Global Entry or Pre-Check? What’s a frequent flyer to do?

cbp website image from 2Blue

Global entry or pre-check? Photo credit: CBP.gov

Time is money, and the soul-sucking lines at the airport sometimes feel like the temporal equivalent of watching your life stock plummet. That plane won’t wait for the family of ten in front of you to remove 20 individual shoes and walk back and forth under the body scanner, trying to figure out if one of the kids has swallowed something metallic. You’ve heard there are programs that will help you avoid the mayhem, but you’re confused. Which program is worth the investment of your time and money? An initial toe-dip in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the TSA Pre-Check website pools only adds to the confusion. Do you need both? Is one better than the other?

Yes.

What you want to do, right now, is apply for Global Entry. Here’s why.

Global Entry allows low-risk travelers to receive expedited clearance upon arrival into the U.S., and TSA Pre-Check is included in the package. Global Entry members can skip the lines at Customs and Border Protection and instead use touch-screen kiosks to alert Big Brother to their return to U.S. soil. Currently, 44 airports in the U.S., Ireland, and Canada participate in the program.

The Global Entry qualification process consists of filling in an application online, followed by an in-person interview at one of 35 locations, where a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer will ask you questions, take your photo, collect a scan your fingerprints, and walk you through the kiosk experience so you’ll know what to do once you’re approved. The (non-refundable) fee is $100, and you’ll need a valid U.S. passport and one other form of photo identification.

TSA Pre-Check is the program that allows qualified travelers to use the expedited TSA security line — not available at every airport — and avoid shoe removal and the X-ray conveyer belt tango. The (non-refundable) fee is $85 and the process to apply is similar to Global Entry, though a passport is not required.

TSA Pre-Check is currently available in 40 airports across the U.S. for passengers traveling on Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaii, United, US Airways, and Virgin America airlines. It is not, sadly, available for international flights.

Even if you don’t typically leave the U.S. when you travel, the compelling reason to opt for Global Entry lies in the more accessible interview locations, and the fact that Pre-Check is included. It’ll cost you just $15 more, and as of this writing in-person interviews for TSA Pre-Check are available at only two locations, one in Washington, D.C. and one in Indianapolis, although there are plans to expand the number of interview venues in the coming year.

Both programs expire after five years, but the renewal process by 2018 should be simple and easy.

Helpful hints:

1. Be sure to register your Global Entry or Pre-Check PIN number with your airline frequent traveler profiles.

2. Register every member of the family if you travel together.