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One of the biggest stress factors in air travel is the time it takes to get through security screening at airports. 2016 was a particularly bad year for TSA wait times, with thousands of passengers missing flights and multiple flights delayed during peak load times due to long wait lines at TSA security checkpoints. If you travel regularly, the hours stuck in security screening can add up, taking the shine off what should be a fun and hassle-free experience.
The best solution for passengers seeking a faster route through the security process is via an expedited security screening service such as TSA Pre✓, Global Entry, or a privately operated service like CLEAR. While all three programs attract a fee, each can also be obtained for free in the form of fee-credits offered with premium credit cards, or in the case of CLEAR, free for Delta Diamond Medallion members, and at a reduced cost for other elite tiers.
What is Airport Expedited Security?
An expedited security service is the fastest way through airport identity and security screening processes, a way to skip the ever-increasing TSA security lines via a streamlined identity verification process, and a fast-track through the security screening process. The programs range in price and benefits and overlap somewhat with what is covered.
There are currently five expedited security screening programs operating in the U.S. with fees ranging from $50-$180:
- TSA Pre✓ – TSA Pre allows eligible, low-risk travelers to make use of expedited security screening, available at participating U.S. airports and for the majority of international itineraries. TSA Pre✓ members aren’t required to remove belts, shoes, or jacket, and can leave liquids and laptops in carry-on luggage. TSA Pre✓ costs $85 for five years.
- Global Entry – Provides automated Global Entry kiosks at select airports offering expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. A $100 one-time fee is required with your Global Entry application.
- NEXUS – A bilateral program for U.S. and Canadian travelers. NEXUS members use kiosks located at border crossings, airports (Global Entry kiosks when entering the U.S.), and also at marine reporting locations. NEXUS is $50 both sides of the border.
- SENTRI – Similar to the NEXUS program but for the U.S.-Mexico border and only applies to land-border entry locations. SENTRI is not a bilateral program and only applies for travelers re-entering the U.S., not on the way into Mexico. SENTRI costs $122.25 or an extra $25 for a family of 4.
- CLEAR – The only program operated by private enterprise; CLEAR doesn’t have quite the same footprint as the government programs, but where it’s available, it takes expedited security a step further using biometric identification to speed up the security process. Rather than joining the standard TSA or TSA Pre✓ queue, passengers with a Clear membership enter a dedicated Clear security line and use a combination of fingerprint and iris recognition to clear the identity verification process. Clear members are then bumped to the front of either the TSA Pre✓ or standard TSA security check lines dependant on whether they have a Global Entry/TSA Pre✓ membership. Clear is also the most expensive program at $179 per year.
Get Expedited Security Screening For Free
There are few different options for gaining expedited security screening without paying the required fee.
Expedited Airport Security Using Frequent Flyer Elite Status
Many frequent flyer programs offer complimentary expedited security for mid and top-tier elite flyers, allowing higher-tier members to access priority security lines along with their first-class counterparts, even when traveling on a lower-class fare.
- Alaska Mileage Plan – MVP Gold & Gold 75K
- American AAdvantage – Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum
- Delta SkyMiles – Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion
- JetBlue TrueBlue – Mosaic
- Southwest Rapid Rewards – A-List & A-List Preferred
- United MileagePlus – Premier Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Premier 1K
- Virgin America Elevate – Elevate Silver & Gold
Another option for leveraging elite status for expedited security screening and the only method for acquiring Clear without paying the annual fee is to be a Delta SkyMiles Diamond Medallion member. As a Diamond Medallion, you’ll receive a free annual CLEAR membership, which gives you the fastest possible path through airport identity verification and security screening.
Expedited Airport Security as a Credit Card Benefit
Both Global Entry and TSA Pre✓ can be acquired as a benefit of premium credit cards such as those below:
There is also a workaround for the EXPEDIA®+ VOYAGER CARD from Citi. The card comes with a $100 travel credit for airline incidentals which can be used to cover the $100 TSA Pre✓/Global Entry application fee. This is a fantastic option if you want to apply for a credit card with a low annual fee, as the Expedia Card has an annual fee of only $95.
U.S. passengers can also take advantage of the Mobile Passport app, which is a fantastic free service offered in partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Simply download the Mobile Passport app, set up your profile, answer the CBP's questions, and you can move straight to the Mobile Passport Control express lane. Mobile Passport is available in 20 airports and one cruise port.
How Is CLEAR Different from TSA Pre✓/Global Entry?
TSA Pre✓ and CLEAR are separate programs that run in parallel, with CLEAR providing the fastest possible way through the identification phase, while TSA Pre✓ offers expedited identity verification and a fast-track through the physical security screening process.
CLEAR is a private company, overseen by the TSA, that offers biometric identity verification and priority screening at select airports in the U.S. They currently offer a kiosk service in 24 cities. In addition to offering a complimentary membership to Delta Diamond Medallion members, CLEAR offers a preferred rate to mid-tier elites you can find on the Delta page of CLEAR’s website.
TSA Pre✓ on the other hand, is a program offered by the Transportation Security Administration, and rather than biometric identification via a kiosk, travelers signed up for TSA Pre✓ enter the TSA priority queue for expedited screening. TSA Pre✓ is currently available at 200+ airports nationwide with 40+ participating airlines.
If the majority of your travel is domestic, and you have no plans to travel overseas in the next five years, then registering for TSA Pre✓ will be sufficient. However, if you there’s any chance you’ll be traveling internationally, it makes sense to register for Global Entry which includes registration in TSA Pre✓, but also covers passengers flying back into the U.S. via Global Entry kiosks at most major international airports
And while Global Entry and TSA Pre✓ are both big time-savers for travelers needing to pass through TSA security, if you travel regularly and CLEAR maintains a presence in your home airport, the priority service is well worth the few extra dollars to register and will make your travel experience much more enjoyable.
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