The summer air travel season is shaping up to be the busiest ever, which could mean lengthy lines at U.S. airport security checkpoints. But you can use the faster lanes if you belong to an expedited screening program, which could essentially be free to join with the right credit card.
The primary federal programs for air travel, TSA Precheck and Global Entry, cost $85 or $100 per traveler, respectively, and enrollment lasts five years for both.
Both give you access to the Transportation Security Administration’s Precheck security lanes at more than 200 domestic airports, where wait times as of May were less than five minutes for 92 percent of passengers, according to TSA. Global Entry includes TSA Precheck privileges and adds expedited entry through U.S. customs when you return from a foreign country.
Which to choose
With both programs, you provide personal information and submit to a background check. In exchange you get a trusted traveler number, which you can use for faster screening.
Global Entry might be the obvious choice for frequent and international travelers because it comes with more benefits for a little extra money, costing an average of $3 more annually than Precheck.
The downside of Global Entry comes upfront: It’s a bigger hassle to apply for, and it requires a more thorough background process than Precheck. It not only requires a passport but also an in-person interview, which is available at the nation’s large international airports and border crossings.
If you rarely travel abroad, don’t have a passport and don’t live near a Global Entry center, TSA Precheck may be the better option.
Application details are on the TSA Precheck and Global Entry websites.
Benefits of Precheck
TSA Precheck status gives you access to security lanes with lighter screening. To use the special lane, make sure your trusted traveler number is included in your airline itinerary. Leave on your belt and shoes, keep your laptop in its case, and let liquids and gels remain in your carry-on. Dedicated Precheck lanes and quicker screening usually mean faster-moving lines. Children ages 12 and younger can use Precheck lanes when traveling with a parent or guardian who has the Precheck indicator on their boarding pass.
Benefits of Global Entry
Global Entry, run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, includes TSA Precheck benefits and expedited customs screening when traveling internationally. When returning to the United States, you can use a self-service kiosk instead of waiting in customs lines. The program also includes expedited processing at Mexico and Canada border crossings. Children of all ages need their own Global Entry status to use expedited customs screening.
How your credit card can help
More credit cards that earn travel rewards are starting to add a valuable benefit: reimbursement of the application fee for Precheck or Global Entry once every four or five years. Typically, reimbursement is automatic when you use the travel credit card to pay the $85 or $100 fee.
If neither TSA Precheck nor Global Entry is right for you, TSA offers these tips for regular security lanes:
- Before heading to the airport, check your carry-ons for prohibited items.
- During busy travel periods, TSA recommends using its app, MyTSA, to check what your wait time might be.
- When packing your carry-on, keep in mind that some items will need to be removed and scanned separately.