Business travelers spend a lot of time in airports trying to make it from one business engagement to the next. Once in the airport travelers see all kinds of signs for airport travel programs, but what are these programs and what benefits do they offer? And maybe more importantly what is the cost of these benefits? In this post, I will compare and contrast the three main programs so that one can make an informed choice about which program to choose, if any.
What are these airport travel programs and what benefit do they offer? The three programs are TSA Precheck, Global Entry, and Clear Airport Security. Each has a different primary benefit and price point.
- TSA Precheck: This program provides expedited security screening process and the passenger usually does not have to take off their shoes or unpack their carry-on bag. Occasionally, the passenger may be selected for additional screening as a security precaution. This has happened to me twice in 5 years, not a big deal. You do have to do a background check and a short in person interview at an enrollment center. Precheck works at many US Airports. The major benefit of this program is that it expedites security screening in US airports. Depending on the airport and where the flight is going, you may not be allowed to use TSA Precheck for international flights. Still at $85 for 5 years this is a good deal, even if you only fly occasionally.
For more information follow link: https://www.tsa.gov/precheck
- Global Entry: This program has all the benefits of TSA Precheck but adds in expedited customs when returning to the US from an international flight. If you have nothing to declare, the traveler goes to a Global Entry kiosk, scans their passport, does a fingerprint check and then goes to the line to have the border patrol agent check the paper that the machine spits out. To enroll you will complete a background check and interview at an enrollment center. If you have ever waited in the long customs line trying to claim your bag and recheck it when making an international connection you might think the $100 for 5 years of participation in the program worth the cost.
For more information follow link: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry
- Clear Airport Security: This is the program I know the least about as it is newer and I have never participated in it. From my research I have found that the benefit of this program is the traveler will use biometrics such as iris scan or fingerprints to bypass the usual process of having a TSA person check their identification. The traveler goes to the kiosk, gets verified, and then jumps to the front of the security line to have their bag scanned. The cost of this program is $179 per year.
For more information follow the link: https://www.clearme.com/
It is important to know that TSA Precheck and Global Entry are government run programs, which is why you will have background checks and screening interviews. The Precheck program does randomly select individuals to go through the regular security line so it is not 100% guaranteed every time you travel. But again, I have only been pulled out of line a couple of times.
The Clear program is a private program and not subject to background checks. It basically uses biometrics in place of ID cards to verify a person’s identity and then jumps them to the front of the security line, whichever line that may be. If you have TSA Precheck you go to the front of the Precheck line. If you don’t have Precheck you go to the front of the regular line and will still have to take off your shoes, belt, and all the other rules.
On personal travel a few years ago, I stood in the customs line for almost 2 hours in Dallas all the while watching the Global Entry people speed by in 5 or 10 minutes. When I first started traveling for work, I decided to give Global Entry a try. If Dallas is any indication of the program, I know this will be worth $100.
The very first international trip after signing up I am at the back of the customs line and I hear the airport employee counting the people in line, 120, 121 all the way to 130. Then the airport employee says “is any one Global Entry?” One other lady and I raise our hand and the employee says “you two go to the front of the line.” I am not ashamed to say, I left my 3 coworkers standing at the back of the line and zipped right to the front. My luck continued when I got to the baggage carousel and there was my bag, spinning around just waiting for me to claim it. On this trip I happened to have a direct flight so I go out of customs straight to my car and beat the traffic home. On Monday morning I learn that my coworkers were in the line for an hour. They only had Precheck… the extra $15 was worth it just for the one trip alone.
In the 5 years I have had Global Entry I have used the international benefit maybe 6 or 7 times. The real benefit is that it comes with TSA Precheck, which I have used a lot. On average it takes me 15 min from the time I am dropped of at the airport until I am at my boarding gate.
My personal opinion is if you only travel in the USA, Precheck is worth the price of $85 for 5 years just to spend less time waiting in security lines. If you travel international even a little the $100 for 5 years is value added. To me it is frustrating to be stuck in a long customs line after a long flight. I just want to go home and rest. I cannot say if the Clear program is worth $179 per year just to go to the front of the security line. My home airport has such a fast Precheck line that it would not be value added for me. But at bigger airports with longer lines it might be worth it. I leave that up to the consumers to decide.
My Global Entry is about to expire and my research and travel routines have led me to the decision to renew Global Entry… this is where cost meets value for me. If you found this post interesting or helpful please click the like button. If you have any experience to share regarding these programs, comments are welcome.