If you’re like most travelers, you dread the hassle of going through airport security. Not only can it be time-consuming, but the process itself can be a headache. From having to remove your shoes and separate your electronics from the rest of your items to being subjected to other security headaches—getting through airport security is a notoriously frustrating process for just about every traveler.
At the same time, it’s important to understand that these strict security measures are in place for good reason. Of course, that doesn’t make things any easier when you’ve been waiting in the airport security line for 30 minutes and approaching dangerously close to your flight’s departure time.
If you partake in a fair amount of air travel and are looking for a way to make getting through airport security less of a chore, you may want to consider applying for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or a similar program. These programs are essentially designed to save both you and the airports time by allowing qualified individuals to pass through expedited security checks. Still, with several different program options available, it can be difficult to know which is right for your needs. Take some time to become familiar with the similarities and differences between the popular TSA PreCheck and Global Entry programs. From there, you can make an informed decision regarding which is best for you.
The TSA PreCheck program began in 2011 and is the most widely publicized program; if you’ve been to an airport recently, there’s a good chance you’ve seen advertisements for the TSA PreCheck program as you were going through airport security. The main draw of the TSA PreCheck program is that qualified members are not required to remove their shoes, belts, light jackets, electronics, liquids, and other items that typically need to be removed before going through security. TSA PreCheck members also have their own expedited security line, so they’re able to bypass most of the general population. This can save you a great deal of time when passing through airport security—which in-turn can make your travels a lot less stressful.
It is worth noting that TSA PreCheck is only available mostly for domestic flights (there are a few exceptions), so if you’re flying internationally, you won’t be eligible for the expedited pass through security. Still, if most of your traveling is within the United States, this can be a great option that is available at about 200 airports across the country.
Qualifications and Requirements
There are some basic qualification requirements you should be aware of if you’re thinking about applying for TSA PreCheck. For starters, you must be a United States citizen, a United States national, or a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) in order to qualify. A background screening is also required for all applicants, so you will need to submit to a complete background check. Keep in mind that while a criminal history will not automatically prevent you from being approved, you could be denied PreCheck status due to a past criminal conviction.
Costs and Renewal Periods
If your TSA PreCheck application is accepted, your membership will last for five years before needing to be renewed. The cost to apply for TSA PreCheck is $85—and the price to renew your membership after five years have passed is the same.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t wait until your TSA PreCheck membership expires or lapses to renew; doing so could result in delays. You can actually apply to renew your membership up to six months before it is set to expire. In most cases, you can quickly and easily renew your membership from the convenience of your computer. However, there may be some situations where you need to renew in-person to provide updated information or a new set of fingerprints.
How to Apply
Applying for TSA PreCheck is relatively quick and easy. You can apply online or in-person at a processing center. Even if you fill out and submit your application online, there is a good chance you will still need to visit an official application center to provide fingerprints and additional documentation, such as a form of government identification and birth certificate.
If you’ll need to visit an enrollment/application center, it is generally advised that you schedule an appointment ahead of time. While most of these centers do allow walk-in applications, TSA PreCheck is becoming incredibly popular and you could find yourself waiting in a long line to complete your application without an appointment. You can generally expect these appointments to take around 15 minutes.
At the time of your application, you’ll also have the option to choose whether you want your Known Traveler Number (KTN) delivered to you through snail mail or online. Your KTN is what you’ll need to provide when booking your flight or when checking in so that your boarding pass will be indicated valid for use with TSA PreCheck.
Making the Most of TSA PreCheck
If you have children, you can maximize your use of TSA PreCheck while traveling; specifically, this program allows for dependent children age 12 and younger to pass through the TSA PreCheck line with their parents. These children can enjoy the same perks as adults, such as not having to remove shoes or electronics (in most cases).
Looking to save on your TSA PreCheck application fee? Check with your travel credit card company to see if they offer reimbursement for these expenses. These days, many credit card companies offer this as a perk to members. Typically, you’ll need to pay for your TSA PreCheck application materials using your eligible travel credit card; from there, you can request reimbursement or an account credit for these expenses.
If you tend to do more international traveling, then Global Entry may be a better option for you than TSA PreCheck. While both of these programs are designed to help low-risk travelers pass more quickly through airport security, Global Entry is designated for use with the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program and thus allows travelers to gain expedited clearance when they arrive in the United States.
