If you’ve ever been stuck in a long security line at the airport, TSA PreCheck—the paid program that gives passengers a fast track through security—looks like an increasingly wise investment. But before you plunk down the $85 application fee, keep in mind that there’s another expedited entry program that might be an even better deal for speeding through airport security.
Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck
Enrolling in TSA PreCheck might be wise if you’re not much of an international traveler, but for anyone leaving the country more than once a year, Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program is likely a better investment. For just $15 more (and a brief interview at the enrollment center TSA PreCheck already requires a visit to), Global Entry grants you all the privileges of TSA PreCheck (expedited screening, no lines or removing your shoes) plus expedited screening at Customs and Border Protection checkpoints when entering the U.S., allowing you to skip long reentry lines.
Both services are five-year memberships that require ID verification and fingerprinting for approval. Global Entry is slightly pricier at $100, but it’s likely worth it for many international travelers. Keep in mind that these programs are not available at all U.S. airports; TSA PreCheck works with more than 70 airlines at 200+ airports, while Global Entry is available at about 75 airports.
There are a few other Trusted Traveler Programs that might be worth considering, including NEXUS (expedited entries between the U.S. and Canada), SENTRI (expedited entries between the U.S. and both Canada and Mexico), and FAST (designed for truck drivers traveling between Mexico, the U.S., and Canada); you can take a questionnaire to determine the best fit for you here.
If your airport is one of the 27 that support Mobile Passport Control, you might want to consider that in lieu of Global Entry; it offers similar expedited reentry to the U.S. after international trips as Global Entry, but it works via a free app. Note that it does not include PreCheck privileges, so you’ll have to apply for those separately.
PreCheck Privileges for Free?
I’ve never applied for or enrolled in an expedited security program, but on a recent airport security check at Boston Logan Airport, I looked down at my digital boarding pass and noticed a TSA PreCheck badge near the top of my phone. The agent ushered me to a PreCheck line where I wasn’t required to remove my shoes or jacket, and skipped the body scanners I’ve come to expect at every journey through this airport.
“Is this right?” I kept thinking. “Do they think I’m enrolled?”
As it turns out, the TSA has been known to randomly select PreCheck passengers for expedited screening as a way to increase the program’s visibility and attract new customers. The problem I have with random PreCheck selection by the TSA is not only that it could be a security issue, but also that people have spent good money and time enrolling in a privilege that the TSA is apparently giving away. Why spend $85 and the time getting verified on a service that is at times completely free to certain passengers?
The Verdict: Global Entry FTW
In the battle of Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck, the $15 and broadened privileges of Global Entry are certainly the smarter investment for a five-year screening plan that will save you hours of security wait time. Plus, who wants to take off their shoes in the dirty airport?
If you don’t have a passport, however, Global Entry may not be for you. You’ll need one to apply, and if you don’t already have one then you’re probably not planning on leaving the country any time soon—that’s the only time you’d use Global Entry.
If you are interested in TSA PreCheck enrollment, consider how often you travel and which airports you use—if you rarely face much of a line at security, PreCheck is more of a novelty service than a time-saver at those airports. I’d recommend holding off until you have a need for Global Entry.
Access to both services is the only time-saving option worth spending upwards of $85 on.
More from SmarterTravel:
- How to Get Global Entry for Free
- 2 Easy Ways to Get a Faster Global Entry Interview
- 16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.