Raise your hand if your favorite part of traveling is going through security at the airport. Anyone? Bueller? So the task of going through security and customs isn't exactly everyone's favorite part of the travel experience. But what if you could “cut” the security line? Would you travel more or at least find more joy in the travel experience if you had little to no wait to go through security? Well actually, now you can with TSA's PreCheck program, as well as a host of other programs meant to expedite the airport experience.
TSA's PreCheck program was originally only offered exclusively for select airlines' frequent fliers or through programs approved by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. However, recent changes now allow for increased Americans to be eligible for PreCheck. By the end of the year, millions of American travelers will be able to enroll for TSA PreCheck, which is essentially an expedited members-only security line with benefits that other travelers don't have, such as the freedom to leave on shoes, light outerwear, and belts. Other benefits include the ability to leave laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags.
As you might expect with these benefits, there is a comprehensive enrollment and screening process. The new enhanced enrollment process allows travelers to simply enroll online. Travelers must then verify their identity, provide fingerprints at a TSA PreCheck enrollment center, and undergo a background check. Approved applicants are issued a “Known Traveler Number”, which is used when booking travel, and then have access to TSA PreCheck security lanes, which are currently offered at over 40 airports nationwide. The enrollment fee is $85 and covers travelers for a five-year term of eligibility. The first two enrollment centers will be at Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Indianapolis International Airport (IND).
Viewfinder Tip: Get your application fee reimbursed if you're an American Express Platinum card holder.
As the name presumes, Global Entry involves entry back into the U.S., as compared to TSA PreCheck, which is offered for travel at select U.S. airports. Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows travelers to skip the standard immigration queues for a self-service kiosk. To apply, travelers can fill out an online application and pay the $100 fee (American Express Platinum card members are reimbursed the $100 application fee). Once the application has been reviewed, travelers are required to visit an enrollment center for an interview to verify their identity, take a photo, and answer a series of questions (in other words, don't have a criminal record). Similar to TSA PreCheck, membership is for five years.
If you travel frequently between the U.S. and Canada, then the NEXUS card may be for you. Also government-approved, the NEXUS card is similar to the Global Entry and PreCheck programs, in that it expedites the process, but exclusively for Canada/U.S. travel, including driving across the border. It's important, however, that when driving across the border that everyone in the car also has a NEXUS card in order to use this express lane. While it can be used at airports as well, NEXUS card holders must first undergo a retinal scan. To qualify, enrollees must be U.S. or Canada citizens before applying online and undergoing a background check. The application fee is just $50.
Lastly, there is CLEAR, which is the same idea behind TSA's PreCheck (and with similar enrollment measures). The CLEAR security lane, or CLEARlane, as it's called, is a dedicated security line at select U.S. airports, similar to TSA PreCheck. One of the differences between it and TSA PreCheck being that members still have to follow the standard security measures of removing shoes, belts, laptops, and so on. It's currently only offered at a limited number of airports (DEN, MCO, SFO, DFW, HPN), although more are in the works. The annual fee is $179 and just $50 for each additional family member.