This is the first part in our Line Cutter series describing some of the programs available to speed up your wait at airport security or even customs depending on the program.

I’m starting with the Global Entry program because I believe it’s a sweet spot for value and utility, and I’ve been using it since 2015. I like to talk about what I know. TSA PreCheck will also be addressed here since it is a feature of Global Entry and other trusted traveler programs.

Global Entry: More than just PreCheck

Global Entry is a program that has two core benefits and is administered by the US Customs and Border Patrol. The headline feature is expedited customs since you are only able to enroll if you are deemed a low risk traveler.

The primary core benefit is that you get to have a more rapid entry experience coming in through customs and immigration at major US airports. When you are returning to the US from abroad, you can simply stroll up to a kiosk, let it get a look at your face and answer the questions, and then stroll over to an expedited line where you’ll talk to an agent before they let you go on. No paper declaration form is required. Depending on the vintage of the kiosk, it may give you a paper receipt, but the newer systems rely more on facial recognition and relay the data about you over to the final agent. The experience is pleasant and a welcome relief after a long international flight. It has also been helpful at some international airports like Dubai (AUH) or Montreal (YUL) on past journeys.

The second core benefit is that you get TSA PreCheck which allows you to go through an expedited security line at most US airports. This can often lead to a dramatic time savings if there are large security line delays at an airport you are flying out of. Sometimes it may be a wash of course if lines are light, but even in those cases having PreCheck will usually spare you some of the normal procedures associated with airport security such as removing your liquids, belts, shoes, laptops, or light jackets. There are occasions at small airports where the benefits are not of as much utility because they don’t have the resources for separate security lines and will often hand you a laminated card to identify you as PreCheck while you wait in the same line as everyone else.

The Fine Print

To enroll in this program, you’ll need to put down a \$100 non-refundable fee for a Global Entry application. This means that if you are rejected, you don’t get the money back. If you are accepted, you will get 5 years of membership. Global Entry renewal is also \$100 every 5 years.

In order to enroll or renew, you will generally have to interview at a CPB office after starting your Global Entry application online. You can schedule these interviews online, and the offices are at major US airports so you can schedule these interviews while you will be at the airport for any air travel. You can alternatively leverage their Enrollment on Arrival program to do the interview as you return from abroad without explicit scheduling. The interviews vary at the discretion of the CBP agent, but be prepared to explain all your travel in the past several years. The application will also require providing residential and employment history.

Application processing time for Global Entry is presently 4-6 months.

Trusted Traveler Programapalooza

Global Entry is one of several trusted traveler programs available, and they have some overlap so here’s a quick breakdown of the programs that share benefits or features with Global Entry that may be of use to you depending on your situation. All of these programs include PreCheck unless otherwise stated and have a 5 year term. Keep in mind that each of these programs have varying processing times for applications.

TSA PreCheck - $78

This is a feature of Global Entry as described above, but it is also available at a lower cost as its own program if you don’t care about the international benefits for customs and immigration. For the extra $22, I would go for Global Entry as well if you plan international travel in the future and are okay with the interview process.

NEXUS - $50

This program is targeted towards folks who travel between the US and Canada. It provides expedited processing when transiting between the US and Canada by air, land, and sea. It also includes Global Entry for less than the cost of Global Entry alone. It will require you to interview with Canadian authorities in addition to US CBP in order to obtain Global Entry.

SENTRI - $122.25

This is for folks who want expedited entry from Canada or Mexico into the US by air and land.

FAST - $50

This is for commercial truckers moving between the US, Canada, and Mexico. PreCheck is not included.

A summary of these programs and Global Entry can be found at the Trusted Traveler Program page of the US Department of Homeland Security website.

Free is Better

How about not paying for Global Entry? Many rewards cards offer a statement credit to cover the cost of applying or renewing. One of my favorite keeper cards that offers this is the IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card. One nice thing about this, and other Chase cards, is that it will cover PreCheck or NEXUS instead if you prefer those programs.