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Passengers wait in a security line in the departures area of Pearson Airport in Toronto, Jan. 7, 2010.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

American Express: You can't leave home without it.

At least, not if you're flying out of Pearson International Airport in Toronto – the brand will be with you on your travels whether you're a cardholder or not. On Monday, American Express Co. is announcing a new multimillion-dollar partnership with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, associating its brand with a number of perks in Canada's largest airport.

The sponsorship, which will roll out by the end of the year, includes faster security and taxi lines for cardholders, and sponsored free Internet access for everyone else. The company will also be sponsoring "entertainment experiences" inside the terminals to help make the wait at the gates more pleasant for everyone. Ideas for these entertainment options are still in development.

For American Express, it's an extension of a long-running campaign to market itself as a lifestyle product and not just a credit card. The company targets higher-end consumers who expect premium treatment. Its " front of the line" program is one example of this brand strategy. It already provides access for cardholders to airport lounges around the world, but this is the largest airport partnership and the first of its kind for the company, said David Barnes, vice-president of advertising and communications with American Express Canada.

"We try to market ourselves as more than just a card. But service, and the customer experience, is a fairly intangible thing; it's a difficult thing to get across just in advertising," he said. "That's why we've designed this in a way that there are some benefits for our premium customers – and they'll be very visible to everybody – but it's not just a 'Look how the other half lives' thing. It's about giving everyone a better experience in the airport. It goes beyond sticking our logo on something."

Depending on how the partnership goes, the company could explore doing the same thing at other airports in Canada and around the world, he said.

There is a move across the airport industry to derive more revenue from advertising, said Pamela Griffith-Jones, chief marketing and commercial officer for the GTAA. She would not disclose what portion of the airport's revenue comes from advertising such as pillar and wall displays or booths where banks promote their credit cards. But courting more marketing dollars is a growing priority, because it allows airports to rely less on "aeronautical revenue" such as higher aircraft landing and takeoff fees.

An early experiment with this was the pop-up lounge created by Capital One at Pearson last year. Visitors did not need to be cardholders, but could access comfy chairs and newspapers similar to the first-class lounges that have long been a mainstay of airport travel for the 1-per-cent crowd. This type of experiential marketing has been growing fastest at airports in Asia and Europe, Ms. Griffith Jones said. At Pearson, the captive audience of more than 33 million people who pass through the airport each year is an attractive crowd for advertisers, she added.

"People spend a lot of time in airports. they're asked to come early, and they have to wait … it can be time well spent," she said. "There's a fundamental shift in the [advertising] industry, to looking at experiential marketing. Brands are looking for more ways to engage with customers … and airports are stepping up to it."



For American Express cardholders:

* Access to fast-track lane at security in Terminals 1 and 3, previously open only to frequent flyer programs. (The security process is the same as for everyone else, but people can skip to the head of the line. The partnership also allows this to expand across all security points in the airport. Pearson previously only had the fast-track line at selected points.)

* Free valet.

* 15 per cent off parking.

* Fast-track taxi and limo line at Arrivals.

* Access to Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge and other special lounges (for premium cardholders).

For everyone else:

* American Express-sponsored free WiFi Internet throughout the airport

* "Entertainment experiences" inside the terminal that will help make wait times at the gates more enjoyable. Ideas for these are still in development.

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