How much would you pay to skip the queues for security and customs at the airport: perhaps US$100? Or US$4,000?

Easing the pain of flying is a promise that a growing number of “airport concierge” companies are making to frequent air travellers, whether they are departing or arriving.

These concierge companies are a fast-growing segment.

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At least 10 airport concierge companies have launched in the past three years, according to Michael Holtz, the owner of SmartFlyer, a global travel consultancy specialising in airports and airlines.

He said their popularity was growing as more people were flying more often and getting increasingly fed up with the hassle of it all.

“If you’re [pressed for] time, hate waiting in long [queues] or simply want to feel like a VIP, these services are for you,” Holtz said.

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For anywhere between US$100 and US$4,000, fliers can book online, by phone, or through travel agents, and get expedited security access, help with getting VAT refunds, or even access to private lounges.

Unlike TSA Pre Check – a fast-track service offered by the Transport Security Administration, the US Department of Homeland Security agency that controls the security of travellers in the US – these programmes don’t require participation from individual airlines; instead, they team up with airports to clear security hurdles necessary to operate across terminals.

As such, their business is similar to stores and restaurants that pay airports a fee to run airport locations.

Established players in this under-the-radar industry are also reporting increases.

The five-year-old Asia Fast Track, which focuses on Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Middle East, averaged 500 bookings per month this year, compared with 150 a month in 2016.

Royal Airport Concierge, a global service that has been around since 2006, has doubled its business in the past five years.

Founder Ron Gorfinkel did not provide specific figures, but said, “We’re talking about [bookings] in the thousands.”

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For Albert Herrera, the senior vice-president of Global Product Partnerships at the travel agent consortium Virtuoso, sales of VIP airport services still comprise only about 2 per cent of the company’s US$22 billion of annual revenue, but that’s four times what it was two years ago.

“VIP airport concierges used to be for celebrities or the ultra-wealthy, but they’re now for anyone who wants a seamless airport experience,” he said.  

Here’s a look at how four of the most significant airport concierge companies compare – and which of them might be right for you.

Royal Airport Concierge

Where it operates: in more than 750 airports globally, Royal Airport Concierge operates in most major hubs – including John F. Kennedy in New York, Heathrow, Seoul, Riyadh and Mexico City – as well as in more holiday-focused spots such as Cancun, Miami and Nice.  

How it works: fliers have the option to book different tiers of service, but the exact number of tiers depends on the airport itself. 

At the most basic end, travellers are assigned a greeter who will accompany them from the time they arrive at the airport to when they board their flight; they get help with check-in and their carry-on bags. (That’s most helpful for unaccompanied minors or big families with loads to carry.)

Those who book the middle tier get fast tracked through security and immigration in most countries. Splurging for the highest level of service is a full-scale luxury production.

It means a ride to the plane in a limousine and entry into a private suite in the airport terminal that has complimentary amenities such as a top-shelf bar, a full spread of food with caviar, showers and an office. And, of course, a butler to wait on you.  

Best for: luxury-loving fliers, big families, unattended minors.

The cost:  US$100 per person for the most basic service; US$750 gets you the works.

Blacklane PASS

Where it operates: not as large as Royal Airport Concierge, at 500 airports worldwide, but it operates in many of the same hubs, including Paris, New York, Rome, Beijing and Dubai.

How it works: Blacklane PASS launched this summer as an offshoot of the car service company Blacklane.

Its customers get a standard escort service that speeds them through security, customs and immigration; carries their luggage; and helps process VAT refunds.

On your departure, your greeter can wait at the gate and call you when it’s time to board so you’re free to roam the Duty Free.

On the way back, they’ll be waiting at the gate as soon as you get off the plane – a luxury that few post-9/11 travellers get to experience. One caveat: unless you have lounge access on your own, you’ll have to pay extra for Blacklane to book you into one.

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Best for: fliers who care more about efficiency than high-end perks.

The cost: US$100 per person for either departures, arrivals, or connections. Children aged two and under are free. While most fliers tip their greeters, a company spokesman said that gratuity is optional and not required.  

Asia Fast Track

Where it operates: in more than 300 airports in Asia-Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East

How it works: Asia Fast Track specialises in a region of the world where VIP services are relatively easier to come by – airports in the most populous continent have fewer government restrictions than those in the Americas and Europe.

All customers are escorted through every step of their arrival or departure process, whether that means being met at the plane before immigration for an arrival service or at the kerbside for a departure.

At most airports that means expedited service, but not all hubs allow for that perk. (Be sure to ask ahead of booking.)

At select airports such as Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, in Taipei, fliers can get more hand-holding, with services including check-in at a private terminal or a tarmac transfer where they’re driven to or from the plane in a limousine.

Best for: fliers who are intimidated by navigating airports in Asia on their own.

The cost: US$99 to US$299 per person for either arrivals, departures, or connections and depending on the airport and level of service booked. Tips are included.

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The Private Suite

Where it operates: Los Angeles International Airport – with New York’s John F. Kennedy coming soon.

How it works: Owned and operated by the security firm Gavin de Becker & Associates, The Private Suite, which launched in May 2017, perhaps offers the fullest service of the four – but it’s also the most limited in its operations.

It’s essentially a former cargo facility near LAX that’s been converted into a private terminal serving all commercial airlines.

As the name suggests, the space has 11 private suites, each with a two-person daybed, bathroom, a food pantry with snacks and a dedicated staff.

Fliers willing to pay for access can also take advantage of luxuries such as private TSA screening, on-site customs and immigration processing, and a ride to their aircraft in a BMW 7-series car. 

They are great perks, but not as extraordinary as the price tag might suggest.

Best for: fliers who have an unlimited budget and aren’t afraid to spend it.

The cost: US$3,700 for domestic flights and US$4,000 for international flights – covering up to four passengers per reservation.

Frequent travellers can sign up for an annual membership for US$4,500, which knocks US$1,000 off each reservation and adds extra perks, such as multi-course meals, massages, haircuts and the use of a conference room.

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