Dreading long lines at the airport? You’re not alone – especially these days with travel ramping back up for spring break and summer after that. Luckily, there's a pair of government programs you can enroll in to help skip the lines and long wait times: TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.
These time-saving programs are a key way to improve – and drastically speed up – your travels. They're fairly cheap for five-year memberships, with a handful of ways to cover that cost and make them free. But they have very different purposes. And as you’ll see, one of these security programs has a significant edge over the other.
So we'll walk through the basics of both programs and give you the pros and cons of each. It should help you decide which is better for you: Global Entry vs TSA PreCheck?
The Basics Between PreCheck and Global Entry
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are your ticket to get through the airport faster. But just which area of the airport each program covers is where they're different.
TSA PreCheck gets you through that airport security line and to your flight quicker. Global Entry is a must for international travelers, helping you speed through immigration when you return to the United States.
Both programs have separate application processes that require a background check, and can take a few weeks (and in some cases, months) to get approved. After all, each program is distinct, and we’ll break down the ins and outs of each below.
Here’s the thing: A Global Entry membership also includes TSA PreCheck for free. TSA PreCheck itself costs $78 for a five-year membership, while Global Entry is $100 for the same period. And you don’t get a discount on Global Entry if you’re already enrolled in TSA PreCheck.
The $15 premium for a quick trip through immigration makes Global Entry the no-brainer choice in almost every case. However, there’s still plenty to understand before you move ahead.
A Primer on TSA PreCheck
It’s not just the shorter line that makes TSA PreCheck so valuable for travelers.
You also get to leave your shoes, a belt and a light jacket on. Your laptop and the carry-on approved liquids in your bag can also stay put as you put them through the baggage screeners. Your first time using the benefits of TSA PreCheck, you’ll wonder why you didn’t join the program sooner.
One catch is that TSA PreCheck only partners with specific airlines, so you may not always get that quick pass through security. However, all of the major domestic airlines and even many small U.S. carriers are included. More international airlines are joining the program each year. All told, more than 70 airlines currently participate in TSA PreCheck.
Signing up for TSA PreCheck is pretty straightforward. You’ll fill out a quick application and pay the fee. From there, you will head to a certified enrollment center for a short interview (bring your passport!), fingerprinting, and a photo. If everything checks out, you should get the OK within a week or two.
After you’ve been approved, you have one critical step: Make sure you add your new Known Traveler Number (KTN) to your airline profile, and make sure TSA PreCheck is on your boarding pass. That’s the key to getting through the TSA PreCheck.
Thrifty Tip: Don't see the PreCheck logo on your boarding pass when it should be? DM your airline and see if they can sort it out for you!
Getting Global Entry
Global Entry is a two-for-one: a fast-pass through immigration when you re-enter the United States, and membership in the TSA PreCheck program.
Aside from the extra $15 it’ll cost you once every five years, getting Global Entry isn’t much different than TSA PreCheck. Applying is straightforward, and the interview is a breeze as long as you don’t have a criminal record. At least on paper…
For years, travelers have complained about drawn-out application processes that take months or more, with a long delay to get conditional approval and tough luck securing a final interview to finish up enrollment. More recently, though, things seem to have sped up, with some travelers finalizing Global Entry from start to finish in two weeks – or less.
Read our full guide on getting signed up for Global Entry, from start to finish.
Still, there's no question that getting Global Entry can take much longer than PreCheck. First, you need to get conditionally approved after submitting your application. While some travelers get the go-ahead within days, others can get stuck in limbo for months.
And the last step, an in-person interview, can be a bit of a headache to actually schedule. It can take weeks – if not months – to land a spot. Those interviews resumed last summer after a months-long pause due to COVID-19, leading to even worse backlogs.
Read our guide with tips to schedule your Global Entry interview faster.
Luckily, there's an easy workaround for that long interview delay. It's called enrollment on arrival, and it allows you to finalize your Global Entry registration while clearing immigration at select U.S. airports when returning to the country. Still, for now, it may take a long time to finalize your Global Entry enrollment.
But seeing as Global Entry is just $15 more, it’s an easy choice over TSA PreCheck alone if you're hoping to do any international travel. Just make sure you plan ahead, as you may miss out if you try to get signed up right before a big international trip. Once you have it, you'll get through immigration in minutes.
What About CLEAR? And Mobile Passport?
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are the two best-known airport programs, but there are some other options.
