Airlines Flagship Service, which treats you like VIP royalty all the way through. Prices start at US$125, but go up as high as $275.
You can't buy American Airlines' PriorityAAccess service on its own, but it's granted to first and business class passengers, partner frequent flyers (including Qantas Silvers and up -- one of the better benefits of QF Silver status!) and anyone travelling on a full fare economy class ticket.
(Refer to our guide to fare classes if you're not entirely familiar with what a full-fare ticket means.)
Lounge-wise, you can pick up a one-day pass to American Airlines Admirals Club lounges for US$50. Note that this entitles you to a full day's access and your first point of arrival the next day, so if you're taking more than one flight you can use more than one lounge.
Delta Air Lines
Sorry, if you're flying Delta there's no longer a way to get yourself priority access using money. (That ended in January 2010, if you remember it from previous flights.)
Virgin Australia Gold and Platinum cardholders have reciprocal access to Delta's Sky Club lounges, but not officially the priority queues. (However, you don't lose anything by chancing it in the queues.)
Delta Sky Club lounge access is available at US$50 for one day's access, or US$90 for a 30-day pass.
While there's no way to skip the queue when flying economy other than having a United or partner airline frequent flyer card, you can buy access to United Club lounges for US$50 at the door. If you happen to have Star Alliance Gold status (perhaps through Air New Zealand or Singapore Airlines?) you'll get in free.
Upgrading to British Airways' Club Europe regional business class from London Heathrow is a flat rate of £100 (A$160) per leg.
If you happen to be connecting through British Airways' London Gatwick European hub, bear in mind that Qantas' main partner offers Club Europe upgrades for £69 (A$110) out of the UK and €100 (A$128) -- or local equivalents -- from European airports. British Airways' new Gatwick business lounge is a real gem -- as we found in our recent review
Bear in mind that if you're careful about picking your seats you can get the same seats that business class gets as an economy passenger.
Of course, you'll also receive business class Qantas status credits for your trip, which makes this a reasonable value all-round.
If all else fails and you're travelling overseas a lot, you might find a Priority Pass card useful. Priority Pass is a lounge access program (so won't help you with the priority access aspect), and it can be very useful at overseas airports, where your airline might have a poor contract lounge when a better one is available.
However, it's poor value for business travellers who spend most of their time travelling around Australia, because the only Priority Pass lounges in Australia are the Melbourne International terminal United Club, open from 10am-1pm, and the Reef Lounge in Cairns.
What's your favourite buy-your-way in trick for getting lounge access and the premium treatment? Share your tips with fellow AusBT readers in a comment below.
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.