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LESSON 18

Expedited Travel Screening And Processing Benefits

 

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Updated, January 28, 2020

What You’ll Learn In This Lesson

Ways to clear security quicker at the airport
How to bypass long lines when re-entering the US

If you love traveling but hate waiting in line to clear security, I hear you. That’s one of the biggest buzzkills for me.

That’s why I think my TSA Pre✓® membership is such a godsend – it’s saved me so much time getting on flights, and one time, it even saved me from missing a flight because the regular lines were so dang long.

TSA Pre✓®

There is usually a shorter line at TSA Pre✓®, mostly because travelers get to keep their shoes, belts, and light jackets on, and laptops and 3-1-1 liquid compliant bags in their carry on.

Here are some key features of the program:

  • All major national and most U.S. regional airlines in the U.S. participate in TSA Pre✓®, as do about 50 international carriers. If the airline you are flying on is not in the TSA Pre✓® program, you’ll have to use the non-TSA lines.
  • TSA Pre✓® is only available at about 200 airports or so in the U.S. If you are flying out of a smaller airport, you may not have TSA Pre✓®, but on the flip-side, the lines may not be that long to start with.

The neat thing for travel optimizers is that many credit card issuers will give you up to a $100 statement credit every four-five years when you use a premium card to apply for a program like TSA Pre✓®. Some of these include:


Since TSA Pre✓® membership is good for five years, and costs just $85, this credit card benefit is more than adequate.

Note: TSA Pre✓® comes free when you are approved for Global Entry, which costs $100 and is also good for five years. So you don’t need both. You might as well get Global Entry since it is only $15 more and includes TSA Pre✓®.

What’s Global Entry? Great question.

Global Entry

Both TSA Pre✓® and Global Entry are traveler programs administered by the Department of Homeland Security, but they expedite your travel processing in different ways.

TSA Pre✓® is for expedited flight document verification and security screening on airport departures, whereas Global Entry is for expedited immigration and customs processing when you return to the US.

This can save you hours each time you waltz past the normal customs line and has become an essential piece of our traveler’s toolkit.

The thing that ties both TSA Pre✓® and Global Entry together is what’s known as a Known Traveler Number, or KTN.

When you are approved for Global Entry, you get a KTN, and that’s the number you plug into your airline profiles. That way, the TSA Pre✓® logo will appear on your boarding passes (paper and digital), and then you will be let into the TSA Pre✓® line.

Both programs require a simple in-person interview, but the application process is a little different.

To apply for Global Entry (recommended), start by creating an account with the DHS Trusted Traveler Program.

Reminder: We don’t recommend applying for TSA Pre✓® since it comes free with Global Entry.

Other Options For Expedited Travel Processing

CLEAR®

A service that’s great to stack with TSA Pre✓® is a for-profit service called CLEAR®. CLEAR® uses your biometric information (fingerprints and iris scans) to speed you through the travel document verification process.

The nice thing about CLEAR® is that it is not tied to airline participation, so it’ll work no matter what carrier you are flying with. Another bonus is that children 18 and under can use the CLEAR® lane for free, whereas kids 13 and up need their own TSA Pre✓® credentials.

The not-so-nice thing is that it is only at 30 or so major airports. Also, not-so-nice is that it’s pricey – it costs $179 a year, and as of November 2019, the only card we know of that reimburses you for the cost at all is the American Express® Green Card  (This card is not currently available on CardRatings), which offers $100 per year in statement credits when you pay your membership on your card (See Rates and Fees).

There are, however, some ways to get CLEAR® at a discount:

  • Start with a free 2-month trial. You’ll have to apply online or at an airport CLEAR® station, verify your ID, and then scan your prints and iris. If you feel like you are getting value, then you can take the next step to get a discount.
  • First, if you choose to cancel your trial, CLEAR® may offer you a lower annual price if you have TSA Pre✓®. This may change, but keep an eye out for it.
  • Alternatively, you can get it for $99 if you have a basic Delta Skymiles account. If you are Silver through Platinum status, it’ll only cost $79 a year for CLEAR®. Delta Diamond Medallion members get it free.

If your home airport’s TSA Pre✓® lines take longer than you’d like, and you have kids between 13-18, and travel a lot, CLEAR® might be a great option if you are in one of its 30+ locations.

The alternative is to either get TSA Pre✓® for the kids or, stand in line for hours on end.

Mobile Passport

I used to love Global Entry, but I’ve switched my loyalties to the US Customs and Border Protection’s Mobile Passport app.

Why? Because it gets my family through passport control and customs inspections faster when we return to the U.S. Way faster.

And as of March 2019, it’s free. No applications, no approvals. If you have a U.S. or Canadian passport, just download the app.

This is how I use it:

  • Way before I leave for my trip, I add my family’s passport information into the app, and take a photo of the person with my phone. This is a one-time setup.
  • When my plane touches down from an overseas destination as soon as we’re clear to fire up our phones, I launch the Mobile Passport App.
  • I select if I am returning by air or sea.
  • I create my declaration by selecting all the travelers in my party, then select the port of entry and the airline.
  • I answer the five CBP Inspection Questions.
  • I confirm and certify the declaration, and submit it while the plane is still taxiing to the terminal. The app creates a QR code, and I have four hours to complete the re-entry process.
  • When I disembark, my family bypasses all the lines. We even pass the folks waiting to get to the Global Entry kiosks and head straight to pick up our checked in luggage.
  • When we have our luggage, we present the QR code to the customs official, answer a few questions, and voila, we’re done within 20-30 minutes of getting off the plane.

With the CBP’s Mobile App, I love how the biggest holdup is how quickly your luggage is offloaded, rather than standing in line at passport control, which makes it on par with a domestic flight.

Will I still get Global Entry? Yes, because I like having TSA Pre✓®.

But if I don’t have a credit card that’ll reimburse me, I might just go for TSA Pre✓® since it’s a little cheaper.

Summary

In the next lesson, we’ll circle back to credit cards to answer a question that many have asked – what to do when the annual fee of a card hits. 

If you found this course on travel rewards helpful, you may also enjoy this free illustrated guide, packed with many other ways to get more for your buck and win back your financial independence.

For rates and fees of the American Express cards mentioned in this post, please see the following links: The Platinum Card® from American Express (See Rates and Fees); The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (See Rates and Fees); American Express® Green Card (See Rates and Fees)

Course content originally produced by ChooseFI was edited/updated by CardRatings for this lesson.