It is also worth noting that Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, so you can enjoy the perks of both programs by getting approved for Global Entry. Generally, it is worth it for those who travel internationally even once or twice a year to apply for Global Entry, as the eligibility requirements are not much more stringent than that of TSA PreCheck and the cost is similar.
Qualifications and Requirements
Without Global Entry membership, your arrival back to the United States after an international flight probably looks something like this:
You arrive at your gate and pick up your bags at baggage claim. Then, you must pass through a long customs processing line, speak with a customs agent, and fill out paperwork before being allowed to pass through. With Global Entry, however, you simply “check in” at a Global Entry kiosk, print out a slip, and pass through an expedited customs line.
Specific eligibility requirements for Global Entry are similar to that of TSA PreCheck, though they are a little stricter. In general, United States citizens and lawful permanent residents are eligible to apply so long as they are age 18 or older. Those under the age of 18 must have the written consent of a legal guardian to apply.
Those who have been found in violation of customs or immigration laws, or those with prior criminal convictions may not be eligible for Global Entry. The same applies to those who provide any false or incomplete information on their application.
Costs and Renewal Periods
Like TSA PreCheck, membership to Global Entry is good for five years before needing to be renewed. If your membership is up for renewal within the next six months, it’s generally better to begin the renewal process sooner rather than later to avoid delays. The cost to apply or renew for Global Entry is $100, so it is a little more expensive than a TSA PreCheck application. When you consider that Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, however, it is easy to see why many travelers prefer to pay the extra $15 and enjoy international perks as well.
How to Apply
Much like applying for TSA PreCheck, those applying for Global Entry must begin by submitting an online application and scheduling an appointment to provide fingerprints and other official documentation at an official processing center. It is also worth noting that an interview is part of the Global Entry application, so you should be prepared for an in-person interview at the time of your appointment. The entire appointment, in most cases, should not take more than 10-15 minutes.
Just as with TSA PreCheck, you will receive a Known Traveler Number when your application for Global Entry is approved. You can then use your KTN when booking and checking in for flights to ensure that your boarding pass is printed with the appropriate designation.
Making the Most of Global Entry
To make the most of your Global Entry membership, there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, make sure to always check your boarding pass once you receive it to ensure that your Global Entry/PreCheck designation is printed on it. Sometimes, KTNs don’t transfer over when you enter them at your time of booking, so you could end up with a standard boarding pass.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done if you make it to the security line before realizing your pass was printed incorrectly—so it’s always best to check the moment your pass is handed to you so you can have it adjusted as needed. Be sure to have your KTN on you at all times as well.
If you carry a travel credit card, you may also want to check with your credit card company to see if they will reimburse you for your Global Entry application fee. Many travel credit card companies now offer reimbursement of this $100 fee once every five years, so this can be a nice perk.
Which is Best For Your Needs?
Ultimately, the decision as to whether TSA PreCheck or Global Entry is the better option for you will vary depending on your specific travel habits and some other factors. For most travelers who leave the country occasionally, the extra $15 will be well spent on Global Entry—especially when you consider that it includes TSA PreCheck and doesn’t have much stricter eligibility or application requirements.
On the other hand, if you don’t do any international traveling, then you may be well suited for TSA PreCheck on its own. You’ll save a little money this way. If you have a credit card that will reimburse you for a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee, however, you’re still better off applying for Global Entry. This way, if a situation arises where you do need to pass through customs in the next five years, you’ll be able to avoid long lines and other hassles.
What About CLEAR and Mobile Passport?
CLEAR and Mobile Passport are a couple other options to consider for speeding up your passage through airport security. Specifically, CLEAR offers a system similar to TSA PreCheck but is available only in the nation’s largest airports and some sports stadiums. The main designation of CLEAR is that it allows you to pass through the security line where you’re required to show your identification. On the flip side, it does cost more ($149 per year) and doesn’t entitle you to the same privileges as TSA PreCheck (such as being able to keep your shoes on).
Mobile Passport is another popular option to consider, which allows users to download and use a smartphone app to expedite their passage through customs. Specifically, the app allows users to fill out a profile and answer inspection-related questions, which can speed up the process of having their entry back into the United States granted.
Both CLEAR and Mobile Passport can be used in conjunction with existing programs, such as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, to make traveling easier than ever.
These are just a handful of the many programs out there that are designed to cut down on wait times at the airport. Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, you can make a more confident decision regarding which is best for you. To speed things up even further, you might consider giving CLEAR and/or Mobile Passport a try as well!