TSA PreCheck or Global Entry: A Guide for the Thrifty Traveler
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.
The programs have very different purposes and as you’ll see, one of these security programs has a significant edge over the other. In this post, I will walk through the basics of both programs and our recommendation on which one you should have.
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are your ticket to get through the airport fast. The former gets you through that airport security line and to your flight quicker. The latter is a must for international travelers, helping you speed through immigration when you return to the United States. Each program is distinct, and we’ll get in to the ins and outs of each below.
Here’s the thing: Your Global Entry membership comes with 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 free TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. 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 of the small U.S. carriers are included. More international airlines are joining the program each year. All told, nearly 50 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. That’s the key to getting through the TSA PreCheck.
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.
It can be a bit of a headache to actually schedule a program entry interview in some locations. For example, here in Minnesota, there are just 4 enrollment centers. The only option for Minneapolis-area residents is at MSP Airport. It can create a backlog of appointments and make it difficult to get in.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol used to give you just 30 days to complete an interview before throwing out your application (and the fee you’ve paid), but they’ve since extended that window to a full year. That reflects the trouble some applicants have had in getting through the process.
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.
Thrifty Tip #3: If you can’t schedule a Global Entry interview as soon as you’d like, check back on the scheduling platform a few times a day to try and squeeze into a canceled slot.
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 5-year memberships for the government-run programs, CLEAR costs $179 each year. Flying with Delta can help take the bite out of that annual cost as it’s $99 for a general SkyMiles member,and only $79 annually if you are a Silver, Gold or Platinum Medallion elite member, or you hold one of the Delta co-branded American Express cards. Even further, the service is completely free for Delta’s Diamond Medallion members.
CLEAR is currently available at just 24 airports, as well as a handful of professional sports stadiums. However, Delta has an ownership stake in CLEAR, and I imagine the service will continue to expand.
Thrifty Tip #4: CLEAR works in conjunction with your TSA PreCheck membership. Once you are CLEAR, you will be expedited to the front of the PreCheck line. This makes getting through security a breeze.
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. 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. 24 airports, including most major international gateways, allow Mobile Passport at their immigration checkpoints.
There’s no better way to make your time at the airport faster 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 withTSA Pre✓ is the obvious choice.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.