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Why More Credit Cards Help You Speed Through Airport Security

Oct. 5, 2018
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
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There are few things in life more delightful than skipping past a long airport security line — and credit card issuers know it.

These days, it’s easier than ever to find a credit card that offers a reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, programs designed to expedite the airport security process. That’s because more credit cards from major issuers — including Chase, American Express, U.S. Bank and Bank of America® — have started adding these benefits worth $100 or $85 to cover the program’s application fees every five years.

“From the perspective of attracting … customers who travel a lot, it’s genius,” says Hank Israel, a director at banking firm Novantas, specializing in market propositions and pricing. And for travelers, these benefits can be enormously valuable, too.

In 2018, skipping the line gets popular

The concept of speeding through lines at the airport isn’t exactly groundbreaking; such government-run programs have existed for decades. But the Global Entry program, established by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2008, is relatively new. So is TSA Precheck, the Transportation Security Administration’s expedited security process for domestic flights that was previously available only to Global Entry passengers and frequent flyers. TSA Precheck wasn’t available to the general public as an a la carte option until 2013.

As airport security procedures have generally become more time-consuming, these programs have grown more attractive — and credit card offers reimbursing application costs for them have come out in force. Among the most recent cards to offer credits for either Global Entry and/or TSA Precheck costs:

  • Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card (launched in 2017; annual fee of $95)
  • IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card (launched in 2018; annual fee of $89)
  • Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Credit Card (will launch in August 2018; $450 annual fee)

For travelers, this means that smoother airport experiences are becoming increasingly accessible, even by using cards with more manageable annual fees.

What’s in it for card issuers?

For issuers, offering a Global Entry or TSA Precheck reimbursement on a credit card is a keen business move. It’s a way to:

Appeal to travelers

Frequent travelers are the belles of the credit card ball because they tend to spend a lot, so issuers are constantly courting them with generous offers.

For these folks, easy access to Global Entry or TSA Precheck can make a card worth paying attention to. Both are big time-savers: Global Entry has trimmed wait times in airport security by over 70%, according to the CBP. In March, 93% of TSA Precheck passengers waited less than five minutes, according to the TSA.

Offer more value, at a fixed cost

Spending $100 or $85 every five years may seem like a lot to you. But for an issuer, it’s a relatively manageable cost. Most cards offer both fixed-cost benefits (such as an insurance benefit) and variable-cost benefits (such as rewards), Israel says.

“If I’m designing a card, even if it’s a $500 benefit, I would rather have a fixed-cost feature than a variable-cost feature,” Israel says. Depending on the card, he says, an issuer might easily make up for the cost in interchange, a portion of the swipe fees paid by merchants to process credit card transactions. Annual fees can also help offset the cost.

Drive loyalty

When issuers offer benefits like Global Entry and TSA Precheck reimbursement — which typically renews every four or five years — they’re giving you a reason to hold on to their card.

A benefit like this “absolutely drives longer-term retention than [sign-up] bonus incentives,” says Kevin Morrison, senior analyst on the retail banking and payments team at Aite Group, a banking advisory firm.

What you should know before applying

A Global Entry or TSA Precheck reimbursement credit card benefit can make your time at the airport go by more smoothly, but be aware of the caveats.

  • It’s not automatic. You don’t get to zoom past a long line of weary travelers at the airport just because you have a fancy-pants credit card. To actually get this benefit, you need to first apply for it through the TSA or CBP, pass a background check and, for Global Entry, sit for an in-person interview.
  • Approval isn’t guaranteed. You won’t qualify for these programs if you’ve been convicted of a criminal offense or provide false information on the application, among other reasons. Before applying, review the requirements posted by the TSA and CBP.
  • To get the benefit, you need to pay with your eligible card. Use the wrong card, and you could miss out on this perk.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.

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