The Ultimate Airport Time-Saver: Tips for Enrolling in TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

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Deal Expert, New York
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It’s not just your imagination: Airport security lines are getting longer and longer. And wait times will only get worse when travel peaks this summer, The New York Times reports.

Now is a better time than ever to consider the Trusted Traveler Programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. More than four million people have already enrolled, saving valuable time and avoiding hassles at the airport like taking off shoes and removing laptops and liquids.

This summer, it might even make the difference between catching and missing your next flight.

Wondering which one you should join? For most frequent travelers in the U.S., the choice comes down to the two biggest programs:

TSA Pre®

  • To apply: $85 fee for a five-year membership; requires in-person interview at one of 350+ enrollment centers (children 12 and under can use it free with a family member who is enrolled)
  • Who it’s for: U.S. citizens and permanent residents who mostly travel within the U.S.
  • What you get: You’ve seen these dedicated security lanes at the airport, often with just a handful of people in line. The program offers expedited airport screening; passengers don’t need to remove shoes, belts, laptops or liquids. It’s available with 12 participating airlines at more than 160 airports. (Some notable exceptions include low-fare carriers like Spirit and Frontier.)

Global Entry

  • To apply: $100 fee for a five-year membership; requires in-person interview at 80+ enrollment centers
  • Who it’s for: U.S. citizens, permanent residents and citizens of select other countries who travel internationally; requires a valid passport
  • What you get: Expedited clearance at Customs and Border Protection checkpoints at most U.S airports and select international airports. Travelers can skip these often lengthy queues and instead scan their fingerprints at automated machines without filling out any forms.
  • Here’s what’s key: With Global Entry, you’re automatically eligible for TSA PreCheck.

Which Should You Get?

For anyone planning to travel abroad in the next five years, the extra $15 for Global Entry is a no-brainer to get the benefits of both programs.

The biggest drawback: You’ll need to plan ahead. Since there are fewer enrollment centers for Global Entry than TSA PreCheck, the wait time for an appointment will generally be at least a few weeks, if not months. And if you frequently travel with family members, each person needs to apply and interview separately.

Tip: Global Entry’s related programs NEXUS or SENTRI can also add value for travelers across the Canadian and Mexican borders.

For those wanting to be even more speedy and efficient:

Also Consider CLEAR

  • To apply: The standard membership is $179 per year. Added family members (over 18) cost an additional $50. Children under 18 can use the CLEARlane for free (with a CLEAR member).
  • Who it’s for: U.S. citizens and permanent residents over 18; requires a valid passport or photo I.D.
  • Where can you use it? CLEAR lanes are currently in the following airports: Austin (AUS), Baltimore (BWI), Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH & HOU), Las Vegas (LAS), Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO), San Antonio (SAT), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC) and Westchester, N.Y. (HPN)
    • More airports are coming: Delta Air Lines and CLEAR recently announced a partnership that will bring the program to all Delta U.S. hubs this year.
  • What you get: CLEAR uses your fingerprint instead of a license/passport to get you through the ID-checking portion of security. A CLEAR team member greets you at their lane, scans your boarding pass, taps your finger and escorts you straight to physical screening, skipping the long ID lines.
  • Here’s what’s key: For the fastest way to get through security, a CLEAR membership combined with TSA PreCheck means a quick fingerprint scan and then going straight through expedited security. These two programs address different pain points in security lane delays.

Time- and Money-Saving Tips for TSA Pre® and Global Entry

  1. Make sure you’re eligible before you apply: This seems like a no-brainer, but if you’re not approved, the application fee won’t be refunded.
  2. Application fee reimbursement: Several credit cards – including the AmEx Platinum and Citi Prestige – will offer a statement credit for the application fee. Certain elite members of frequent flyer programs like Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus can also receive this benefit.
  3. Plan around your travels: If you’re applying for Global Entry, many enrollment centers are located in major airports, including big connecting hubs like Chicago. I scheduled my interview about 2.5 hours before a flight I had already booked from JFK, so I just had to get there a little earlier.
  4. Check for last-minute openings: As word gets out, the backlog of appointments is growing. I had to wait over a month for my appointment, but check once or twice a week. I noticed some last-minute appointments open up.
  5. Know your Known Traveler Number: Once approved, you’ll get one of these. Enter this when you book a flight to be eligible for PreCheck on your boarding pass. If you’re a member of a frequent flyer program, you can just save the number to your profile to automatically apply to future bookings.
  6. Double check before you fly: You might get used to the shorter lines, but PreCheck isn’t always guaranteed (especially for international flights on foreign carriers’ code-share partners). And remember: Not every airline and airport participates in PreCheck, so make sure to check the list here.
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Show 31 Comments
  • Caprice Goldberg

    I qualified for free Pre-Check last year – or, rather, had the fee waived – and have been amazed by how much more pleasant and simple it is.

