Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck: Which Prescreen Will Get You Through Airport Security the Fastest?
Speed through the airport’s bureaucratic mazes with Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or one of the other security prescreens you won’t know how you ever traveled without
Jaromir Chalabala/Getty Images
The benefits of TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and more
No one wants to waste precious travel time in airport security check or border control lines, which is why it’s smart to sign up for a security prescreening program. Depending on which one you choose, you might be able to keep your shoes on and your laptop in its bag, skip long customs lines and even forgo the airport body scanner. Some airports may even include TSA facial scanning procedures. But figuring out which one is best for your travel needs can be confusing. Should you go with Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck? Or are there others you should consider as well?
TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR Plus are the three biggies, but Nexus and SENTRI also have their perks. It all depends on where, when and why you travel, as well as who you travel with and what pain points you’re trying to avoid.
Here’s what you need to know about each of these programs—including what they do, how to apply and how much they cost—so you can decide which one is right for you. To speed through security, it also helps to know the TSA carry-on rules, whether you can bring food on a plane, what to wear on a plane and the TSA confiscated items to avoid packing in both your carry-on and checked luggage.
For anyone who flies frequently, TSA PreCheck is well worth the price. Approved low-risk travelers can use PreCheck at participating U.S. airports, and with it, you can skip some of the usual security annoyances, such as removing your shoes and taking out your laptops and carry-on liquids.
Just be aware, though, that program eligibility is different from travel-day eligibility, and it does not guarantee you an expedited security screening at the airport. To qualify for TSA PreCheck, you must be flying on a participating airline, add your Known Traveler Number (KTN) to your reservation and not have the bad luck of being randomly selected to clear airport security through the regular line.
TSA PreCheck benefits: Passengers don’t have to remove their shoes, light jackets and belts or take out laptops or approved liquids to pass through security.
Where you can use it: TSA PreCheck is valid at more than 200 airports nationwide. You can use it for domestic or international flights departing from the United States, as long as you’re flying with one of the 83 airlines that participate.
How to apply: You can apply for TSA PreCheck online in just a few minutes. Once you’re conditionally approved, you’ll schedule an appointment at an enrollment center, where you’ll spend about 10 minutes getting fingerprinted, having your photo taken, verifying your identity and paying the enrollment fee. If you pass the background check that follows, you’ll get your KTN.
Eligibility: U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents are eligible. Children 12 and younger can go through the line with a parent or guardian. Children traveling alone need their own KTN.
Cost: $85 to join and $70 to renew online. Membership lasts five years.
Good for: Domestic business travelers, anyone who hates long security lines, people traveling with children and travelers with disabilities.
Global Entry lets you speed through international immigration and security lines at the world’s busiest airports, providing you with expedited entry into the United States. Also, you automatically get TSA PreCheck with Global Entry, which means you don’t have to decide between Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck. However, the application process is intensive, and waiting times for interviews can be months long. Enrollment on Arrival can be the fastest path to approval if your return trip will take you through a participating airport.
Global Entry benefits: When entering the United States, approved low-risk travelers can skip long customs lines and move quickly through checkpoints with a fingerprint scan and the necessary documents. Is it better to get Global Entry or TSA PreCheck? Since Global Entry is only $15 more than PreCheck, it’s easily the better choice for anyone with international travel plans (or aspirations) in the next five years. You do not need both TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, but you do need a passport to gain Global Entry approval.
Where you can use it: Air, land and sea entry points to the United States, including SENTRI and NEXUS lanes. (More on those in a minute.)
How to apply: After confirming your eligibility, create a Trusted Traveler Program account to apply and pay the fee. If U.S. Customs and Border Protection conditionally approves your application, you’ll schedule an interview. At the interview, you’ll answer questions, have your photo taken and provide fingerprints.
Eligibility: U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as citizens of more than a dozen other countries, including Canada and Mexico.
Cost: $100 for five years.
Good for: International travelers and travelers with disabilities.
CLEAR is a private technology company, and its pricey CLEAR Plus membership gets you through the ID and boarding pass verification step at the airport faster—but it doesn’t give you access to expedited security screening. You might still want to consider the benefits of Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck, since having CLEAR does not make you a “trusted traveler.” If you have a layover and want to leave the airport, the right prescreen program can also come in handy.
CLEAR Plus benefits: In most cases, you can forget about digging for your ID and waiting in long lines when using CLEAR Plus. Also, since kids under 18 can go through CLEAR lanes with you for free, a single membership could be a good value for families. In addition, some stadiums and other venues have CLEAR lanes for faster check-ins at those events.
Where you can use it: You can use CLEAR Plus at more than 40 airports across the United States and Canada. Look for designated lanes at TSA checkpoints to skip the long ID-verification lines.
How to apply: You can start the application process online or at an airport location that has CLEAR Plus. Unfortunately, you’ll have to finish the process at the airport, but the good news is that you don’t need an appointment, just a valid government-issued photo ID. During the airport enrollment process, you’ll add your fingerprint and a scan of your iris to your profile for biometric verification each time you fly.
Eligibility: You must be a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident and at least 18 years old.
