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Federal trusted traveler programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry let you go through special security lanes at the airport — which usually means faster and less intrusive screening.
Applying for either option requires time, effort and cost, but some credit cards or frequent flyer programs will cover the expense. Even if you fly only occasionally, an application could be worth it.
» Learn more: Credit cards with TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credits
Here’s our guide to both programs to help you select the right expedited security program for you.
The difference between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry
Global Entry and TSA PreCheck differ in a few key ways:
TSA PreCheck speeds up security screenings for flights departing from U.S. airports. As the name suggests, it's operated by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. A five-year membership costs $85.
Global Entry provides the benefits of TSA PreCheck plus faster U.S. customs screening for international travelers arriving at U.S. airports. It's run by a different agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. A five-year membership costs $100. While more comprehensive, the program has requirements that are more stringent and include a passport and an interview.
Which program is right for you? The decision comes down to convenience at the airport versus the hassle and cost to apply. Consider Global Entry if you plan to travel abroad often and you live near a center for the required interview (more on that later). If you don’t live near a Global Entry center, don’t have a passport and rarely travel abroad, TSA PreCheck is the better option.
Here's a closer look at the programs and some tips to help choose between them.
How TSA PreCheck works
When you apply for TSA PreCheck, you'll have to pass a background check that verifies you as a low-risk traveler. Once you’re approved, the government will issue you a “Known Traveler Number,” or KTN, which you'll need to include when making airline reservations. If you add it to a frequent flyer account, it will automatically be applied to all your reservations with that airline in the future.
When using a KTN, you’re very likely — but not guaranteed — to get PreCheck status for your flights. You’ll see a PreCheck indicator on your boarding pass, whether paper or electronic. Eligibility is also embedded in the bar code of the boarding pass.
PreCheck status gives you access to security lanes with lighter screening: You can leave your belt and shoes on, your laptop can stay in its case, and you don’t have to take liquids and gels out of your carry-on. Most of the time, that means a quicker line. As of September 2021, 96% of PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in line, according to the TSA.
» Learn more: TSA carry-on restrictions you need to know
Programs offering PreCheck status
TSA PreCheck: $85
It costs $85 to apply, and the membership lasts for five years. Some credit cards and elite frequent flyer programs reimburse your application fee. After the initial application fee, PreCheck renewal only costs $70 if completed online. Some travel credit cards will help offset this cost as well. This program has one benefit: access to TSA PreCheck lanes. Those lanes are available at 200-plus airports and through 80 airlines.
» Learn more: How to add TSA PreCheck to your airline ticket
Global Entry: $100 (includes TSA PreCheck)
It costs $100 to apply, and the membership lasts for five years. Some credit cards and elite frequent flyer programs reimburse your application fee. This program refers to the Known Traveler Number as PASSID, but the number is used the same way.
Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck and its benefits but also gives you expedited U.S. customs screening when traveling internationally. Upon returning to the U.S., you can use an airport kiosk that should be far faster than traditional customs inspection lines.
Global Entry also includes expedited processing at land borders with Mexico and Canada.
The TSA offers an FAQ for both programs.
Hassle vs. benefits
For frequent travelers, Global Entry is probably preferable because it offers extra benefits when leaving the U.S. Even if you’re paying the application fee yourself, the added benefits of Global Entry cost just $15 extra, or $3 a year.
In addition, you don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to get Global Entry. U.S. lawful permanent residents, Mexican nationals and citizens of Argentina, India, Colombia, United Kingdom, Germany, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan are eligible for membership.
The downside? Applying for Global Entry is more of a hassle than TSA PreCheck. Here’s why:
Interview: Both programs require you to visit an enrollment center for fingerprinting and an ID check. But Global Entry also requires an interview, and availability might be weeks away.
Enrollment locations: There are fewer places to apply for Global Entry — mostly at major airports, U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices and some designated enrollment centers. By contrast, TSA PreCheck has far more enrollment locations — over 380 as of September 2021. You can walk in during business hours or schedule an appointment.
Important considerations for both programs
For any trusted traveler program, a potential drawback is supplying information about yourself to the government, including fingerprints and a photo. Giving up that personal information is an individual decision.
Children ages 12 and younger can accompany an adult with TSA PreCheck or Global Entry through the quicker airport security lines without having their own PreCheck clearance. However, Global Entry doesn't allow children to go through expedited customs screening without their own enrollment in the program.
The application fees for both programs are nonrefundable, even if your application is denied.
Traveling with others
A practical consideration with speedier security and customs lanes is your traveling companions. If they don't have the same status, you may find yourself waiting for a while on the other side of the security screening area for your family or friends.
How to apply
If you decide PreCheck or Global Entry is right for you, here are the online forms to get started:
These application sites guide you through the process, help you find an enrollment center and list the documents to bring.
Credit cards that reimburse application fees
Some credit and charge cards reimburse the application fee for trusted traveler programs when you charge it to the card, mitigating the card's annual fee. Here's a sampling of cards offering a statement credit for application fees:
Additionally, some credit card and travel loyalty programs will let you use travel credits or rewards points to pay for the application fee. American Express has its own list of cards that can help you pay for trusted traveler programs.
» Learn more: NerdWallet’s best travel credit cards
Other security programs for travelers
For $50, or half the price of Global Entry, you'll get the equivalent of Global Entry privileges for entering Canada. The bad news: An interview is required, and it must take place at a border-crossing facility. So it makes sense to apply only if you live near the Canadian border or will be traveling through and can coordinate the interview with your travel plans. A NEXUS membership lasts for five years, and memberships for children under 18 years of age are free.
» Learn more: What is the NEXUS card and what is it worth it?
This border-crossing program with Mexico offers similar benefits to NEXUS, but costs $122.25 for five years. Enrollment centers are only on the U.S. southern border.
» Learn more: What is the SENTRI pass and how does it work?
Clear is a prescreening program administered by a private company. It uses biometrics, such as fingerprint and iris scans, to confirm your identity at a kiosk. You must still go through physical security screenings at participating airports, but you can bypass the identification check and get straight to the conveyor belt and security scanners.
As of October 2021, Clear is available at more than 50 airports, stadiums and other venues nationwide. However, if you want Clear's airport security benefits, you need to complete the registration process at an airport location.
Clear doesn't qualify you for the light TSA PreCheck screening. You can use Clear and PreCheck together, though. Clear also lets you cut the security line at several stadiums, such as Major League Baseball parks.
» Learn more: TSA PreCheck vs. Clear: Which is better?
This option is considerably more expensive at $179 per year. (Remember, the government programs’ fees cover five years.) Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have financial stakes in Clear and offer free and discounted memberships to frequent flyers. The American Express® Green Card offers up to $100 per year in statement credit when you use the card to pay for your Clear membership fee. Terms apply.
For military personnel
TSA PreCheck status is available for free to U.S. armed forces service members, including those serving in the Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard.
All information about the American Express® Green Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The American Express® Green Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card