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Waiting in a long security line at the airport can get in the way of your travel plans, but TSA Precheck can provide convenience with shorter lines and a simpler security check. While the program requires a paid membership, some credit cards offer a waiver that allows you to enroll in TSA Precheck or its international counterpart, Global Entry, for free. Here’s what you need to know about TSA Precheck and how the application fee is covered by your credit card.
What is TSA Precheck and Global Entry?
Global Entry and TSA Precheck are two trusted traveler programs that can help you save time and make your airport experience less stressful.
TSA Precheck was launched in 2011 and is designed to speed up TSA screenings of travelers on flights originating from the United States. The program is available at more than 200 airports nationwide and is supported by 73 airlines.
As a TSA Precheck member, you don’t need to take off your shoes, belt, or light jacket, and any laptops or liquids you’re carrying can stay in your bag. This greatly speeds up security screening, with the TSA saying that 93% of TSA Precheck members waited five minutes or less in December 2019.
To be eligible for the program, you must be a US citizen, US citizen, or lawful permanent resident. The TSA Precheck application process includes a non-refundable $85 fee, a background check, and an in-person interview.
Once approved, you will receive a Known Traveler Number, which you will provide when booking your flight to access the TSA Precheck lane. Your TSA Precheck membership lasts for five years, and you can renew it up to six months before the expiration date.
The program allows children 12 and younger who are traveling with you to join you in the TSA Precheck lane. However, travel companions over the age of 12 will need to register for program benefits.
“Anyone who travels domestically on a regular basis should sign up for TSA Precheck,” says Alex Miller, founder of travel rewards website UpgradedPoints.com. “Being a member of this program usually saves me anywhere from five to 15 minutes when going through security, which is very convenient.”
Keep in mind, however, that membership does not guarantee a quick vetting process every time; You may still be randomly selected for additional screening.
Global Entry was launched in 2008, a few years before TSA Precheck, but it hasn’t grown that fast, with over 5.4 million TSA Precheck members over 9 million members. While TSA Precheck speeds up the security screening process for flights originating from the United States, Global Entry helps expedite the customs process when you return to the United States from abroad.
At the Global Entry kiosk, simply present your passport or permanent resident card, scan your fingerprints and complete a customs declaration.
“I can’t even count the hours you’ve saved thanks to Global Entry,” says Ben Shelbig, author of One Mile at a Time, a travel blog for rewards credit card enthusiasts. “I travel internationally dozens of times a year, and I’ve been in situations where the immigration hall was so full that they couldn’t even let people get off the plane because there was no room for them.”
To qualify for membership in the Global Entry Program, you must be a US citizen, US citizen, or lawful permanent resident. You can also apply if you have a passport from:
- South Korea
- United kingdom
The program has an application fee of $100, which is non-refundable and does not guarantee membership. The application process includes a rigorous background check and personal interview. You may be able to book an interview appointment in a few weeks, but it could take months, depending on your location. If you can’t find an appointment as soon as you’d like, Miller recommends going to the Global Registration Center for entry as soon as the office opens in the morning to schedule an appointment in case the appointment fails.
As with TSA Precheck, once you are approved, your Global Entry membership lasts for five years. You can renew up to one year before it expires.
Global Entry members are also eligible for TSA Precheck, so it is generally best to apply for Global Entry to receive the benefits of both programs.
However, keep in mind that unlike TSA Precheck, your travel companions are not eligible for your Global Entry membership; Includes children 12 years and under. So if you plan to travel with family or friends, they will also need to register to bypass traditional customs lines.
What Credit Cards Offer Free Pre-TSA Check or Global Entry?
One of the easiest ways to get a free TSA Precheck is to use a fee-free credit card for the program. Often times, credit cards that cover your TSA Precheck fee give you the option to use the fee waiver for Global Entry if you prefer.
TSA Precheck and Global Entry credit cards include:
Typically, you can get this benefit every four years, just in time to renew your Global Entry membership or six months before you can renew your TSA Precheck membership. However, some cards offer this every five years.
It’s important to keep in mind that these credit cards charge annual fees, some in the hundreds of dollars. But depending on the card, you also get access to a host of other benefits that make the annual fee well worth it.
Do I need to have a Global Entry or TSA pre-screening?
If you’re not sure which program you want to apply to, consider this: If you plan to travel internationally in the next five years, you’d be better off using Global Entry since it includes TSA Precheck eligibility.
Even if you don’t have plans at work to travel abroad, that may change, so it may be worth applying for a Global Entry just in case.
If you don’t have any international travel plans and aren’t anticipating this change, TSA Precheck may be a simpler option for you.
Is it worth getting a credit card just for a TSA pre-screening or global entry?
If you’re considering applying for a credit card solely for Global Entry or TSA Precheck benefits, Schlappig recommends checking out. “I wouldn’t say it’s worth getting a credit card exclusively for this,” he says. “But it’s definitely a plus that could tip the scales in terms of the value the card offers.”
Since cards that offer Global Entry application fee or TSA Precheck application fee balances charge an annual fee, it is important to determine if the card’s benefits and rewards package is worth what you are paying. The Platinum Card from American Express, for example, charges an annual fee of $550 but offers perks including airline fee credits, airport lounge access, and elite hotel status.
“It’s definitely worth it if the perks and additional benefits of the card make sense for you,” Miller says.
If you’re looking for a card with a lower annual fee that offers Global Entry or TSA Precheck, the Bank of America Premium Rewards Visa credit card and Capital One Venture Rewards credit card are worth considering. Both cards charge an annual fee of $95, although the Capital One credit card waives its fee in the first year.
No matter which card you choose, do your research to make sure the benefits outweigh the costs.