American Express Canada will send its premium cardholders to the front of more security lines at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport under a deal that gives the credit card company prime ad space in Canada’s busiest air hub.
Platinum cardholders will be able to skip more long security clearance queues by flashing their cards throughout terminals 1 and 3 as part of a marketing partnership announced Monday.
“Select priority lanes are in place virtually in all airports around the world,” said Pamela Griffith-Jones, chief marketing and commercial officer for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.
“At this point they’re available to frequent fliers through their airlines so this program just allows us to expand it to include these card members.”
Passing through a special lane doesn’t prevent passengers from actual security screening.
The credit card company wouldn’t discuss financial terms of the initial three-year agreement which American Express believes is the first of its kind in the world. It said the concept could be expanded elsewhere, but there are no immediate plans in place.
American Express cardholders will also receive complimentary valet services, a 15 per cent express and daily parking discount and designated taxi and limousine lines.
Access to premium lounges, including Air Canada Maple Leaf lounges, will continue for holders of premium American Express cards.
Griffith-Jones said the partnership with American Express will also enhance services available to all travellers, even those without this credit card, which is a priority for the operator of Canada’s busiest airport.
“We know sometimes that airports can be a source of great anxiety for our travellers and we’re constantly looking at new ways we can offer new services that will enhance the experience, reduce the anxiety and increase the efficiency of travelling through our airport.”
Even those without the credit card will have American Express sponsored access to free Wi-Fi throughout the airport and entertainment services under development.
American Express offers privileges that come with membership such as Front of the Line access to special events.
David Barnes, Canadian advertising and sponsorships vice-president, doesn’t expect any backlash from passengers, including those with regular American Express cards, who have to wait in regular pre-security clearance lines.
“By having another lane, it’s actually going to alleviate some of the traffic going through the regular lanes as well,” he said in an interview.
“I think it’s a balance between providing services specifically to our premium card members and also having benefits that are available to everyone.”
Consumers’ Association of Canada president Bruce Cran doesn’t see any problem with the fast lanes for certain credit card holders.
“I don’t see this as anything ominous, quite the opposite I’d say this is a demonstration of competitive practices,” he said from Vancouver.
Several passengers questioned at Pearson airport also gave their thumbs up to the plan, especially if it can speed up lines.
“I think anything to go faster through security checks will be great. In some airports in the country it’s slower than here so anything to help,” said Ron Simard, 54, a retail district manager.
Surendra Thapa of Niagara Falls, Ont., said the service would be appreciated by frequent business travellers to reduce the hours they spend waiting at the airport.
“I don’t think I would mind too much,” the 40-year-old engineer said when asked if he would be upset with people using their credit card to avoid a long line.
Aeroplan, the main loyalty program affiliated with Air Canada, welcomed the new initiative with American Express, one of its other main partners.
American Express AeroplanPlus Platinum cardmembers have access to Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges, priority check-in and priority lane access at Pearson, said spokeswoman Christa Poole.
The agreement doesn’t lock out credit card competitors from having a presence at the airport, but as the preferred partner American Express will have access to prime advertising spots, Barnes added.
American Express said the new collaboration will promote its brand and help Pearson strengthen its position as a major North American gateway.
About 33 million travellers pass through the Toronto airport annually with the average visitor spending 2.5 hours at the large facility.