Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck: Which is better?

Jul 17, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.


A while back, my mother-in-law signed up for a new credit card. As she read through the materials that came with her new card, she discovered her card offers a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credit every four years.

Several cards offer a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credit every four to five years. But my mother-in-law wasn’t sure how these programs differ or which program was best for her. And you may have similar questions. So, today I’ll take a closer look at both programs so you can decide which is better.

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In This Post

What is TSA PreCheck?

Travelers go through the TSA PreCheck security point in Miami
TSA PreCheck passengers can access expedited security when flying select airlines from participating airports. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

TSA PreCheck is an expedited security program run by the Transportation Security Administration. With TSA PreCheck, you can speed through TSA security without removing your shoes, laptop, liquids, belt and light jacket. You also go through a traditional metal detector screening machine.

Usually, TSA PreCheck screening is separate from non-PreCheck screening. But if dedicated TSA PreCheck screening isn’t available, you’ll need to use the standard security screening lane. However, even when using the regular security lane, you won’t need to remove your shoes, belt and light jacket. You can check when dedicated TSA PreCheck screening is open on the TSA website.

TSA PreCheck is available when you depart from select U.S. airports. There are currently more than 200 airports participating in the program. However, you will only get TSA PreCheck access at these airports if your airline participates in TSA PreCheck. Currently, 80 airlines participate.

Related: Why TSA PreCheck is fantastic for families

How to enroll in TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck security checkpoint in Chicago
Travelers at a TSA security checkpoint in Chicago. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

If you want to enroll in TSA PreCheck, you’ll need to fill out an online application, submit an $85 membership fee that provides membership for five years and then schedule an appointment at one of the over 380 enrollment centers. During your appointment, which should take about 10 minutes, you’ll undergo a background check and fingerprinting.

After your appointment, your online profile may show your approval within a few days. However, some applications can take up to 30 days to process. Your approval will include your Known Traveler Number, which you should then add to each of your flight reservations with participating airlines. Adding your KTN to a reservation doesn’t guarantee you’ll get to use the TSA PreCheck line, though. TSA says the following on its website:

TSA uses unpredictable security measures, both seen and unseen, throughout the airport. All travelers will be screened, and no individual is guaranteed expedited screening.

U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and lawful permanent residents, are eligible to apply. The TSA says that “applicants may be ineligible due to incomplete or false application information, violations of transportation security regulations, or disqualifying criminal offenses and factors.” Children ages 12 and younger may use the TSA PreCheck lane when traveling with a parent or guardian who has a TSA PreCheck indicator on their boarding pass.

Related: Should you get TSA PreCheck or Clear — or both?

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry kiosks
Global Entry can allow you to reenter the U.S. quickly via these kiosks. (Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for preapproved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Global Entry members can enter the U.S. through automatic kiosks at select airports and access all the TSA PreCheck benefits described above.

When entering the U.S. at select airports, Global Entry members don’t need to fill out paperwork or wait in processing lines. Instead, Global Entry members can approach a Global Entry kiosk, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. Facial recognition is making the process even easier at some airports.

The kiosk will print a receipt that you will need to give to an officer before exiting the baggage claim area. Global Entry members may be selected for further examination when entering the United States, though. So having Global Entry doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to bypass an interview when returning to the U.S.

Related: 5 reasons your Global Entry can be revoked

How to enroll in Global Entry

Florida Miami International Airport Passport Control
Once you’re conditionally approved, you could interview on arrival when entering the U.S. (Photo by Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

If you want to enroll in Global Entry, you’ll first need to create a Trusted Traveler account. Then you can complete an online application and submit a $100 membership fee that will provide membership for five years if you are approved.

Next, CBP will review your application. If your application is conditionally approved, you’ll be able to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Alternatively, you could plan to do your interview upon arrival to the U.S. after an international trip. During your appointment, you’ll undergo a background check, interview and fingerprinting. My most recent interview for Global Entry renewal took about 20 minutes, so be sure to allow yourself enough time for your appointment.

U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, citizens of the Netherlands enrolled in FLUX, Korean Smart Entry Service members and citizens of Germany, Panama and Mexico may apply for Global Entry. Additionally, Canadian citizens and residents are eligible for Global Entry benefits through membership in the Nexus program.

You may not be eligible for participation in Global Entry for various reasons. Some listed reasons include conviction of any criminal offense, pending criminal charges, outstanding warrants or inability to satisfy CBP of your low-risk status. Children cannot use Global Entry with an adult if they don’t have their own Global Entry membership. However, children of all ages are eligible for enrollment in Global Entry. For example, TPG senior editor Benét Wilson’s child first enrolled in Global Entry at age 8.

Related: Global Entry proposes raising fees, making kids free

Should I apply for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry?

Woman at table drinking coffee and using laptop
There are essential differences between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck that you should consider before applying. (Photo by MStudioImages/Getty Images)

Generally, if you travel internationally once a year or more, you’ll benefit from Global Entry. And, since you can complete enrollment on arrival for Global Entry once you are conditionally approved, it may be more convenient than visiting a TSA PreCheck enrollment center. Additionally, you might apply for Global Entry instead of TSA PreCheck if you belong to a group eligible to apply for Global Entry but not TSA PreCheck.

However, Global Entry is slightly more expensive. Suppose you don’t have one of the best credit cards for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck that includes a statement credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. In that case, you may choose to pay less for TSA PreCheck if you don’t typically travel internationally. TSA PreCheck also tends to be less selective with who it approves than Global Entry. So, you might consider applying for TSA PreCheck if you suspect your Global Entry application would be rejected.

If you can’t decide between the two programs, my advice is to apply for Global Entry. For an additional $15, you can get all the benefits of TSA PreCheck as well as expedited clearance when returning to the U.S. If you have a credit card that reimburses a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years, you won’t even need to worry about the higher cost.

Related: You can use your Global Entry card as a Real ID

What credit cards will reimburse my application fee?

Woman entering credit card number into laptop
Use a card that will reimburse your application fee when you apply. (Photo by Carlina Teteris/Getty Images)

Many of the best travel rewards cards reimburse a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee every four to five years. If you have multiple cards with this benefit, you may also want to pay for a friend or family member’s application fee. After all, the card issuer will reimburse the cost regardless of who applies.

Here are some of the best credit cards for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck that will reimburse an application fee every four or five years (up to $100):

The Amex Platinum even provides a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit for each person you add as a Platinum card authorized user. However, Amex will only reimburse you if you charge one fee to each card.

Related: Denied for Global Entry or PreCheck? Here’s how to appeal

Bottom line

If you have one of the above credit cards that will reimburse your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee, and you’re eligible for one or both programs, you should apply. If you aren’t sure which program is better, I recommend Global Entry since it also provides TSA PreCheck benefits. But, as discussed in this article, some people may prefer to apply for TSA PreCheck.

Featured photo by SolStock/Getty Images.

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