By Kendra Collins
When I travel, I try to embrace every part of the journey: taxi scams, questionable food, strange bathrooms. I see it all as part of the experience. Some of my best stories have come out of my worst travel moments. However, even I have to admit that there is just nothing good about some parts of a trip. Case in point: long, maddening lines at airport security and customs.
I knew there were ways to make this problem go away. I had heard about TSA Pre-Check, Global Entry, and CLEAR – magical cards you could swipe, passes you could flash, ways to get a “fast pass” through customs. It all sounded good. I wanted in. The options were a little confusing, so if you’re also wondering about their differences and similarities, I’ve put together a quick cheat sheet that highlights the details of each program. Read on to learn more!
CLEAR fast-tracks you to the front of the security-screening line at the airport. When you use the service, you don’t need to get your documents and boarding passes checked by a TSA agent.
What benefit is there to having a CLEAR card? With your card, you can access exclusive CLEAR lanes at airport security checkpoints, and go straight to screening. In addition, you are offered “full concierge service,” which includes attendants getting bins for you. However, once you are at the front of the line, you still need to go through the screening process just like everybody else: You need to take off your shoes, remove your computer and bagged liquids, and wait behind the people ahead of you.
How do you sign up? Sign up online, then visit an Enrollment Center with your driver’s license and passport (or other approved ID) to complete enrollment (they verify your biometrics with fingerprint and iris imaging). If everything checks out, you get your CLEAR card in the mail within seven to 10 days.
Do you need an appointment? No.
How much does it cost? $179 a year, but you can usually find a deal to bring the cost down, plus you can add a family member for $50. Also, if you have a Visa Signature card, you get six months free CLEAR membership and $60 off the $179 annual fee when your membership automatically renews.
Are your kids included in your membership? Yes, as long as they are traveling with you.
How long does membership last before you need to renew? One year.
Where does CLEAR work? Denver, Orlando, Houston, San Antonio, San Francisco, San Jose, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Westchester.
Global Entry is like a fast pass for customs and immigration when you enter the United States after an international trip. Instead of standing in line to speak with an agent, the process is expedited because you can use an automated kiosk instead.
What benefit is there to having Global Entry? You are fast-tracked through customs. When your international flight lands, you proceed to a Global Entry kiosk, swipe your passport, place your fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration. The kiosk gives you a transaction receipt, and you sail through to baggage claim and the exit.
How do you sign up? It’s a several-step process.
- Sign up online.
- Wait several days for a “conditional approval” notification (via email).
- After you get this notification, you can sign up for an interview time.
- Attend your scheduled interview and have fingerprints taken (I wrote about the process here).
- If everything checks out, you’ll receive your Global Entry card within seven to 10 days.
Do you need an appointment? Yes. Available interview times are scarce but there are frequent cancellations, so check back frequently if you have a flexible schedule and/or really need to make this happen.
How much does it cost? $100. However, if you have the Amex Platinum, Amex Mercedes-Benz Platinum, or Amex Business Platinum cards, you can get this fee refunded to you in the form of a statement credit; simply use your card to pay the fee and you’ll see the refund within a few days. Other ways to get the fee covered are through the Citi Prestige card, or if you have high status with an airline.
Are your kids included in your membership? No. Every person, regardless of age, needs his or her own membership.
How long does membership last before you need to renew? Five years.
Where does Global Entry work? Here is a list of airports where there are Global Entry kiosks. I counted 44, but there might be more as you read this.
TSA PreCheck is a program that was started in 2011 for “low-risk” travelers. If you have PreCheck, you can roll through a special security line on domestic flights.
What benefit is there to having TSA PreCheck? With PreCheck, security checkpoints are a breeze. You don’t have to take off your shoes, belt, or jacket, plus you can leave your laptop and small liquid containers in your carryon bag.
The way it works is that once you get your boarding pass, you can see whether you’ve been selected for expedited screening. While odds are good that you’ll get expedited, there’s never a guarantee, because TSA needs to have some random checks in the process. If you’re selected, your boarding pass will look something like this:
How do you sign up? If you already have a Global Entry card, you can automatically register for TSA PreCheck. Log into your frequent-flyer accounts and enter your “Trusted Traveler ID number” (from your Global Entry card) into your profile. If you don’t plan on getting Global Entry, there are two other ways to get TSA PreCheck:
- Buy it. It costs $85. You can enroll online or at an enrollment center. The vetting process takes two to three weeks.
- Earn it. Participating airlines offer the service to some of their elite members.
Do you need an appointment? No. Walk-ins are allowed at most application centers, but wait times may be longer.
Can you make an appointment? Yes. You can do that here.
How much does it cost?
- It’s free to Global Entry members.
- It costs $85 if you apply through PreCheck.
- It’s free if you are specially invited by an airline.
Are your kids included in your membership? Yes, as long as they’re traveling with you.
How long does membership last before you need to renew? Five years.
Where does TSA PreCheck work? It’s currently available at 40 airports nationwide. Here’s a list of participating airports.
Clearly, Global Entry provides the best bang for your buck. For $100, you can reap the benefits of both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. While CLEAR is probably quite helpful in many situations, its scope is limited and its benefits don’t really compare.
Have you tried any of these services yet? How did they work for you? Add a comment or email us at marketing@BHTP.com. In the meantime, safe travels!
Kendra Collins writes the popular blog Points and Pixie Dust. What’s it about? Stylish travel, chic finds, crazy adventures and amazing deals … daily. Enthusiastic. Entertaining. Never a dull moment. Has the BHTP Seal of Approval.