Separate your liquids, take off your shoes, remove your laptop and place it all in bins. Going through security can be quite a hassle. In 2011, TSA introduced a program called Pre-Check, which one could compare to the Fastpass at Disney World for security lines. After application approval, travelers can enjoy separate security screening with shorter lines and added benefits. A similar program, Global Entry, allows travelers to use separate (and thus faster) lines at customs and immigration. Are the time, cost, and effort required to get Global Entry or Pre-Check worth it though? Here’s what you need to know about the program.
– Faster security lines. Pre-Check travelers go through separate lines in security. Upon approval in either program, you will receive “TSA Pre-Check” mark on your boarding pass, which allows the TSA officers to direct you to the Pre-Check screening area. Pre-Check lines are usually much shorter and faster than regular security lines.
– Simplified Screening. Pre- check travelers are not required to remove liquids, laptops, or anything else from their bags for screening. You can simply place your bag in its entirety on the conveyor belt and walk through the metal detector with your shoes still on.
– Metal Detector instead of the Controversial Full Body Scanners. Pre-Check travelers go through a metal detector instead of the full body scanners, which are criticized for being invasive. This also means there is no need to remove your shoes, jackets (coats do need to be removed), or belts.
– Global Entry. If you opt to apply for Global Entry, you get all the benefits of Pre-Check with the addition of separate lines in customs/immigration when traveling internationally. You also do not have to fill out customs forms if you have Global Entry.
It’s hard to put a price on convenience, but the TSA found a way. There is a $85 application fee for Pre-Check, which is non-refundable if you do not get accepted into the program.
For $15 more ($100), you can apply for Global Entry. All approved Global Entry applicants get Pre-Check as part of the Global Entry program. So if you plan to travel internationally at all, it is definitely worth applying for Global Entry instead of just Pre-Check. However, more enrollment centers accept Pre-Check applications than do Global Entry. Which means if you don’t live near a major airport, you may need to travel to an office that accepts Global Entry applications.
Both fees cover 5 years in the program, after which you will need to renew to remain in the program.
Some credit cards have started to reimburse customers for their Global Entry enrollment fees. Likewise, United offers reimbursement for the fee to certain customers. Find out if you are eligible to be reimbursed here.
Pre-Check: You can apply directly at one of 270 enrollment centers across the country (click here to find a location center), or you can pre-enroll here before going to the office to register your fingerprints and finalize your application. A few weeks later you should receive your Known Traveler Number in the mail which is what you will need to register in all your frequent flyer accounts in order to receive Pre-Check when you travel.
Global Entry: Apply online after registering as a “New GOES User”. After your application is reviewed, you will be notified to schedule an interview at one of the 40 centers that offer Global Entry enrollment. Global Entry is quickly becoming a very popular program, some applicants have complained that appointments fill up months in advance. As a result of this, try not to bank on being able to get a appointment around busy travel times, such as holidays. I scheduled my appointment 3 weeks out, and I had no problem with 90% of the time slots available to choose from on the two days I would be by the enrollment center. You will then receive your Known Traveler Number as well as a Global Entry Card in the mail.
If your passport is about to expire, you may want to wait until you get a new one to apply for Global Entry since you will have to take the new passport by a Global Entry enrollment center to have it registered to your account.
Important things to note:
Only certain airlines use the program. Not every flight you take is eligible for access to the Pre-Check lane. Airlines that participate in the program are: Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America. If you travel on other airlines, your boarding pass will not include the TSA Pre-Check mark.
Traveling with others who are not in the program. If you’re traveling with someone who does not have Pre-Check you may want to go through security with them instead of the separate Pre-Check lane. Unfortunately, Known Travelers cannot bring those who have not been approved for TSA Pre-Check with them through the Pre-Check lanes unless they are under the age of 12. Only those approved for Global Entry can use the Global Entry kiosks, despite age. If you plan to travel frequently with someone who does not or cannot participate in the program, it may not be worth it to apply.
There is no guarantee you will always get TSA Pre-Check when you travel. Even after approval into the program, the TSA can choose to screen any passenger in regular security instead of allowing them through the Pre-Check lanes. Additionally, not every airport offers Pre-check lanes. Smaller airports may only have general security. Likewise, Pre-Check lanes may not be open at certain times in some airports. During slower parts of the day or on certain travel days, some airports may elect not to have a separate Pre-Check lane.
I’ve had Global Entry (and thus Pre-Check) for 6 months now, and I would absolutely encourage anyone who travels more than a few times a year to get it. Not having to take out your laptop and liquids and being able to keep your shoes on is worth it alone. Plus you get the added bonus of feeling like you’re VIP when you gain access to the ‘members only’ part of security.