Dreading long lines at the airport? You’re not alone. Lucky for you, there is a pair of government programs you can enroll in to help skip the lines and long wait times: TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.
But the programs 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?
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are your ticket to get through the airport faster. 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 includes TSA PreCheck for free. TSA PreCheck itself costs $85 for a five-year membership, while Global Entry is $100 for the same period. Further, 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.
Thrifty Tip #1: Check to see if your credit card comes with a credit that covers TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application. If it does, make sure you pay with that card when applying for either program.
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.
Thrifty Tip #2: After you’ve been approved, make sure you add your 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 #3: 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.
But the last step, an in-person interview, can be a bit of a headache to actually schedule. It can often take weeks – if not months – to land a spot. Those interviews are on pause nationwide until at least early July due to coronavirus. So for now, it may take longer.
Luckily, there’s an easy workaround for that long interview delay – enrollment on arrival. Still, for now, it may take a long time to finalize your Global Entry enrollment.
Read our full guide on getting signed up for Global Entry, from start to finish.
But seeing as Global Entry is just $15 more, it’s an easy choice over TSA PreCheck alone. 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.
Thrifty Tip #4: If you can’t schedule a Global Entry interview as soon as you’d like, read our guide to getting an interview faster.
What About CLEAR?
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 $179 each year. So it’s not exactly cheap.
Flying with Delta or United can help take the bite out of that annual cost. Members of their free mileage programs can get signed up for $119 a year, while holding airline status or a co-branded credit card can drop that to $109. The highest status holders – Diamond Medallions with Delta and United 1K flyers – can get CLEAR for free. And the American Express Green Card comes with an annual $100 credit to cover at least part of your CLEAR membership.
The big downside with CLEAR is that it’s currently available at just a few dozen airports, 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.
Thrifty Tip #5: They may seem duplicative, but CLEAR works in conjunction with your TSA PreCheck membership. Once you have CLEAR, you can cut to the front of the PreCheck line and go right through security.
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 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.
There’s no better way to speed up your trip through the airport than getting Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. 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.
Want to learn more of our best cheap travel tips to make your travel smoother? Start learning with our Thrifty Traveler University online lessons.