Among them is CLEAR, an independent trusted traveler program involving both fingerprints and a retinal scan. You can enroll online and finalize your membership at the airport.
Unlike the five-year memberships for the government-run programs, CLEAR costs $189 each year, so it's not exactly cheap. Luckily, there are some easy ways to cut down that price tag considerably – including a way to cover that entire cost with the Platinum Card® from American Express thanks to an annual CLEAR credit.
While they may seem duplicative, CLEAR actually works in conjunction with TSA PreCheck. Once you have CLEAR, you can simply cut to the front of the PreCheck line and go right through security. Without PreCheck, CLEAR gets you to the front of the standard line.
The big downside with CLEAR is that it's currently available at just a few dozen airports and counting, as well as a handful of professional sports stadiums. However, Delta and United both have ownership stakes in CLEAR, so watch for it to continue expanding.
There’s also a free smartphone app that, like Global Entry, can help you get through immigration faster: Mobile Passport.
There’s no cost to download it and no ongoing fee – as long as you don't want to store your passport and information in the app. You just input your passport information, snap a selfie and then enter your trip details when you’re ready to re-enter the country. This replaces that standard paper declarations form and gets you in a dedicated lane to get through immigration.
Some travelers say Mobile Passport can get you through immigration faster than Global Entry. In my experience, it’s not quite that fast. But it certainly beats the normal, paper-in-hand lines that get backed up easily.
Mobile Passport is a must-have app if you can’t afford Global Entry. More than two dozen airports, including most major international gateways, allow Mobile Passport at their immigration checkpoints.
How to Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Free
Now more than ever, getting through airport lines as fast as possible is worth its weight in gold. And there's an easy way to get either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck for free.
A growing number of credit cards offer a credit that will cover the cost of your application for either program. There are top-dollar premium travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Platinum Card® from American Express, which also carry a host of other travel benefits. The brand new Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card has the same credit, too.
But even some cheaper cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which carries an annual fee of just $95 a year, has a credit that will cover your application. So does the United℠ Explorer Card, which has an annual fee of $95 that is waived in the first year.
While it costs more with a $250 annual fee, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card has the credit, too.
Using these credits to zero out the cost of your application in either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry is simple: Just charge the application fee to your card. Within a few days, the credit will kick in, wiping the charge from your statement.
These credits are typically available to use once every four years. Considering membership in either program lasts for five years, you're set.
Thrifty Tip: Already have PreCheck or Global Entry? Use your credit to cover a friend or relative's application – just pay with your card!
FAQs About Global Entry vs TSA PreCheck
Which is better: Global Entry or TSA PreCheck?
It depends. If you travel internationally at all, Global Entry is definitely the winner as it will allow you to speed through immigration on your return to the U.S. Plus Global Entry also includes a TSA PreCheck membership.
But Global Entry is slightly more expensive, at $100 for a five-year membership as compared to $78 for TSA PreCheck. And the enrollment process for Global Entry can take much longer than TSA PreCheck.
How long does it take to get Global Entry?
Again, it depends. Some lucky travelers can finalize their enrollment in a matter of just a week or two. But others get caught up in a backlog of applications or struggle to schedule an in-person interview.
Getting Global Entry can take anywhere from just a week or two to more than a year, if you're unlucky.
Can family members come with me for free if I have PreCheck or Global Entry?
With PreCheck, it's spotty at best. Children 12 and younger traveling with an adult who has TSA PreCheck should almost always be allowed to accompany their parents through the PreCheck lane. And in some cases, an airline may pass down PreCheck benefits even to older children and other adults booked on the same reservation as an adult with TSA PreCheck.
With Global Entry, it's clear: Everyone needs their own Global Entry membership. Even newborn babies will not get Global Entry benefits from their parents. Federal officials have suggested changing this by allowing children under 18 to register and get Global Entry for free if their parents have a membership.
What do TSA PreCheck and Global Entry cost?
TSA PreCheck currently costs $78 for a five-year membership after a recent price drop.
Global Entry currently costs $100 for a five-year membership. But federal officials are planning to push that fee up to $120 as part of a broader overhaul of the program.
There’s no better way to speed up your trip through the airport than getting Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. And as you eye your return to travel, it's a great time to enroll in one of these programs to improve your future travels.
Unless you’re strapped for time or cash before your next trip or won’t travel out of the country anytime soon, Global Entry and its two-for-one with TSA PreCheck is the obvious choice.