Passengers walk through a busy airport concourse toward airport security.

TSA PreCheck Vs. Global Entry

TSA lines have reached absurd levels over the summer. It's like something from some bleak absurdist comedy about bureaucracy or some Terry Gilliam film that never got made. It's all the more obnoxious when you consider what a luxurious experience air travel used to be. While it's probably better that flying be affordable instead of posh, it probably doesn't have to feel quite so much like cattle herding. There are a few ways around that, and we're going to look at a couple of them: TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.

TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is a service that allows you to skip a lot of the frustration of airport security. You apply online, and schedule a 10-minute appointment where you get a background check and a fingerprinting. A few months later, you get a "Known Traveler Number" that grants you certain privileges. Paying $85 signs you up for five years. You get your own separate line at security, one that's, theoretically, more sparsely populated than the regular security line. You also get through faster since you can skip most of the embarrassing undressing and unpacking associated with going through security. Your belt and shoes stay on. Your liquids and laptop stay in your luggage, but your liquids still have to stay in a baggy.

On the one hand, PreCheck can be a huge time saver. TSA says that 3 million people are PreCheck members, and they claim that 97% of PreCheck members experience security waits of under 5 minutes. That's a big deal to the perennially tardy, and it's a lot less stress for the rest of us.

On the other hand, registration is a hassle, and it takes months to actually go through. Not to mention the weirdness involved with paying a government agency for preferential treatment in a democracy. (They say that it's just to cover the background check, but...still.) The other downside is that, as the program becomes more popular, lots of people are reporting that the PreCheck line at their airport is the same length as the regular line. It's sort of frustrating. The more successful the program is in terms of enrollment, the less useful it becomes for its members. That's a pretty irritating flaw to have baked into your system.

Global Entry

Global Entry is also run by Homeland Security but through Customs and Border Protection agency. You pay $100 for a 5-year membership, and it actually encompasses everything that TSA PreCheck gets you. But there are a few extra steps and some big extra perks. You need a passport or a lawful permanent resident card in order to apply, and in exchange, you get expedited processing at customs at any of the 59 airports that participate. Oh, and that application fee is comped by some credit card companies. Those cards tend to be the likes of Amex Platinum and Citi Prestige, so if you're already carrying those around, odds are you can spare a hundred bucks anyway.

The expedited processing sound pretty straightforward. You bypass the line and walk straight up to a Global Entry kiosk. You give your machine-readable passport or resident card to the machine, and fill out your customs declaration right there at the kiosk. There's a handy "No to all" box that spares you the grief of having to answer each question individually if you don't have anything to declare on the form. Then the machine scans your fingerprints, takes your photo, and gives you a receipt to hand to the agent as you head out. This reduces the customs process to just minutes.

On the downside, you have to pay $100 to apply, and that money is nonrefundable even if, for some reason, your application is denied after the 7-10 days it takes to go through preliminary screening. Not to mention that even though you're heading out through an automated process, you can still get selected for a little extra TLC from customs, which is frustrating, even if it may be understandable.

Which is Worth It?

In the end, it all comes down to how much international travel you do. If you think PreCheck is worth it, you may as well shell out for Global Entry if you leave the country on any kind of regular basis. Honestly, if you even think it's a possibility that you might leave the country multiple times in the next five years, you probably might as well go ahead and spring for Global Entry.

Last Updated: July 11, 2017