Expedited Security Screening & How To Get it For Free

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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.

TSA Pre airport line

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.

Clear - Delta Partnership

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:

CardCredit Frequency
Chase Sapphire Reserve®4 years
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card4 years
The Platinum Card® from American Express (Terms Apply)4 years
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (Terms Apply)4 years
United℠ Explorer Card4 years
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card4 years
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card4 years
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®5 years
Citi Prestige® Card5 years
U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card4 years
TravElite American Express® Card5 years
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card4 years
PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card5 years
HSBC Premier World Mastercard® credit card5 years - TSA Pre✓® only
HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard® credit card5 years - TSA Pre✓® only

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.

Mobile Passport app

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.

clear Logo

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Expedited Security Screening & How To Get it For Free
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Comments

  • AA status helped me skip a 2 hour line at PHX recently. I might have been cutting it close otherwise. Even entry level status can be a huge benefit, especially with security screening.

  • I have a friend who has both CLEAR and Global Entry (with TSA Pre Check and he says CLEAR is a great addition in airports where available. The $179 per year price seems high to me, but he says it is worth it.

    • I definitely think this is on a per-person basis, the airports they travel through and the time of week they travel. I’m thrilled to hear someone that is happy with the price of CLEAR. Too rich for my blood, but then I don’t travel weekly like I used to.

  • Never knew there were credit cards that offered this! Thanks.

  • Arthur Thurber says:

    Excellent info. Thank you.

  • Does anyone know a way to get expedited airport security using miles, for someone who does not have elite status in any program?

    • There is evidence that bookings where you use British Airways Avios for flights on American Airlines you receive expedited security and boarding. Also, when a United elite books an award flight for someone that person receives expedited screening / boarding as well.

  • I didn’t know there were so many different options for expedited security screening, and so many ways of getting them for free or a a low cost.

  • This is very interesting! I have gotten the free app but haven’t used it. I love the idea that some credit cards give the benefit…in the way of a reimbursement of the cost once charged on the card. Any way to get through security easier is always a plus! Even though i have gotten TSA Precheck I haven’t been able to use it most of the time, since either the normal security line was quicker or I had to (family helping) go through with my hubby and other kid who did not get it. When I did get to use it, it was fantastic. I can see why if I traveled more I would want it! Just make sure that if you do have tsa precheck paid that names on tickets, submitted tsa info when booking a ticket and with tsa each time the name is an exact match or it won’t be printed on your boarding pass!

  • I also didn’t know credit cards offered these.
    Thank you for the helpful article.

  • ROBERT CORRAO says:

    I got the global entry this year which is the tsa-pre (national only) plus international entry. For the extra $15, it is worth it.

  • I’m highly appreciative of the content of this blog post. Extremely clear and thorough info offered. Thx so much. Just this month I had an interview at my local airport for Global Entry and while it was an authoritative exercise on the part of the interviewing officer, for me, it was not extremely time consuming at all, which was a nice surprise.

  • Bertrand Say says:

    Is it actually worth the trouble to get expedited security screening if you only do a handful of trips a year?

  • Rosemarie Carlino says:

    I have the TSA Pre-check, it is so convenient. I recommend it for sure!

  • Excellent info, however, I think that the TSA Precheck is worth the $75.00. The only bad part it is not available on the weekends to submit the application.

  • When it comes to TSA Precheck and Global Entry, be forewarned that any discrepancy on your record may prevent the CBP from giving you the expedited customs even if you apply for it and pay the fee. I have a 1st offense DUI misdemeanor received on 11/1/11 and found guilty in 1/2013 and even though these charges aren’t even remotely close to affecting my ability to travel, bring purchased items back through customs, or my ability to come and go to/from the country at will, it did affect my ability to be instantly approved for Global Entry and as a matter of fact earned me an instant denial. You can appeal to a CBP Ombudsman, which I did, but I have yet to hear back on that, and that instant denial/appeal was Sept. of 2016. Basically, in my experience now, I never would have volunteered anything about the DUI as it wasn’t really pertinent to their pre-consultation screening questions. I should have let their gov’t background check find anything if it was going to be found at all. Plus, like I said, a DUI wasn’t pertinent to the pre-consultation questions and probably wouldn’t have even mattered to the CBP but now I have to appeal a denial. FYI, the same can be said for car insurance, let their own background check find the dirt on your driving history.

