Credit Card Hacks To Speed Through Airport Security (TSA Pre, Global Entry, CLEAR)

Credit Card Hacks To Speed Through Airport Security (TSA Pre, Global Entry, CLEAR)

Traveling this holiday season and don't want to deal with security lines? You may be surprised to find out that your credit card may fully reimburse you for the cost of enrolling in some of the most popular expedited screening programs available in the US, such as TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR.

TSA PreCheck line (left) vs. CLEAR + TSA PreCheck (right) with no wait and plenty of agents at SFO

Here is an introduction to three popular programs that many credit card issuers provide as a complimentary benefit:

TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is the expedited security screening program run by the TSA. This program allow members to use the "TSA PreCheck" line when flying from a participating airport & airline. You also will no longer need to remove your shoes, belt, jacket, and electronics during the security screening process when in the US.

Eligibility: U.S. citizens and permanent residents (green card). Note that although foreign nationals from specific countries (see below) cannot apply for PreCheck directly, they can get Global Entry, which includes TSA PreCheck (full details).

Cost: $85 (valid for five years)

How to pay: This perk is included in the widest range of credit cards, and usually allow you to choose either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Since Global Entry costs more (at no out-of-pocket cost to you) and includes TSA PreCheck, it is better to go with Global Entry. See section below on credit cards that cover this benefit. Additionally, it appears that TSA PreCheck application fee has to be paid with a credit card in person with a card matching your name, but Global Entry applications are submitted and paid for online, so theoretically anyone can pay for your membership.

Global Entry

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance (immigration and customs) for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Note that Global Entry membership INCLUDES TSA PreCheck!

Global Entry Kiosk | Source: cbp.gov

Eligibility: U.S. citizens, permanent residents (green card), and citizens of specific countries such as those from India, United Kingdom, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan (full details).

Cost: $100 (valid for five years)

How to pay: Many credit cards cover the full cost of Global Entry (GE), including popular travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Amex Platinum, Capital One Venture X, etc. It is not uncommon for someone to hold multiple cards that each offer this benefit, and since your Global Entry application payment can be made with any credit card (doesn't have to match the applicant name), you can choose to gift this credit to a friend/family or use someone's card to pay for yours. Additionally, Amex Platinum authorized users actually get their own TSA/Global Entry credit, and the main cardholder can actually add up to 99 no-fee Amex Platinum "Gold" authorized user cards (I know it's confusing, and this is different from the Amex Gold card, but yeah...banks), thereby essentially generating up to 100 "GE/TSA Pre credits" for this benefit at no extra cost. Good for large families I guess?

CLEAR

CLEAR is a privately-run program that has partnered with the TSA to allow you to skip the "ID verification" step of the typical airport security check. Instead, you will use your biometrics at a dedicated lane to verify your identity, and proceed to the appropriate security lane (this is where having both CLEAR and TSA PreCheck comes in handy!).

Eligibility: U.S. citizens and permanent residents (officially). However, in practice, there are many data points showing anyone with a valid state issued license/ID should be able to get approved. There are many CLEAR free trial options available, so you can give it a try and only pay after you have been approved.

TSA vs TSA Pre vs CLEAR | Source: Thrifty Traveler

Cost: $179* (per year) + $60 (per additional family member)

*Many programs like Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus offer heavily discounted or even free CLEAR memberships to their members (free to sign up).


Are These Programs Worth It?

From personal experience, these memberships can be totally worth it, even if you only travel 1-2 times a year. If I had to choose, I would prioritize getting Global Entry, since it is roughly the same cost and includes TSA PreCheck.

Headed to the lounge after speeding through immigration with Global Entry at Toronto YYZ Pre-Clearance Facility

Prior to the pandemic, I traveled internationally quite often, and since I was a student, the dates usually coincided with major holidays and when most other students traveled. There was one time at the pre-clearance facility in YYZ (Toronto Pearson International) where I was one of the last to de-plane, but whisked through customs and immigration checkpoint because of Global Entry. My friend who was on the same flight and got off earlier actually got through a whole hour after I did (while I was at a Priority Pass lounge thanks to my Chase Sapphire Reserve).

Security Checkpoint at JFK Terminal 4

TSA PreCheck is probably the most used benefit, since I sometimes lounge-hop across various terminals that are not connected air-side and need to re-clear security. Every time I use it, I'm so thankful I got it and cannot imagine life without it. It's THAT good (even though these days even TSA PreCheck lines can be long). This brings me to CLEAR...

CLEAR | Source: https://52citiesblog.com/

CLEAR is more hit-or-miss, since not every airport (and terminal) supports it, and more often than not, TSA PreCheck alone was fast enough. Note that PreCheck and CLEAR are complimentary to each other, and it is most beneficial to have both. CLEAR helps you get your identity checked faster and get to the front of the security line, but without PreCheck you will still end up in the normal queue where you have to take off your shoes, belt, electronics, etc.

Enrolling in CLEAR @ SFO

I was recently flying out of JFK T4, and the regular security lines were insane! However, with both CLEAR and TSA PreCheck, I skipped right to the front and didn't even need to take out my ID, as everything was pulled up and verified when my eyes were scanned at the CLEAR pods!


Conclusion

So, should you get it? Well, I would say if your credit card is already paying for it, there really isn't a reason not to, especially when the potential time-savings can be the difference between making/missing a flight, or just some extra time to enjoy at the lounge!

Relaxing at the JFK Amex Centurion Lounge

Additionally, if you are a frequent traveler, even CLEAR's substantially higher price-tag can be justified. However, even for those that travel only a few times a year and only do rare international trips, Global Entry (which includes TSA PreCheck) is still a huge bargain and worth to get in my opinion!