Global Entry vs TSA PreCheck: Which is better?

Nov 7, 2019

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My mother-in-law recently got a credit card that offers a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credit every four years. As she was reading through the materials that came with her new card, she asked an important question: What’s the difference between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, and which should I get? So, let’s answer these questions.

In This Post

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is an expedited security program ran by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). With TSA PreCheck, you can speed through TSA security without removing your shoes, laptop(s), liquids, belt and light jacket. Sometimes there will be a separate TSA PreCheck screening, while other times you will go through the normal security screening but won’t need to remove your shoes, belts and light jackets.

TSA PreCheck is available when you depart from a U.S. airport to a foreign country, and for domestic flights within the United States. There are currently 200 airports participating in the program. You will only get TSA PreCheck access at those sites if the airline you are flying participates in PreCheck. Currently, 73 airlines participate.

tsa-precheck-desk-biometric-atlanta-delta-atl-airport-security
TSA PreCheck security in Atlanta (ATL). (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

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 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 whether you were approved within two days and you’ll receive written notification within two to three weeks. Your approval should include your Known Traveler Number (KTN), 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, as sometimes passengers are selected for regular security.

Related: The definitive guide to all airlines offering TSA PreCheck

U.S. citizens, 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 the indicator on their boarding pass.

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

What is Global Entry?

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

If you want to enroll in Global Entry, you’ll need to create a Trusted Traveler Programs account, complete an online application and submit a $100 membership fee that provides membership for five years. Then, CBP will review your application and if your application is conditionally approved, you’ll be instructed to schedule an appointment at a Global Entry Enrollment Center or plan to do your interview when arriving back into the U.S. after an international trip. During your appointment, you’ll undergo a background check, interview and fingerprinting.

(Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Using Global Entry kiosks can speed up your reentry into the U.S. (Photo by Paul J. Richards/Getty Images)

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 — although the process is getting even easier at some airports.

The kiosk will print a receipt, which 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.

U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, Mexican nationals and citizens of Argentina, India, Colombia, United Kingdom, Germany, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan are eligible for Global Entry membership. 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, including if you’ve been convicted of any criminal offense, have pending criminal charges or outstanding warrants or if you can not satisfy CBP of your low-risk status. Children are not allowed to use Global Entry with an adult if they do not have their own Global Entry membership. However, children of all ages are eligible for enrollment in Global Entry.

Related: 13 key things to know about Global Entry

Should I apply for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry?

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

However, Global Entry is slightly more expensive. So, if you don’t travel abroad you may choose to pay slightly less for TSA PreCheck. 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 will be denied.

If you can’t decide between the two programs, my advice is to go ahead and 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.

Related: Why you really should get Global Entry

What credit cards will reimburse my application fee?

Many cards reimburse a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee every four to five years. If you have multiple cards with this benefit, you can use some of the cards to pay for a friend or family member’s application fee and you’ll still get reimbursed. Here are some of our favorite cards that will reimburse your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee:

The information for the IHG Rewards Club Premier, Citi Prestige, has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The top cards for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

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 to apply for one or both programs, there is no reason not to apply. I’ve never regretted having Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, and would happily pay the $100 membership fee for Global Entry even if it wasn’t reimbursed. I’ve saved significant time through both programs, and appreciate not having to remove my laptop and liquids from my bag, nor my shoes from my feet, when I go through TSA airport screening.

Featured image by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

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