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

May 5, 2016

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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