    After my 5 years run out, I will pay the $85 again for sure. It’s totally, totally worth it if you travel frequently at all….

    • Betty

      How did you qualify for Free Pre-Check?

  • Fred Gerber

    When applying for Global Entry you can, at the same time and no additional fee, sign up for Sentri, thus skipping the long lines when coming back from Mexico via a border crossing. If you plan to drive from Mexico be sure to register your car ahead of time.

  • http://www.easysentri.com Keith-EasySentri

    True to below. Getting SENTRI pass benefits with Global Entry is a valuable perk for those living or traveling south of the border. This can save you Hours! Though, as Fred mentioned, don’t forget to register your car. The CBP can revoke your Global Entry, SENTRI or NEXUS pass privileges should you not comply with the rules.

    As a side, it has been seen that Global Entry members have been granted TSA PreCheck more often than stand alone members of PreCheck alone. It’s still a random selection as to who get’s PreCheck, even with any Trusted Traveler program membership. Though, Global Entry is seeming to get the nod. We have Global Entry and have Always received TSA PreChcek in our last 20+ flights.

    Thanks for good writeup!

  • Pudenda Shenanigans

    I have had Global Entry and since the government agencies don’t communicate, I had to also purchase Pre-Check. Pre-check has to be on your airline ticket, so even if you have it, if it’s not on the ticket, you don’t go through. I am very disappointed at the waste of money.

    • CarlPerkins’Cadillac

      Pud, make sure you enter your Global Entry # when you make a reservation, and if for some reason it isn’t on your boarding pass, go to the check-in desk with your card and they’ll print you a new one. I had the same issue a couple of times.

  • Snarky

    Purchased Global Entry 4 years ago, had no problem than…but today Global Entry gets you squat!! Frontier Airline is not on the TSA Precheck list and the Global Entry card DOES NOT WORK getting access to the pre check lane!!

  • TexBill

    Although I took advantage of it every time it was given to me at no charge (probably because the airline credit cards I used), I think it is ridiculous for a government agency to sell our airport security checks to citizens who are already paying for the system.

    Also, as we learned from 9-11, a terrorist attack like that takes months to prepare. Taking on the identity of an actual citizen or permanent resident takes little time…find a person who resembles you, cut his throat, take his ID. Go the the Pre-Check sales counter, where the employee would never question anything from a person whose appearance, accent, or name fits the profile of common terrorists. Out the door you go with a pass to make it easier to go through our security.

    When we relax security for a few, eventually terrorists will find a way to become a member of the few.

  • bill marsano

    Does Global Entry work on domestic flights? It’s unclear from the above, which suggests that GE includes PreCheck but not CLEAR. And what the heck is SENTRI?

    • Robert Franze

      Yes it works on domestic flights. The extra $15 gets expedited customs processing.

  • bill marsano

    Also unclear: Some credit cards will give a credit of appl;ication fee in the event of rejection. How does one get this? And how does it work–is the Card Co. not honoring the demand for payment?

  • Dave Ward

    I am a NEXUS member and was wondering how sometimes I get pre check and sometimes not. Registering my number with Aeroplan is a great suggestion….

  • Mick Savage

    End this nonsense.
    Disband TSA now.

    • jill_friedman

      totally agree with you! It’s nothing but a scam to get people used to following whatever stupid orders they may choose to come up with. It has NOTHING to do with safety or security, it is ALL about compliance and control!

  • Charles Seaman

    I use Global Entry, and the system is great. My only suggestion is to actually fill out the paper Customs and Immigration form even though it’s not needed with the kiosks. Once in a while, the kiosks are out of service. When that happens, you must go through the regular line and need the paper form.

  • jill_friedman

    I was told I was not eligible for Global Entry because of a reckless driving conviction, they do not mention this as a reason to disqualify on their website. I spent the money and it was not refunded.

  • jill_friedman

    I find it hard to fathom how a reckless driving conviction makes you a danger on an airplane- no cars on there!!

