If you're looking to drastically speed up your travels- these two programs are what you need! They’re both five year memberships and are fairly inexpensive, but they have very different purposes. Here are the basics of both programs and the pros and cons of each to help you decide which is better for you.
The Basics Between PreCheck and Global Entry
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry will both get you through the airport faster. TSA PreCheck gets you through that airport security line and to your flight faster. Global Entry is 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 (sometimes months) to get approved, but each program is distinct. A Global Entry membership also includes TSA PreCheck for free. TSA PreCheck itself costs $85 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 speeding up the immigration process makes Global Entry the best choice in almost every case. However, it's not the correct choice for everyone.
All About TSA PreCheck
It’s not just the shorter lines that make TSA PreCheck so valuable for travelers. You also get to leave your shoes, belt, and a light jacket on. Your laptop and the carry-on approved liquids in your bag don't have to come out to go through the baggage screeners. 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. Currently, more than 70 airlines participate in TSA PreCheck.
Signing up for TSA PreCheck is pretty straightforward. You’ll fill out an application and pay the fee. From there, you will head to a certified enrollment center for a short interview, 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 TSA PreCheck. If you don't see the PreCheck logo on your boarding pass, the airline representative at the counter can correct it for you.
All About Global Entry
Global Entry is a fast-pass through immigration when you re-enter the United States, and it includes membership in the TSA PreCheck program. Applying for Global Entry is very similar to the PreCheck application. In the past the process has taken several months; however, it now averages about 3 weeks. It takes longer than TSA PreCheck because you need to get conditionally approved after submitting your application. While some travelers get the go-ahead within days, others find it can take months. And the last step, an in-person interview, can sometimes be difficult to schedule. You often have to wait weeks if not months to get an appointment. There is an easy workaround for the 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. However, if you travel internationally, Global Entry is the best choice over TSA PreCheck alone. Just make sure you plan ahead, because 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.
Are There Other Options?
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are the two best-known airport programs, but there are some other options. CLEAR, an independent trusted traveler program involving both fingerprints and a retinal scan, is one of them. You can enroll online and finalize your membership at the airport. CLEAR is more expensive at $179 and is only currently available at a few dozen airports. However, Delta and United both have ownership stakes in CLEAR, so watch for it to continue expanding.
There’s also a free smartphone app called Mobile Passport that works like Global Entry. There’s no cost to download it and no 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. 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.
The Bottom Line
There’s no better way to speed up your trip through the airport than getting Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. As travel begins booming again, it’s a great time to enroll in one of these programs. If you can afford the higher price for Global Entry and have plenty of time before your next international trip, Global Entry and its two-for-one with TSA PreCheck is the obvious choice.