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TSA PreCheck vs Global Entry Guide: Which is Best?

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Frankfurt, Germany - June 18, 2015: people at security check at Frankfurt international airport in Frankfurt, Germany. In 2012, Frankfurt handled 57.5 million passengers.

Nothing puts a damper on your airport experience quite like a long line at airport security or U.S. customs — except maybe the additional inconvenience of removing toiletries and electronics from your carry-on. If you’ve found yourself gazing at the nearly non-existent lines for TSA PreCheck or envying other travelers’ shiny Global Entry cards that allow them to use quick kiosks at U.S. Customs, keep reading.

Both programs offer shorter lines and convenience at the airport, and you may even want to get both if you are a frequent traveler. Here are the advantages of each, and how to get your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee reimbursed.

What’s the difference between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck?

Both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are trusted traveler programs, meaning that you have demonstrated through an application process that you are a low-risk traveler. You can apply for these programs if you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident with no history of violations or disqualifying offenses.

The main difference between these programs is their range of coverage. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration operates TSA PreCheck, and it offers streamlined services and screenings specifically for flights within the U.S. Global Entry is run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It provides the same benefits for U.S. flights, but it also includes benefits for travelers arriving at U.S. Customs from international flights. 

Does Global Entry include TSA PreCheck?

Yes, when you purchase a five year $100 membership with Global Entry, you automatically get TSA PreCheck. Considering that TSA Precheck is also a five-year membership costing $85, it may be worth it for you just to get Global Entry. If you plan to travel abroad even just a couple of times in those five years, the additional $15 should be well worth it. In fact, with certain credit cards, you can even get those memberships for free. 

How does Global Entry work?

Global Entry allows you to skip lines and have a more streamlined experience re-entering the U.S. after traveling abroad. This membership will enable you to use the Global Entry kiosks, where you only need to scan your passport and fingerprints and answer a few questions to receive a printed receipt, which you will present to an agent to pass through customs quickly. 

The down-side to Global Entry is that the initial application process can be lengthy. You’ll need to fill out an application, complete an interview at a Global Entry enrollment center, and then wait several months for approval. Once you’ve been approved, you’ll be added to the system, and you will receive a Global Entry card that doubles as a form of government identification. 

How does TSA PreCheck work?

TSA PreCheck saves you the hassle of waiting in long lines, removing articles of clothing, and unpacking liquid or electronic items from your carry-on. Additionally, children aged 12 and under can go through the line with a parent who has TSA PreCheck, making it much easier to travel with children. That being said, TSA PreCheck is not guaranteed every time you fly, due to certain limitations at some airports. 

If you only want TSA PreCheck and not the whole package with Global Entry, the application process is a bit easier. You can apply online, but you’ll need to go to a TSA PreCheck enrollment center to answer some questions and be fingerprinted. If everything is in the clear, you can be approved in just two to three weeks. 

Which one is better for you? 

Your travel choices, rather than your budget, should determine whether you choose to go with TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. The price difference between these programs is nominal, so that shouldn’t be a factor when making your decision. (If you are especially motivated to save money while traveling, take a look at what we’ve said about the best travel credit cards before you plan your next trip). You should choose your trusted traveler program based on your travel plans. 

If you never travel outside the U.S., then just get TSA PreCheck. The application process is shorter, and this membership will help you avoid most airport-related headaches. However, if you think you might travel abroad even a few times within the five years of the membership, then you should apply for Global Entry, mainly since it automatically includes TSA PreCheck.

Bottom line

Anyone who only plans to travel domestically will do fine with TSA PreCheck and can avoid the hoops you have to jump through for Global Entry. But anyone who travels abroad, even just a couple of times a year, could end up saving boatloads of time at customs when re-entering the U.S., so getting Global Entry is likely worth it.

Either way, if you decide to apply for one of these trusted traveler programs, be sure to use a credit card that will reimburse you for the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee.

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Featured image by Meinzahn/iStock.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)