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Airport security screening is a universally unpleasant experience, no matter how often you travel and which airports you frequent. It always takes longer than you’d like it to and can be pretty confusing, and most of us wish there were a way to avoid it.
Well, there’s no way to completely get out of going through airport security (and really, that’s for the best), but there may be ways to make the process a little less tedious. For some, that’s TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. Find out here if these programs are worth it and how to get started.
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What Is TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is a program of the United States Transportation Security Administration that provides smoother airport screening. It saves members time during security checks and lets them go through without removing most items.
According to the TSA, 95% of passengers with TSA PreCheck coverage waited less than five minutes at security checks in October 2021. Typically, going through airport security takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes on average but can take even longer depending on which airport you’re at.
So how does it work? Basically, you answer questions about your travel history and personal life when applying for membership, and your answers are saved in the TSA PreCheck system. This allows for a streamlined check-in process because the system can automatically determine whether you present a security risk.
If you are determined to be low risk, which you must be to be approved for membership, then you will be allowed to pass through security checkpoints without presenting items such as electronics and liquids from your luggage or removing your jacket and shoes for screening.
TSA PreCheck members do not need to remove or present the following when checking in:
- Light jackets
- 3-1-1 liquids
This program is family-friendly. Children under the age of 12 can accompany their parents in TSA PreCheck when traveling and do not need to be members themselves. Children between the ages of 13 and 17 may also go through TSA PreCheck lines with their parents if they are traveling on the same reservation, provided that they have received a TSA PreCheck indicator on their boarding pass. These are given randomly, so there is no guarantee that a child of this age will get one.
TSA PreCheck is not available at all airports. As of right now, there are more than 200 airports with over 80 airlines allowing TSA PreCheck, including most major airports in all 50 states.
Anyone can apply for TSA PreCheck, but approval is not guaranteed. This program is restricted to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents only. Membership is valid for 5 years.
What Is Global Entry?
Global Entry is a program of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection that allows members to travel more quickly through security screening when entering the United States. Members enjoy reduced wait times and shorter lines than non-members and do not have to present paperwork when going through security.
Global Entry membership also comes with TSA PreCheck membership for everyone enrolled. If you apply for Global Entry and are determined to be low-risk, you are approved as a member and granted expedited clearance when flying or traveling by boat into the United States.
Global Entry enrollees use designated kiosks at 75 different airports to go through security. They then use the kiosk to scan their passport or U.S. permanent resident card and fingerprints and fill out a digital customs declaration. Upon completion, members receive a receipt and can proceed to get their bags and leave.
There are not usually lines at these kiosks and in the event that kiosks are down, Global Entry members can jump to the front of the line at standard security.
You can apply for Global Entry if you are a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or foreign national. Membership is valid for 5 years.
What Are the Differences?
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are very similar. The TSA PreCheck is an entity of the Transportation Security Administration and Global Entry is an entity of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but they’re both classified as Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler programs.
They also offer many of the same benefits to members including shorter lines and wait times.
The primary difference between the two is that TSA PreCheck is used when members are flying out of a U.S. airport and Global Entry is used when members are flying into the U.S. from an international destination.
Here are the key similarities and differences between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry:
|TSA PreCheck||Global Entry|
|Air travel only||Air, land, and sea travel|
|Flights out of U.S.||Travel into U.S.|
|Open to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents||Open to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and some foreign nationals|
|5-year membership||5-year membership|
|$85 enrollment fee||$100 enrollment fee|
All Global Entry members are also TSA PreCheck members but not all TSA PreCheck members are also Global Entry members.
How to Apply for TSA PreCheck
You can apply for TSA PreCheck in person at one of more than 400 TSA PreCheck application centers including 50 airport locations and 350 designated office locations. Appointments are not required, but having one may reduce your wait time. You can optionally pre-enroll before arriving to save yourself more time.
The first thing you will need to do is fill out an application. You’ll answer a series of questions demonstrating proof of citizenship and identity during this step. If you are able, provide one of the following unexpired documents to prove your citizenship status and identity:
- U.S. Passport
- Enhanced Tribal Card
- Free and Secure Trade Card
- U.S. Enhanced Driver’s License or Enhanced Identification Card
- Permanent Resident Card or Green Card
- Foreign Passport and Immigrant Visa with I-551 annotation showing permanent residence of one year
- Re-Entry Permit
If you do not have one of these documents, you will need another form of photo identification as well as proof of citizenship. Valid photo IDs include:
- Driver’s license issued by a state or outlying possession of the U.S.
