Faster Security: TSA Pre vs. Global Entry

The strollers, the girl that forgets she has a 5-pound water bottle in her backpack, or the guy that packed his full size shampoo and conditioner (true story)–the regular security lines are more than just a hassle for seasoned travelers. If you travel a lot, the last thing place you want to be is stuck in security.

Thankfully government programs like TSA Precheck and Global Entry have made it easier to get through security faster for frequent travelers. Travelers can apply for either one these days–but which one should you pick? Here’s the pros and cons of each:

TSA Pre✓

This program was originally something that certain travelers got pre-selected for based on how often they flew and their status with particular airlines. There wasn’t any control over it and it was fairly random, with a little “TSA-Pre” marked on the boarding pass. You were never sure whether you would get it or not, just luck of the draw.

As of April 2015, this version of the program has been more or less phased out and you have to apply to get a “Known Traveler Number” you can then add to your reservations. The cost is $85 and is good for 5 years.

TSA Pre✓ is great because you can take the TSA Pre lines at the airport. Though they’ve gotten (much) longer in the past year due to the expansion of the program, you still don’t have to take your laptop or liquids out, and you can leave your shoes and jackets on at most airports. For a business travelers, not having to lug out your laptop everytime makes this perk alone worth it.

Pros:

Same day appointments. The appointment window for TSA Pre is very short. It’s very easy to schedule an appointment on the same day you fly. You can also just walk-in for an appointment, though scheduled ones take precedence. The “appointment” literally involves scanning your passport and your fingerprints and you’re good to go.

Cost. At only $85 for five years, I don’t know why any traveller business or leisure wouldn’t invest in this. Time is money!

Cons: 

Only works within the US. This program won’t do you much good anywhere but within the US. Great for the domestic business traveller, not so much for the international one.

Global Entry 

While TSA Pre is run by the Department of Homeland Security, Global Entry is run by the US Customs and Border Patrol and is the much better option for the frequent international traveller.

Pros:

Faster entry from international travel. I’ve come into Customs in both Denver and Chicago and had it take more than an hour each time. If you have a connecting domestic flight, good luck. Global entry makes this a breeze as you scan your ID card and whiz on by the long lines.

Automatically enrolls you in TSA Pre. Once accepted by Global Entry, you’ll also receive a known traveler number (though the Global Entry ones look a little different than the TSA pre check, which can be a series of letters and numbers). Once you add this number to your reservations, you’ll be automatically enrolled in TSA Pre. Two programs for the price of one? Not bad.

Cons: 

Two months or longer before you can schedule an interview. This may be different depending on the locations available in your area, but it can be months before you get your interview scheduled. I applied in August of last year and couldn’t get an interview slot until October. A pain if you’re going to be doing a lot of travel in those months and could get TSA Pre tomorrow.

More stringent requirements. Global entry members undergo a full background check, fingerprinting, and a series of questions about your criminal history during the interview. The interview in general felt a little more intimidating, though it wasn’t very long. Be prepared, they will ask you if you travel internationally for business and what your job is; just give honest answers, even if you’re just a leisure international traveler–you never know where your job might take you!

More expensive. But not by much. It’s $100, so $15 more than TSA Pre, but you get the benefit of both programs.

 

Winner: Global Entry. 

For me Global Entry is the way to go. I don’t even travel that much internationally, but when I do, I can save as much as an hour coming back into the US. Customs lines might be the one place slower than even security, and I’d much rather spend my time catching the next flight