  • Flying Lad

    Our family just did exactly that. It makes the process MUCH easier especially if you’re traveling with a young one. My only concern is just how many people might be going through if everyone starts applying.

  • Barbara Klingenmaier

    We have TSA Pre; does anyone know if we can upgrade to Global for just another $15? I have tried to find out on the website with no luck.

  • Allan Higgins

    Ban the TERRORIST SATANIE ARMY Put them back on the welfare rolls where they belong.
    At least than they would not be given free retirement checks for the rest if there lives.
    As a patriot I will not fly & have not since 9/11. The only thing that I am afraid of is the criminal cartel that poses as a gov.training the sheep..
    If WE THE PEOPLE refused to fly than THEY the criminals would think twice about the police state that they are forming, with your help!!
    Oh, & do not say that they are keeping you safe. They have a 95% failure rate at that.

  • Leeny2

    As of February 1, 2015, MileagePlus no longer provides eligible Global Services℠, Premier® 1K® and Premier Platinum members with a payment code which can be used as the form of payment for the $100 Global Entry application fee. Eligible members who requested a payment code prior to this date may use it as payment for a Global Entry application until six months after the payment code was issued.

  • Donald Fannin

    If you are rich you travel hassle free if you are poor go to the end of the line.

  • Buddhaprince

    I have been getting the TSA Pre-check on all the airlines where I am a frequent flyer. i have only one annual fee air miles card, United MileagePlus. I guess they did this application for me “no charge” without telling me. But the card from Chase does have an annual fee of $95. I must say it was and is quite a pleasant surprize!

  • biztraveler

    um. sure. after everyone signs up or gets TSA pre-check at a minimum- it will mean lines just as long or longer with pre-check. I have had global entry since early on- -and basically – some airports like PHL – all the pre-check lanes are usually longer. Plus, the occasional ‘random’ pre-check given to people who never had it before, also slow up the line because they take their shoes and jackets off anyway or take their computers out – no matter what has been told to them until they get up to the front. Some other airports it is worth it; re-entry from a foreign country for global entry is worth it- but the TSA pre-check is simply turning into a revenue program and soon will not save any more time. Besides, I had one Caucasian TSA agent monitoring Xray in the mid-west emphatically saying I had hidden scissors in my bag and I was searched over a couple times and my bag 3 different times– until the bag search TSA agent (who was also not Caucasian) — got a manager to report the situation and remove the agent at the Xray screen. Of course I had no scissors. But I was the only non-Caucasian in the line going through too. This certainly didn’t help speed up any pre-check lines. So a lot of it is how TSA and agents also handles the lines and checks.

  • Cassandra Fraser

    The TSA does nothing! It’s existence is an insult to honest people everywhere and a government scam to keep us in a state of fear and insecurity. TSA rarely ever catches a “terrorist”, but is sure makes H**L of the lives of a lot of seniors and disabled people, and creates millions of dollars in expenses due to missed flights, missed meetings and missed appointments. Instead of paying yet more money and signing up for these pre-clearance programs, lets start a movement to disband the TSA (except on international flights to and from potential hot spots) and get back to enjoying travel again.

  • Kenmar13

    One more reason to not fly!

  • wesaymwah

    Clicking the link to see where Global Entry can be used reveals only one European Country – Republic of Ireland. Next to nothing in Asia, too. What are the plans and timetable, if any, for rolling out to other destinations?

  • Barbara

    CLEAR is an utter waste of money if you travel to some of the busiest airports in the US regularly, like JFK. I had a trial CLEAR membership that I signed up for at SFO. I found out later that JFK does not honor CLEAR. I unexpectedly spent an hour on the regular security line and very nearly missed my flight. TSA PreCheck is much more useful, costs less and truly saves a lot of time at many airports. I’m not annoyed that the government charges for this expedited service. They have an incredibly important, complex job to do that I think we should expect to pay for. I’m glad TSA PreCheck is available at much lower fees than commercial outfits.

  • Audrey Lanier Gravley

    This information is very helpful, I travel a lot and having a known traveler number is a must for speedy transition through security

  • Guffie

    nice advertisement for tsa pre-check. useless.

  • ThreeTwo

    “I scheduled my interview about 2.5 hours before a flight I had already booked from JFK, ”

    how could any sane person, who has ever been to an airport, think that is good advice??