Written By: Jessica Carey
One wild card factor that affects airport travelers is always the length of and time spent in long security checkpoint lines. Skipping the line, or at a minimum reducing the wait time in them, is always a plus. So what options do you have to help you get to the gate faster?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one globally universal program that affects every airport around the world, but there are a few that can help you at domestic airports. Here’s a brief description of some of the most impactful programs we’ve found to help reduce your wait time.
TSA PreCheck TSA Precheck is a faster security line service you can obtain by signing up directly with TSA PreCheck and paying an $85 per person fee for a 5-year membership. Or, if you’re a frequent flyer member of a participating airline, you often have access to TSA PreCheck on flights booked through that same airline (i.e. if you are a Delta Skymiles member, you may get TSA PreCheck access on flights you book through Delta).
Advantages: The service allows you to go through airport security without removing your shoes, belt, light outerwear, laptop and bag with liquids. There is often a separate TSA Precheck line, which is usually shorter and faster than regular lines. TSA boasts that the Precheck wait times are five minutes or less. If you have TSA PreCheck, you can also use the expedited process for any children under 12 years old traveling with you, even if they aren’t members of the program.
Disadvantages: Despite paying a fee to be a part of the program, you aren’t guaranteed the fast track lane on every flight. It’s limited by airlines and terminals. Only certain airlines participate, so for example if you fly on Spirit or Frontier you won’t have TSA PreCheck as an option. Also, only 180 airports have it available in the U.S. and, depending on the time of the day, TSA may close the PreCheck lanes. TSA keeps the program somewhat randomized to ensure safety, meaning that you could be randomly denied TSA PreCheck for a flight on an approved airline, while travelers who aren’t members may be randomly approved TSA PreCheck on that same flight.
How to Get it: You need to apply online and then schedule an in-person background check at a nearby enrollment center. Walk-in enrollments are accepted at most TSA Precheck enrollment locations, but the TSA recommends you schedule an appointment. After about 2-3 weeks processing time, you’ll be issued a KTN (Known Traveler Number) used to apply your PreCheck status when booking flights. When it’s time to print your boarding pass, you’ll know if you have been approved for the TSA PreCheck as it will be printed on your boarding pass near your name.
One way to give yourself the best chance for getting TSA PreCheck on your flight is to check-in as early as possible and then if you don’t see the PreCheck on your boarding pass, call the airline or go to the airline’s desk at the airport and ask if they can add it to your reservation and re-issue your boarding pass.
Global Entry Global Entry allows international travelers with a valid passport a quicker process through immigration checkpoint at the airport on your way back into the US. It also includes the TSA PreCheck advantages. You apply and pay a $100 fee per traveler for a 5-year membership.
Advantages: You can skip the long line to see a border control agent, and instead answer a few questions at a kiosk, scan your fingerprints, show your receipt to an agent and exit the passport control area. You no longer have to fill out the blue customs forms. You can also use the TSA PreCheck security line when going through airport security. When you are approved with Global Entry you’ll receive a KTN to apply when booking tickets to receive PreCheck status on your boarding pass (unless you are randomly selected not to for a flight).
Some credit card companies are willing to reimburse the cost of your Global Entry fee. The Amex Platinum, Business Platinum (or Centurion) cards are one brand offering reimbursement. Check out this article for the entire list of participating cards. Disadvantages: Global Entry is only available at 56 airports. While most of the big U.S. international airports are included (JFK, ORD, MCO, MSP, ATL), there are very few airports outside of the U.S. included (Ireland airports, a few Caribbean, and Abu Dhabi). It is also a more time consuming process to obtain. On average it’s a 2-6 month process for applicants to obtain a Global Entry card. Finally, all family members must have global entry in order to use the kiosk. Even infants and young children need to submit an application, pay the fee and have an “interview” to be able to bypass the immigration lines with their parents if traveling together. This differs from TSA PreCheck as children 12 and under are allowed to use the TSA PreCheck lane with parents approved in the program.
How to Get It: You must have a valid US passport. First, you must complete an online application and pay the $100 fee per traveler. After about 4-6 weeks approval time for your application, you’ll be asked to visit a Global Entry enrollment center (MSP) for an interview. Some Global Entry enrollment centers are booked out a couple months, but you might be able to find last minute openings due to cancellations if you keep checking. Finally, you’ll be issued a Global Entry card with your KTN number.
CLEAR is a new service offering a separate line for identity verification before going through the security screening. You apply and pay a $179 fee per traveler for a one-year membership. In essence this is a super expedited security line (even moreso than TSA PreCheck). Approved CLEAR members use a kiosk to verify your identity through finger print scanning. Once verified you are escorted to the font of the security line.
Advantages: CLEAR works with any airline and has no randomized exclusion of passengers like TSA PreCheck. In addition, everyone who enters the CLEAR line is a member of CLEAR and is familiar with the process. If you have CLEAR, you can also use the expedited process for any children under 18 years old traveling with you even if they aren’t members of the program. If you want to add additional family members such as a spouse, they qualify for a discounted rate of $50/year.
Disadvantages: It is only a year-long membership so you have an annual fee to continue using the service. As of today, it’s also only available at 22 U.S. airports (MSP is one of them). This service doesn’t include TSA PreCheck like Global Entry does, so while this offers an expedited service, travelers may want to combine with Global Entry or TSA PreCheck to have quicker services throughout the other various airport security process.
How to Get It: You must enroll and pay a $179 fee every year. First, you enroll online, and then visit an airport location (MSP) where your identity is verified and your biometrics are recorded. You can do this quickly at any CLEAR location with no appointment necessary, and your access card will then be shipped to you within five days.
Delta is currently offering a discount to Delta members. Diamond Medallion members receive a free annual membership in the program, while Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion members, as well as SkyMiles credit card holders, pay $79 for an annual membership. General SkyMiles members pay $99 annually to access the CLEAR lanes.
One Time Priority Access
A one-time priority access service would allow you similar expedited services to Global Entry at your international destination. You can talk to your Pique Travel Designer to see if your destination offers a one-time priority access expedited service. As mentioned, many of the programs outlined are available almost exclusively in the U.S. so when you arrive at a destination you’ll encounter the standard wait times unless you book a service such as this. The services typically range from $50-$200 depending on other services needed (wheelchair assistance, transfer included, etc.).
Advantages: These services often provide an extra level of VIP benefits such as an escort from your gate to guide you through the airport to immigration, guaranteed front line access to customs and security and assistance with luggage collection
Disadvantages: This type of service isn’t offered everywhere and must be booked in advanced.
How to Get It: Your Pique Travel Designer can tell you if your destination offers this service and provide pricing information.
TSA PreCheck is a good option if you mostly travel domestic and do not have any type of membership to an airline carrier or frequently fly on budget airlines such as Spirit or Frontier. Global Entry is preferable for those who regularly travel internationally and/or have airports with very inconvenient immigration or security lines. In addition to either of those, CLEAR would be most convenient for very frequent travelers that don’t have the luxury of scheduling flights around slower travel times when security lines might be shorter.
NEXUS and SENTRI are also expedited immigration lines. NEXUS also offers expedited processing between US and Canada. SENTRI offers expedited processing between US and Mexico at air or land borders. Ask your Pique Travel Designer if you want to learn more about these options.
If you are a frequent international traveler that visits the same destination often, you may want to look into if that country has an expedited service for security or border control. You may also have access to local expedited services to bypass wait lines both in the U.S. and your destination. Read more about these options here.