We all want to speed through the long, unpleasant lines at airport security and customs, but what can you do about it?
You might not realize it, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has more than one program designed to expedite your trip though the airport. Trusted Traveler options include: FAST, FLUX, NEXUS, SENTRI, SES, Smart Gate and STEP. The TSA also offers TSA Pre-Check.
That’s a lot of acronyms! Let’s break which ones matter for you and which ones don’t. FLUX, SES and Smart Gate all apply to frequent travelers to/from the Netherlands, Korea, and Australia. New Zealand has a similar program that’s missing the catchy name. These programs expedite and secure international travel with an automated border passage program. For North America, the State Department also has the NEXUS and SENTRI programs, which apply to border crossings between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico, both by land and sea.
The good news is, members of those programs can also participate in Global Entry. Global Entry helps you clear U.S. customs and Border patrol faster regardless of where you are traveling from. The program is designed for low-risk travelers to receive expedited clearance upon arriving arrival into the United States. To receive Global Entry, you must submit an application that includes an in-person interview, background check, and fingerprinting. Once you pass, Global Entry members can then skip the lines at Customs and Border Protection and instead use touch-screen kiosks in the arrivals area of airports.
That helps at customs, but what about the lines at security when you get to the airport? Here’s where TSA’s PreCheck program enters the game. Qualified fliers go through an expedited TSA security line, where they don’t have to remove their shoes, belts, coats, and laptops. Initially you had to have frequent-flier status or be a member of a Trusted Traveler program (so if you have Global Entry you have PreCheck) to qualify for the program. But starting in September, you can apply online to be eligible for its expedited PreCheck program.
Should travelers invest in Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and how do these programs compare? Let’s break it down:
What the Program Offers:
Global Entry members skip the lines at Customs and Border Protection and instead use touch-screen kiosks in the arrivals area of airports. Global Entry members are automatically eligible to the TSA PreCheck program at no additional fee.
With TSA PreCheck, qualified fliers go through an expedited TSA security line, where they don’t have to remove their shoes, belts, coats, and laptops.
Global Entry has a $100 fee that must be paid when you send in your application.
TSA Pre-Check has a $85 fee that must be paid online.
Global Entry starts with an online application, which if approved results in an in person interview where a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer asks questions, take a photo, and scans fingerprints.
TSA Pre-Check requires an online application. Then you are required to verify identity and provide fingerprints at a TSA Pre-Check and enrollment center. There are currently just two in person applications centers that will be open this fall (Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Indianapolis International Airport (IND)), but there are plans for further expansion.
How Long Is Membership Active?
Both TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry memberships are valid for 5 years.
There are currently 45 airports in the Global Entry program, including outposts in Canada, Guam, and Shannon, Ireland.
TSA Pre-Check is currently available in 115 airports across the US for passengers traveling on Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways and Virgin America. Click here to see where TSA Pre-Check security lanes are available.
Access Granted & When/Where it Works:
Global Entry allows expedited customs screenings 100 percent of the time at eligible airports.
Even if an airport offers a PreCheck lane, TSA PreCheck doesn’t apply 100 percent of the time. Even those who are approved may still be subject to random screenings and not have access to the expedited line.
So how should you invest your travel dollars? Well, for $15 more than the cost of Pre-Check you can get access to all the benefits that come with Global Entry, so why not spend a little more to get a lot more?
For more information on these programs, check out:
- Applying for TSA Pre-Check
- TSA Pre-Check Expansion & All US Airports Offering Pre-Check
- Global Entry Explained
By Lily J. Kosner for PeterGreenberg.com