- Temporary driver’s license and expired driver’s license
- Photo ID card issued by the federal government, state, or outlying possession of the U.S.
- U.S. active or retired military ID card
- U.S. military dependent’s card
- Native American tribal document with photo
- Department of Homeland Security/Transportation Security Administration Transportation worker Identification Credential
- Merchant Mariner Credential
Valid proof of citizenship documents include:
- Birth certificate
- Certificate of Citizenship
- Certificate of Naturalization
- Citizen Identification Card
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad
- Certification of Report of Birth Abroad
- Expired passport that is within 12 months of expiration
After providing these materials, you will have your fingerprints scanned and undergo a thorough background check. If your application is accepted, you’ll receive your unique Known Traveler Number that you will use when booking flights and checking in at the airport. Note that applications can take up to 60 days to process. You can check the status of your application online.
When applying for TSA PreCheck membership, be aware that you will likely not be accepted if you have a criminal record or history of security violations. Also, you need to re-apply for membership every five years. You need to visit an enrollment center again to renew your membership.
The cost for a five-year membership is $85. Most people need to pay for TSA PreCheck enrollment, but certain travel credit cards provide membership as a benefit.
How to Get Free Membership
Many travel credit cards and loyalty programs offer TSA PreCheck as a benefit to members. Membership may be free to cardholders or cardholders may be eligible to pay the fee with points or rewards. We’ll list a few of our favorite cards and rewards programs that qualify here, but you can visit the TSA PreCheck site to see the complete list.
Credit cards that offer free TSA PreCheck include:
- Capital One Venture Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
- American Express Platinum Cards
- Bank of America Premium Rewards Card
- Delta SkyMiles Platinum and Reserve American Express Cards
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Card
- United Club Infinite Card
Loyalty programs that offer TSA PreCheck include:
- IHG Rewards Club
- Marriott Bonvoy
- Orbitz Rewards
- Radisson Rewards
- United MileagePlus
How to Apply for Global Entry
Global Entry applications include an exhaustive background check as well as an interview. To apply, start by creating a Trusted Traveler Program account. Then, complete the online application that will ask you questions about your background and history. There is a non-refundable $100 fee for applying.
Once your application is complete, it is reviewed and either rejected or conditionally approved. With conditional approval, you can schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center where you will meet with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer and learn more about Global Entry. Bring your driver’s license or ID card and valid passport. The officer will ask you questions about why you’re applying for membership and review your application.
At select airports (called an Enrollment on Arrival airport), you may be able to complete an interview after your next international flight. This is subject to availability, but you can view a list of Enrollment on Arrival airports prior to your next trip.
If you want to be a member of both programs, apply only for Global Entry. This application is longer and more involved, but it gives you faster screening at more locations (not just airports) and includes TSA PreCheck. Plus, certain populations, such as Mexican Nationals, may be able to qualify for TSA PreCheck by first becoming Global Entry members. However, be aware that Global Entry applications take a while to process and you might wait several weeks for an interview.
Pros and Cons
One of the main advantages of these travel programs is that they are affordable, especially when you consider how much time they can save you at airports and that membership is valid for five years.
The long membership also means that you won’t have to go through the application process often, making the programs useful even if you don’t travel a ton. If you do a lot of traveling, you can save many hours at airports and enjoy a generally smoother check-in experience.
One of the main disadvantages of these programs is that not all airports participate. Although many major airports and travel ports accept TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, some airports and airlines choose not to. For example, some smaller airports and certain international airlines don’t participate. It’s always worth checking before you travel so you know what to expect.
Another disadvantage is that it can take a while for your applications to process and your interview to be scheduled. You could be waiting several months to hear back about your application and it can be tedious to gather everything you need to apply, especially if you are not a native U.S. citizen.
We feel that TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are well worth the time and money to enroll. Although the processes to apply are no walks in the park, it’s very doable for most people and you can save a significant amount of time at airports. And since most major airports participate in these programs, you don’t really need to plan travel any differently.
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are not the same and you may benefit from one more than the other. Global Entry is best for people who take regular international flights and TSA PreCheck is best for people who travel domestically a few times a year. We recommend looking into credit cards and loyalty programs that include TSA PreCheck as a benefit if this program makes the most sense for you.