  • Cathy Krasnianski says:

    If you travel internationally, Global Entry is an absolute MUST! I recently used it, and was amazed how much easier and more pleasant it made our return!

  • I think there should be a way to separate people who usually make a lot of flights from people not traveling a lot who create the queues.

  • It is not actually “free” if you have to pay for the credit card.

  • Gotta get on CLEAR sometime. Looks pretty nice.

  • I seem to get TSA recheck status when I fly United or AA, but I have no upgraded status on my FF accounts. Maybe I just look nice and unthreatening?

  • I find it troubling that articles like this never really talk in much detail about the most desirable option, NEXUS, and it leaves people pursuing the much more expensive TSA Precheck or Global Entry standalone products.

    What is important to understand, is that you can sign up for NEXUS for $50 and it covers you for 5 years.
    KEY POINT.. NEXUS includes not only Canadian border access, but for US citizens and permanent residents both, it also includes global entry membership ($100 value) and TSA Precheck membership ($85 value) all for the same price.

    Why anyone would pay $85 for just Precheck, or $100 for just Global Entry and Precheck, when they could pay only $50 for Nexus, Global Entry, and Precheck all for 5 years simply eludes me.

    -Mike

    • Mike, while I agree with you that NEXUS is the best program out there, especially for the price, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

      1) There are far fewer NEXUS enrollment centers available in the country than there are Global Entry. Good luck finding a NEXUS enrollment center in California, Texas, Washington DC, or New York City — they don’t exist.
      2) NEXUS enrollment fees aren’t covered as a benefit of credit card programs. They typically only cover Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

      • Your correct about the nexus enrollment centers. But you only have to go to a nexus enrollment center if you are getting your iris scanned for Canadian border entry. If you are only getting it for the global entry or tsa precheck benefits, you can go to ANY global entry location. Me and my family, for example, live in Maryland and went to the Reagan Building.

    • Thanks for the helpful information! Never known NEXUS before but seems it’s a no brainer to choose. Thanks!

  • Great to know! But my “home” airport is small enough that the longest lines I’ve ever had to wait were ~20-30 minutes

  • ADAM PARSONS says:

    Queues are a pain especially if your in a hurry or running late, well worth the cost.

  • Interesting, I’d never heard of Nexus or Sentri before…thank you!

  • This was painless with the CSR…the charge appeared on the card and the refund right below it. I was conditionally approved and I have my interview in January to complete the TSA Pre.

  • looking forward to getting global entry; closest interview locations is 3 hours away, so have to schedule a trip for my family (all 6 of us) to get interviewed together….

  • Definitely going to apply for Global Entry next year and get it covered by the CSR or another card. Don’t know of many people that actually pay for it themselves.

    • Mistake #1: I paid for it before checking if my card would cover it. Mistake #2: Didn’t use it on my last trip because my travel partner was unable to get it. Fortunately customs traffic was so light we didn’t have to wait at all. Wonder what will happen when we return from this trip in a few days. Moral of the story: a) Check to see if your cc will cover cost. b) you may want to check with your travel partner before putting $100 down.

  • We were considering purchasing travel insurance for our current trip. Was very happy to find my AAdvantage credit card had travel insurance as a benefit. Charged Airline tickets and cost of tours on that card to get the benefit.

  • If I get Global entry, can my husband be reimbursed for it if he pays using his Sapphire Reserve?

  • As a foreigner traveler I have luck with Expedite security at the airport thanks to being elite in AA and United! which makes me wonder why they don’t roll out such programs to people with tourist visas so we can apply :(. *I’m from South America.

  • Noah Weston says:

    The Chase Sapphire Reserve card is excellent and reimburses the TSA PreCheck fee for anyone.

  • Expedited security screening is a good idea as a concept but certain airports seem to be understaffed and do not open the expedited line consistently. For example, multiple times, I have had to wait in the regular line despite having TSA Pre-Check at the airport in San Jose (SJC) because the expedited screening line was not being staffed.

  • I got Global Entry for free in the form of $100 credit from my credit card. I’m arriving in JFK early next year on a JAL flight from Narita. If I understood JAL correctly when I tried to give them my Global Entry ID number, they said they don’t honor the program. Is the issue here a matter of the airline you fly or the airport you arrive in? Thanks.

  • Marlin Seevers says:

    We just paid the $85 for TSA PreCheck. But if I had known this about the Nexus program I might have gone with Nexus instead. Thank you for sharing this information

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