The Alphabet Soup of Airport Programs: What’s the Best Program for Me?

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Over the last 12 years a proliferation of programs appeared to expedite processing thru US airports. With these programs comes a lot of confusion.  Global Entry, TSA Pre-check, Sentri, Clear and more – how do you know which is right for you?  Let’s put this alphabet soup thru a strainer and see what’s left.

First, this assumes a passenger primarily traveling for leisure.  Road warrior business travelers have different requirements.  Unless you are traveling for leisure the same amount as a frequent business traveler, the information following applies to you.

Since most Wizard of Odysseys clients live in the mid-Atlantic area or far from the Canadian or Mexico borders, Nexus and Sentri don’t make sense, because the intent of these programs is to get vehicular travelers quickly across the northern and southern borders.  With that focus, these programs have limited other benefits.  Strike these programs off your list.

Mobile Passport is a free app (some companies authorized for this program added paid features, but these are not necessary).  When loaded, you enter your passport information when establishing an account and when returning from a trip you enter your trip information.  Once completed, you receive an electronic receipt with a QR code that you take along with your passport to a Customs and Border Patrol officer for entry.  Personally, I don’t think this saves enough to use, but it is free.

CLEAR, created by a private company, uses biometrics to process you thru airport security screenings.  Once enrolled, you pass thru CLEAR and are then escorted to a security checkpoint.

There is an annual membership fee, but the plan is to expand usage to stadiums, arenas and even to payment processing.  Keep in mind that CLEAR is currently for security prior to boarding a plane at select US airports only and provides no facilitation thru immigration upon your return from an overseas trip.

This leaves TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.  TSA Precheck for a fee allows you to go thru security with simplified screening of you and your belongings.  Computers and liquids can stay in your hand luggage and shoes and belts do not need to be removed.  TSA PreCheck does not facilitate entry thru immigrations upon return from an overseas trip.

I recommend Global Entry to my clients.  For the difference in cost of TSA PreCheck, you get TSA PreCheck AND expedited processing thru immigrations on your return from an overseas trip.  How fast? The longest I have spent was 7 min when for some reason my fingerprints would not register.  This happened once.  With Global Entry you are at the baggage carousel before baggage arrives.

To enroll, an in-person appointment is required and the membership lasts for 5 years.  Adding your Global Entry number on a flight reservation within the US allows for simplified security screening as well.

So, if you fly a couple times a year within the US and if you think you will fly internationally at least once in the next five years, the additional cost of Global Entry over TSA PreCheck provides a savings of time that is worth it.  If you have ever returned to the US at popular landing times, you know that the wait times can be 30-45 min easily and much longer with any increased security concerns.  Breezing thru immigration after a long flight is a way to make return from a great trip easier!

Pat Ogle-CollinsThe Alphabet Soup of Airport Programs: What’s the Best Program for Me?

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