How to shorten the airport screening line
Waiting in lengthy security lines isn’t a great way to start a long-awaited vacation. But you can use the faster lanes if you belong to one of the expedited screening programs, which could essentially be free to join with the right credit card.
The primary federal programs for air travel, TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry, cost $85 or $100 per traveler, respectively. That fee covers you for five years.
Both give you access to the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-Check security lanes at over 200 domestic airports, where wait times as of May were less than five minutes for 92 percent of passengers, according to a TSA report.
Global Entry includes TSA Pre-Check privileges and adds expedited entry through U.S. customs when you return from a foreign country.
This summer a record 243 million passengers and crew members were projected to pass through airport security checkpoints nationwide from Memorial Day to Labor Day, according to the TSA. That total is up from 239 million last year.
“Frequent travelers place great value on Pre-Check and Global Entry,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. About 91 percent of business airline travelers said expedited airport screening was important to them, according to a 2017 survey by Harteveldt’s group.
Joe Brancatelli, a business travel writer and founder of travel site JoeSentMe.com, calls both programs a breeze to use. “If you use it, you don’t want to go back,” he said.
Leisure travelers will have to decide whether they fly often enough to justify the cost and effort to apply. For example, if you take two round-trip domestic flights each year, Pre-Check’s cost will average $4.25 per flight.
Which to choose
Here’s how to know whether Pre-Check or Global Entry is right for you and how a credit card might be able to defray the cost.
With both programs, you provide personal information and submit to a background check. In exchange, you get a trusted traveler number, which you can use for faster screening.
Global Entry might be the obvious choice for frequent and international travelers because it comes with more benefits for a little extra money, costing an average of $3 more annually than Pre-Check.
The downside of Global Entry comes upfront: It’s a bigger hassle to apply for, and it requires a more thorough background process than Pre-Check. It not only requires a passport but also an in-person interview, which is available at the nation’s large international airports and border crossings.
If you rarely travel abroad, don’t have a passport, and don’t live near a Global Entry center, TSA Pre-Check may be the better option.
Application details are on the TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry websites.
TSA Pre-Check status gives you access to security lanes with lighter screening. To use the special lane, make sure your trusted traveler number is included in your airline itinerary. Leave on your belt and shoes, keep your laptop in its case, and let liquids and gels remain in your carry-on.
Dedicated Pre-Check lanes and quicker screening usually mean faster-moving lines. Children ages 12 and younger can use Pre-Check lanes when traveling with a parent or guardian who has the Pre-Check indicator on their boarding pass.
Global Entry, run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, includes TSA Pre-Check benefits and expedited customs screening when traveling internationally. When returning to the U.S., you can use a self-service kiosk instead of waiting in customs lines.
The program also includes expedited processing at Mexico and Canada border crossings. Children of all ages need their own Global Entry status to use expedited customs screening.
Your credit card may pay
More credit cards that earn travel rewards are starting to add a valuable benefit: reimbursement of the application fee for Pre-Check or Global Entry once every four or five years. Typically, reimbursement is automatic when you use the travel credit card to pay the $85 or $100 fee.
For card issuers, the benefit is becoming a must, especially for travel credit cards with hefty annual fees. “If you want to market your card as an elite one and charge a high fee, you better offer this rebate as part of the bundle of benefits,” Brancatelli said.
If neither program is right for you, TSA offers these tips for regular security lanes:
- Before heading to the airport, check your carry-ons for prohibited items.
- During busy travel periods, TSA recommends using its app, MyTSA, to check what your wait time might be.
- When packing your carry-on, keep in mind that some items will need to be removed and scanned separately.
The TSA Pre-Check application is available at www.tsa.gov/precheck. Global Entry’s application can be found at www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry/how-apply.