TSA-Approved Ways to Cut the Airport Screening Line
The summer air travel season is shaping up to be the busiest ever, which could mean lengthy lines at U.S. airport security checkpoints. But you can use the faster lanes if you belong to an expedited screening program, which could essentially be free to join with the right credit card.
The primary federal programs for air travel, TSA Precheck and Global Entry, cost $85 or $100 per traveler, respectively, and enrollment lasts five years for both.
Both give you access to the Transportation Security Administration’s Precheck security lanes at over 200 domestic airports, where wait times as of May were less than five minutes for 92 percent of passengers, according to TSA. Global Entry includes TSA Precheck privileges and adds expedited entry through U.S. customs when you return from a foreign country.
“If you use it, you don’t want to go back.”
Faster security lanes could help reduce stress this summer as a record 243 million passengers and crew members are projected to pass through airport security checkpoints nationwide from Memorial Day to Labor Day, according to the TSA. That total is up from 239 million last year.
“Frequent travelers place great value on Precheck and Global Entry,” says Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. About 91 percent of business airline travelers said expedited airport screening was important to them, according to a 2017 survey by Harteveldt’s group.
Joe Brancatelli, a business travel writer and founder of travel site JoeSentMe.com, calls both programs a breeze to use. “If you use it, you don’t want to go back,” he said.
Leisure travelers will have to decide whether they fly often enough to justify the cost and effort to apply. For example, if you take two round-trip domestic flights each year, Precheck’s cost will average $4.25 per flight.
Here’s how to know whether Precheck or Global Entry is right for you and how a credit card might be able to defray the cost.
Which to Choose
With both programs, you provide personal information and submit to a background check. In exchange you get a trusted traveler number, which you can use for faster screening.
Global Entry might be the obvious choice for frequent and international travelers because it comes with more benefits for a little extra money, costing an average of $3 more annually than Precheck.
The downside of Global Entry comes upfront: It’s a bigger hassle to apply for, and it requires a more thorough background process than Precheck. It not only requires a passport but also an in-person interview, which is available at the nation’s large international airports and border crossings.
If you rarely travel abroad, don’t have a passport and don’t live near a Global Entry center, TSA Precheck may be the better option.
Benefits of Pre-check
TSA Precheck status gives you access to security lanes with lighter screening. To use the special lane, make sure your trusted traveler number is included in your airline itinerary. Leave on your belt and shoes, keep your laptop in its case, and let liquids and gels remain in your carry-on. Dedicated Precheck lanes and quicker screening usually mean faster-moving lines. Children ages 12 and younger can use Precheck lanes when traveling with a parent or guardian who has the Precheck indicator on their boarding pass.
Benefits of Global Entry
Global Entry, run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, includes TSA Precheck benefits and expedited customs screening when traveling internationally. When returning to the U.S., you can use a self-service kiosk instead of waiting in customs lines. The program also includes expedited processing at Mexico and Canada border crossings. Children of all ages need their own Global Entry status to use expedited customs screening.
How your Credit Card can Help
More credit cards that earn travel rewards are starting to add a valuable benefit: reimbursement of the application fee for Precheck or Global Entry once every four or five years. Typically, reimbursement is automatic when you use the travel credit card to pay the $85 or $100 fee.
For card issuers, the benefit is becoming a must, especially for travel credit cards with hefty annual fees. “If you want to market your card as an elite one and charge a high fee, you better offer this rebate as part of the bundle of benefits,” Brancatelli says.
If neither program is right for you, TSA offers these tips for regular security lanes:
- Before heading to the airport, check your carry-ons for prohibited items.
- During busy travel periods, TSA recommends using its app, MyTSA, to check what your wait time might be.
- When packing your carry-on, keep in mind that some items will need to be removed and scanned separately.