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One of the worst parts of traveling is waiting in a long line. But for a small investment, you can skip the lines like you’re an A-List Celebrity. We’re going to talk about the differences between TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR. Then, I’ll help you decide which one is best for your travel needs.
The Shutdown is Making Airport Security Unbearable
In the best of conditions, the normal security lines at the airport are a total pain. Even if you are an experienced traveler, there will be at least one person in front who doesn’t understand the rules and holds up the line.
Empty your pockets. Jacket and shoes off. Laptop out. Liquids in the tray and nothing over 3 ounces. Be ready to assume the position as the scanner searches your body.
Now that the government shutdown is in full effect, the TSA lines are unbearable. Miami shut down a concourse. Overworked TSA employees are calling in sick in protest. Some TSA workers are even quitting because they need to pay their bills.
This means huge security lines and waits up to 90 minutes for the average traveler. But there are several options to avoid (or at least minimize) all of this.
TSA PreCheck – $85 For Five Years
For less than $1.50 a month, you can avoid the massive lines and use the TSA PreCheck lanes instead. With TSA PreCheck, you can keep your shoes and light jacket on, leave your laptop and 3-1-1 liquids in your bag and walk through a quick metal detector.
In October 2011, the TSA launched PreCheck to a selected audience of airline loyalty elites, active duty military and a handful of other travelers. Those who submitted an application, conducted an interview, and were approved for TSA PreCheck receive expedited screening for domestic and select international itineraries.
Participation by airlines, airports, and travelers was limited at first. TSA even launched a pilot program in 2013 allowing random passengers to try out the expedited security screening. When travelers checked into their flights, some people received the TSA PreCheck stamp on their ticket as if they were a member of the program.
TSA PreCheck is now available at over 200 airports. Additionally, 56 different airlines participate in the program. Check out the latest map of every TSA PreCheck location.
As the opportunities to use TSA PreCheck to skip the lines grew, membership has grown. Today, there are over seven million TSA PreCheck members. Even with such an increase in membership, the TSA said that 93% of PreCheck members waited less than fives minutes to get through airport security in November 2018.
Global Entry – $100 Every Five Years
Global Entry is the international version of TSA PreCheck. In fact, if you are approved for Global Entry, you will automatically receive TSA PreCheck benefits as well. Global Entry membership requires a more thorough screening than TSA PreCheck so there are fewer locations to perform your interview. But even then, in my experience, the entire interview takes less than 10 minutes.
When you return from an international vacation, Global Entry members can skip the traditional customs declaration lines and head for the kiosks. Simply insert your passport, scan your fingers, take a picture and answer a few questions. Then, you’ll be on your way to collect your bags. In my experience, the entire Global Entry process takes about 30 seconds.
As of the date of this article, there are 75 domestic and international airports where you can use Global Entry. Additionally, 14 countries have reciprocal agreements with Global Entry to access their expedited security programs. I use the Viajero Confiable program whenever I visit Mexico. It is very simple to use.
If there’s a small chance that you’ll be traveling internationally within the next five years, I recommend that you pay the extra $15 and sign up for Global Entry. The additional benefits are well worth an extra $3 per year.
CLEAR – Up To $189 Per Year
While TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are government-run programs, CLEAR is a private company that is certified by the Department of Homeland Security. This is an additional service that can work in coordination with TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. However, you don’t need to have either of those programs to be a member of CLEAR.
With an annual membership fee of $189, travelers can skip the lines at airport security. Up to three family members can be added for only $50 each.
CLEAR is available at more than 40 airports, stadiums and venues across the United States. Yes, this program will also let you skip the lines at some sporting events and concerts. For example, in Atlanta, CLEAR is available at the ATL Airport and SunTrust Park where the Atlanta Braves play baseball.
I joined CLEAR about a year ago on a free trial. After I recognized how much time it saved, I gladly paid the membership fee. Delta Airlines has a partnership with CLEAR where elite members can receive a discount. For example, Diamond Medallion members receive their CLEAR membership for free.
You can register for CLEAR online or at the airport (get a 2-month free trial using promo code: 2FREE). The CLEAR representatives will verify your identification, then scan your biometrics (fingerprints and irises). The registration process takes just a few minutes and does not require an appointment.
Do Children Need to Enroll?
I travel with my children all of the time. As much as I love them, even small fees like TSA PreCheck get expensive when you multiply the cost when more people are involved.
Luckily, your children age 12 and under do not need to sign up for TSA PreCheck.
However, if you plan to travel internationally and use Global Entry, every person needs to sign up for Global Entry, regardless of their age. We were made aware of this rule coming back from Cancun.
Children under 18 can use CLEAR when accompanied by an adult who is a member. Since this program is the most expensive of the three options, I’m glad that they have the most lenient age requirements.
Credit Cards That Offer Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Reimbursement
Although $100 is not a lot of money out of your travel budget, if there’s a way to avoid paying the fee, I would take it. Many premium credit cards that we know and love offer up to $100 reimbursement of your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.
One thing you may not know is that you can pay for someone else’s application fee with your reimbursement credits. With the reimbursements that I’ve had available over the years, I have paid for my family to join Global Entry.
A few of the premium credit cards that offer up to $100 reimbursement:
- American Express Platinum (personal and business versions)
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Chase United
- Citi Prestige
- US Bank Altitude
I love the credit cards with annual fees less than $100 (like the Venture, IHG Rewards and United Explorer) are beginning to offer this benefit.
The Winning Combination
If you hate waiting in line for airport security, then one of these three solutions will improve your travel experience. Domestic travelers will be satisfied with shorter lines offered by TSA PreCheck. International travelers will love Global Entry, which also comes with TSA PreCheck for domestic flights. CLEAR is the quickest and easiest program to sign up for because you can enroll on your way to airport security. However, it costs the most.
The winning combination is to pair CLEAR with either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. This way you get the best of both worlds. With so many people signing up, the TSA PreCheck security lines can be long during busy travel times. CLEAR allows you to skip the front of the line, even for TSA PreCheck.
How do you cut down on the wait for airport security? Have you used a credit card reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck? Share your tips and experiences in the comment section below.