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Easy Going

Travel stories + tips from seasoned explorers

TSA Pre vs Global Entry – What’s Best?

February 28, 2016

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Endless, winding lines and waiting, waiting, waiting to go through TSA and immigration checks at airports – who among us hasn’t sworn that this is absolutely the biggest downside to travel, especially international travel? Due to the growing numbers of passengers in transit and increased safety concerns, nearly all countries now require extensive screening of passengers and their belongings. With an increase in terrorist incidents, we can all agree that this is necessary. But come on, need EVERYONE be subjected to scrutiny at the same level?

Luckily, there are now several programs that shorten and streamline these processes. TSA PreCheck (TSA Pre) and Global Entry are the top two domestic and international programs engineered by the US Customs and Border Patrol Department and the Department for Homeland Security to help travelers speed up entering and leaving the airport. These are not the only trusted traveler programs – others include FAST, FLUX, NEXUS, SENTRI, SES, Smart Gate and STEP. These programs from different countries provide assistance to travelers, as well as a faster check in and out. Overall, the two most helpful programs for US citizens are TSA PRE and Global Entry. Worth considering: several levels of American Express cards reimburse you for the application fees applicable to these programs, which is something to consider.

Let’s take a look at their respective benefits:

TSA PreCheck is a program for domestic travelers which allows them to go through expedited security lines within the United States. These travelers are not required to remove their belts, laptops, shoes or light jackets. Some other information about TSA Pre:

•To get TSA Pre, applicants pay a one-time fee of $85. If accepted, their benefits last for 5 years.
•To apply for TSA Pre, applicants must fill out an online application, then verify themselves in person through a face-to-face interview at one of the authorized facilities. These are primarily done at airports; check your area to see where the closest location is. TSA also requires a fingerprint.
•TSA Pre is available in most airports in the US (about 150 total; find the closest one to you here:
•On some occasions, TSA Pre members may not be able to go through the expedited lane, and may be subject to random screenings.
•If you don’t get accepted to TSA Pre (which is rare, but it can happen), TSA keeps your $85 fee.

You may say, “but I have ‘TSA Pre’ printed on my boarding passes sometimes and I’ve never paid that fee or gone through that process”. True enough; travelers are picked on a random basis for this perk, but there’s no guarantee unless you buy in. No one knows what the criteria are and they seem to be applied inconsistently. For example, I traveled to and from Seattle with my daughters last August. On the way out I was lucky enough to get TSA Pre and neither daughter did. But on the way home, my 13-year-old was the lucky one and little Isabella and I had to drag everything through the slow line and “undress” along with the rest of the herd.

Global Entry helps you clear border control and U.S. Customs quickly and efficiently regardless of your place of origin outside the United States. This program was created to allow low-risk travelers to receive expedited clearance upon arrival. Global Entry is not awarded to frequent travelers, unlike TSA Pre, and requires a one-time fee of $100. Global Entry benefits, once awarded, last for 5 years. The key to getting all the benefits you deserve from your Global Entry designation is to enter the Global Entry ID number (Known Traveler Number, or “KTN”) into your frequent flyer traveler profiles (you are now a “Known Traveler”), and to make sure it’s in all of your plane reservations. Here is some other information about Global Entry:

•Global Entry allows participants to automatically by-pass the standard touch-screen/manual check-ins and proceed through a quick check. Global Entry participants should automatically qualify for TSA Pre without paying the additional $85, although I’ve seen comments indicating that this doesn’t always hold.
•To apply for Global Entry, you must fill out an online application. If approved, border protection officers require an in-person interview, photo and fingerprint.
•Global Entry is not offered at all airports; about 58 airports (none in Italy, unfortunately) currently offer the service.
•Global entry allows expedited customs 100% of the time, at all eligible airports.

Both Global Entry and TSA Pre are wonderful tools for keeping travel more streamlined and efficient. The only downside is that your checked bags are rarely ready after you’ve whizzed through Global Entry. Maybe the next step will be tagging Known Travelers’ bags in a way that they will always come off the plane first?

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