For Tim Scott, the best travel membership of 2023 is the one he used this year.
He started to feel ill when he landed in San Carlos, Mexico, recently. “Turns out, I was having heart issues,” he says.
An ambulance rushed him to hospital in Sonora’s capital, Hermosillo. After an angioplasty, bypass surgery, and two weeks in the hospital, he was ready to fly back to the States. And that’s where his membership in Medjet, an air medical transport and travel security membership program, kicked in.
“My membership provided medical transportation from where I was to a hospital of my choice,” says Scott, a software consultant from Aurora, Ill.
He estimates his medical evacuation would have cost $40,000, but Medjet covered everything.
“It cost me nothing extra,” says Scott.
The best travel memberships for 2023 deliver benefits like those, and more. They’re your key to an airport lounge, your discount card, your access to roadside assistance. They make your trip faster and easier — and sometimes, safer. I’ll also reveal which cards I’m carrying in 2023.
If you drive in the United States, you probably need AAA. “I have used AAA on many occasions,” says Pattie Haubner, a retired communications professional and frequent air traveler from West Nyack, N.Y.
She recently got a flat tire in a remote village in Maine. AAA roadside assistance responded promptly, and “a nice but Paul Bunyan type fixed my tire.”
Thomas Plante, a college professor from Santa Clara, Calif., agrees. “I have had a membership — along with my wife and son — for many years,” he told me. “It has come in handy for sure, especially when my son was on a solo camping trip in a remote area and got stuck. AAA is really a terrific value and a must-have.”
AAA is about more than roadside assistance, of course. As a member, you can buy insurance, get an international driving permit, consult a travel advisor or qualify for hotel and other travel discounts.
“I find that the AAA card is the most important card for travelers,” says Bob Bacheler, managing director of Flying Angels, a medical transportation service. “Not only does the card provide discounts on hotels, but I would not want to rent a car without my AAA card with me in the event of a breakdown. If you have children of driving age at home the peace of mind of knowing they can call AAA if they have a problem is priceless.”
Costco is more than a big-box store. Costco Travel offers discounts on everything from airfares to cruises. But members rave about its car rental discounts.
“This year, I discovered that Costco had the best available prices for domestic car rentals,” says Peter Hoagland, a consultant from Warrenton, Va. And in a year when car rental prices have soared, the Costco membership pays for itself after just one rental.
Kristin Winkaffe, a luxury travel advisor, says Costco can be a gateway to other useful memberships. For example, a membership in Wheels Up, a private jet charter company, is sometimes discounted for Costco members.
This one is new for 2023. In a post-COVID world, COVAC Global is one of the memberships more travelers say they are taking with them.
“The global healthcare infrastructure has fundamentally changed,” explains Ross Caldwell Thompson, CEO of COVAC Global. “It is stressed in both resources and staff and waits with bated breath for the next pandemic, war or whatever that brings it to the brink.”
COVAC Global, a medical evacuation membership that became wildly popular during the pandemic, does not not require hospitalization at the point of illness, injury or infection, no matter where you are. “Travelers deserve to get home to see their own doctor without the burden of being forced to remain in a local hospital until their membership takes immediate action to bring them home,” he adds.
“It’s an obvious choice,” says Thomas Schneider, CEO of Trip Concierge.
Why? Global Entry is a membership program offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to skip the line when they re-enter the United States from their trip abroad. You can use an automatic kiosk at the airport to get through the customs line faster. It also includes TSA PreCheck status. (Note: There’s an approval process that can take some time, but if you often travel internationally, the hassle is worth it.)
Tip: Should you get PreCheck or Global Entry? If you plan to do any international travels, get Global Entry. Otherwise, PreCheck is enough.
“The one travel membership I don’t leave home without is Global Rescue,” says Joanne Herd, a travel advisor for Girasole Travel. “After leading humanitarian trips to Haiti for several years and purchasing a membership each time, I highly recommend them.”
Herd recently booked travel for someone with some pre-existing medical concerns. Before leaving, Herd insisted that the traveler purchase a Global Rescue membership just in case.
“Haiti isn’t the place you want to have a serious medical issue,” she says.
Halfway through the trip, the traveler’s condition flared up. Within less than 24 hours, Global Rescue had evacuated her back home.
“They made things so simple, keeping track of what needed to be done from the time I called them until after she was back home in the care of her regular doctor,” recalls Herd. “They even followed up with me — as the person who was dealing with the situation on the ground — to make sure I was doing OK. It was the type of care you’d expect from a close personal friend or family member, and worth every penny.”
Tip: “When purchasing a global medical transport membership, it is important to understand who makes the medical decisions behind their products,” adds Cai Glushak, the international medical director at AXA Partners. “They should be qualified doctors and nurses available 24/7, with experience in emergency international medicine.”
Glushak recommends reviewing the terms of service carefully. You don’t want any limitations after you fall ill, such as requiring you to be a patient at a hospital, according to Glushak.
“As a frequent traveler, my most prized membership is my Priority Pass,” says Renata Castro, an attorney based in Miami.
Priority Pass gives members access to a global network of airport lounges, including allowing holders to visit a global network of airport lounges, even if they hold only economy or premium economy tickets. Some credit cards include a Priority Pass membership or similar benefits.
“When I travel internationally, having the option to go to different lounges is a must,” says Castro. “My mothership of all memberships is my Amex Platinum – and I get Priority Pass access as a result with membership. However, I’d pay for it if I was not a cardholder.”
There are other benefits, including restaurant discounts. “If you find yourself eating frequently in the airport, it’s an easy way to save at least $60 per round trip — or up to $120 if you travel with a partner or friend — even if there’s no Priority Pass lounge at the airport you’re using,” says Manny Salorio, who publishes Go Ask A Local, a travel platform that connects independent travelers with local experts around the world for trip planning consultations.
Tip: Before you get a standalone Priority Pass membership, check your credit card to see if you have similar lounge benefits. No point paying for the same thing twice. However, note that some of the credit cards have restrictions on using Priority Pass lounges and some of the lounges prioritize travelers who have purchased memberships over those who received the membership through a credit card.
“It’s one of the top travel memberships to try out or take into consideration for your 2023 travels,” he says. “It has a solid risk management system, so I’d suggest buying it for journeys that are more adventurous.”
Ripcord’s promise is simple: If you are injured, ill, or caught in a dangerous situation 100 miles or more from home, it will get you home safely. The company offers travel insurance, plus access to medical and security professionals, in addition to search, rescue and evacuation coverage. Ripcord also includes security extraction in case of unexpected dangerous events.
Which travel memberships do I have?
As someone who travels 365 days a year, people often ask me about my essential travel memberships.
Let me start with the memberships I don’t have. I don’t participate in any travel loyalty programs. Nor do I have a fancy credit card that churns out points and miles. I think both of those are losing propositions, as I explain in my complete guide to loyalty programs.
I also don’t have a Global Entry membership, mostly because my travels have been outside the U.S., where Global Entry doesn’t work. Also, as a journalist who has written articles critical of the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security, I’m not so sure I would get through the vetting process.
I have two other cards: Medjet and Priority Pass. If I were more adventurous, I would definitely sign up for Ripcord and Global Rescue.
I still have a AAA card (mostly for the emergency roadside service) and a Costco membership. Full disclosure: Since I have been outside of the country for more than a year, I will probably let my Costco and AAA memberships lapse. I plan to renew them when I return — if I return.