Cost: You can get a CLEAR Plus membership for $189 per year, but military service members pay only $99 with a Veteran ID card or valid U.S. Military ID. Student memberships are $60 per year, and state, local and federal government employees get a price break too. Also, you can add up to three friends or relatives to your account for $60 each per year. Hold out for a free trial offer if you’re on the fence.
Good for: Frequent travelers at airports served by CLEAR who find that TSA PreCheck alone does not get them through security quickly enough. CLEAR is also good for travelers who just want to skip to the front of the security line, whether they have PreCheck or not.
As for enrolling in CLEAR vs. TSA PreCheck, the latter is far more affordable and lets you stay dressed and keep your bag packed. But CLEAR might be a good choice if your background disqualifies you from the Trusted Traveler Program.
Headed to one of the most popular travel destinations in Canada? For frequent trips to and from the Great White North, the NEXUS program is the way to go. It grants prescreened travelers expedited processing when entering the United States and Canada via land, air or ports of call. It even works in place of your passport when traveling between the two countries, and it includes TSA PreCheck if you’re a U.S. Citizen, U.S. lawful permanent resident or Canadian citizen.
One big word of warning if you’re using it when crossing the border by car: If you try to drive through a NEXUS lane and anyone in your vehicle (including a child) is not a member, you will lose your membership.
NEXUS benefits: Avoid long lines and speed through customs using designated priority lanes and kiosks.
Where you can use it: Air, land and sea entry points to the United States and Canada.
How to apply: After confirming your eligibility, create a Trusted Traveler Program account to apply and pay the fee. If both the U.S. and Canadian governments conditionally approve your application, you’ll schedule an interview at a NEXUS enrollment center near the U.S./Canada border.
If you pass the interview, you’ll need to have your iris captured before you can get your enrollment card. As of July 2022, enrollment locations were limited and certain NEXUS travel lanes were temporarily closed.
Eligibility: U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, Canadian citizens and Canadian permanent residents, as well as Mexican nationals in the Viajero Confiable program.
Cost: $50 per adult for five years. Children under 18 must apply and be approved separately, but you don’t need to pay an additional fee for them.
Good for: People who cross the U.S./Canada border regularly but don’t otherwise travel internationally. Those who do should consider Global Entry instead.
Short for Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, SENTRI is best for people who drive south of the border frequently, but it does have some benefits when flying as well. Let’s start with the driving: Members get to use dedicated processing lanes at land border crossings between the United States and Mexico, and unlike other expedited screening programs, each membership applies to one vehicle, not to one person. Still, all passengers in your vehicle must have their own SENTRI or Global Entry memberships for you to use the SENTRI lanes. In terms of flying, you can use SENTRI at Global Entry kiosks to avoid the regular customs line.
SENTRI benefits: Avoid the interminable lines at the U.S./Mexico border with a special radio frequency identification (RFID) card attached to your vehicle, and get through customs faster when traveling back to the United States from Mexico.
Where you can use it: Land border crossings between the United States and Mexico and NEXUS entry points between the United States and Canada. SENTRI also lets you use Global Entry kiosks to enter the United States by air, but you’ll still need to present your passport and scan your fingerprints to enter the country. Once you’ve been issued a CBP PASSID, you can also use that ID number for TSA PreCheck. Make sure to add your PASSID to your reservation before you travel. If the TSA PreCheck indicator appears on your boarding pass after you check in, you’re good to go.
How to apply: Apply for SENTRI by first creating a Trusted Traveler Program account. Then, complete the online application and pay the nonrefundable application fee. If U.S. Customs and Border Patrol conditionally approves your application, you’ll schedule an in-person interview at a SENTRI enrollment center, where you’ll validate your identity and provide proof of U.S. automobile insurance. A thorough background check is also part of the approval process. Once you receive your card, you’ll need to activate it.
Eligibility: Citizens of any country can apply for SENTRI, but you must have auto insurance that’s valid in the United States. Individuals younger than 18 can apply with parental consent.
Cost: $122.50 for five years. You can register up to four vehicles; each additional vehicle costs $42.
Good for: Travelers entering the United States from Mexico by car or plane.
Airline elite status
Using your airline elite status is one of the best and least expensive ways to speed through the airport. Most airlines provide their mid-tier and high-tier customers with access to priority security lines, allowing you to join first-class passengers at security—even when you’re flying coach. Plus, Elite status benefits typically extend to companions traveling with an elite member, so you won’t have to leave your partner or kids behind.
But even with elite status, you might still want to weigh the benefits of Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck, since elite status has nothing to do with being a trusted traveler.
Airline elite status benefits: Spend less time waiting in check-in and security lines; get priority boarding and baggage handling; enjoy a dedicated reservation service; book confirmed tickets on full flights; access cushy airport lounges with free meals and drinks; get complimentary seat upgrades; and pay nothing for checked bags or flight changes. Those airport lounges, by the way, will be incredibly useful if your flight is delayed or canceled.
Where you can use it: At participating airports.
How to apply: Join the airline’s frequent flier program.
Eligibility: Gain airline elite status by flying a ton or by getting approved for certain credit cards. With some airlines, simply purchasing a more expensive ticket gives you line perks.
Cost: The annual fee is for the credit card that grants you elite status, or the additional cost of a more expensive plane ticket.
Good for: Travelers who check bags regularly, frequent travelers at busy airports, first-class and business travelers, and anyone with no patience for lines.