If there’s one aspect of air travel that passengers despise the most, it is airport security. Not far behind, clearing customs and immigration is a second aspect of the air travel experience that passengers dread. It’s no secret as to why travelers don’t look forward to going through airport security or customs and immigration. With long never-ending lines at immigration and invasive screening procedures at TSA security checkpoints, immigration and airport security are two things most passengers would choose to completely do a way with if they had the opportunity.
Luckily, in recent years, a number of programs have been made available to travelers. These programs are designed to lessen the stress and long-wait times associated with both airport security and customs and immigration. While the are a number of trusted travel programs available worldwide, here’s everything you need to know about 4 of the more popular programs The College Points recommends to travelers in the United States and Canada.
Expedited Airport Security Programs
There are two programs that can save travelers time when clearing TSA security checkpoints. The first and most popular program is TSA PreCheck. TSA PreCheck is a program administered by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It’s available to approved low-risk travelers. At $85 for 5 years, it’s reasonably priced and offers travelers a fairly consistent experience.
The second program is CLEAR. CLEAR is unique in that it’s one of the few trusted traveler programs that’s not run and administered by a government agency. Instead, CLEAR is private venture that allows approved travelers to speed through security checkpoints at airports, stadiums, and arenas across the United States. At $179 a year, it’s quite pricey. However, if you are a seasoned frequent flyer that travelers through frequently travelers through airports with CLEAR, the service will save you an hour or more each year.
Here’s a more detailed look at the two expedited airport security programs:
TSA PreCheck is one of the most well known and most popular trusted traveler programs. With more Americans traveling domestically as opposed to internationally, this program makes far more sense than Global Entry for the vast majority of travelers. Launched in 2011, TSA PreCheck was initially offered randomly to low-risk passengers. However, in 2013, the TSA and DHS phased out random selection and opened applications for the TSA PreCheck program. Today, the only travelers who can take advantage of the program are those that go through the enrollment process and receive approval.
TSA PreCheck allows passengers to use dedicated lanes at TSA checkpoints at over 200 airports across the United States. Additionally, passengers with TSA PreCheck experience a far less invasive and complicated screening process at checkpoints. While standard screening requires that passengers remove liquids, large electronics, their shoes, and belts, passengers with PreCheck aren’t subject to these requirements.
Here’s what travelers with TSAPreCheck can experience at airport security checkpoints:
- Dedicated lanes at most TSA checkpoints
- No need to remove light jackets, shoes, or belts
- No need to remove your laptop, larger electronics (like an iPad), or 3-1-1 liquids from carry-on bags
While the benefits of PreCheck may seem limited, travelers enrolled in the program will notice a significant reduction in the time it takes to clear security especially when combined with CLEAR.
CLEAR is the only privately owned and operated program included in this guide. CLEAR allows travelers who are enrolled in the service to speed through the first stage of airport security screening at select airports across the US. To clarify what is meant by “first stage”, the first stage of clearing security checkpoints is the initial wait prior to presenting a TSA agent with your boarding document and a form of identification. In many cases, this stage of the security screening process takes longer than the actual screening procedures. CLEAR allows approved travelers to use dedicated lanes and kiosks to bypass the lines leading up to the screening area.
CLEAR has the potential to save serious frequent flyers hours each year. Instead of waiting in a long line to present documents to a TSA agent, travelers enrolled in CLEAR walk up to a CLEAR kiosk and then use biometric data like their fingerprint or iris scan to provide their identity prior to making their way to the screening area. If you combine CLEAR with TSA PreCheck, you’ll save hours each year and enjoy are stress and wait-free experience at screening checkpoints across the United States.
Additionally, CLEAR is available at large stadiums and arenas across the United States. Instead of waiting in long lines prior to entering a stadium or arena, individuals enrolled in CLEAR can use dedicated lanes and receive expedited security screening.
Expedited Immigration and Customs Programs
If you’ve ever arrived in the US off of an international flight, you’ve probably come across long slow-moving lines leading up to a kiosk or immigration officer. When entering the US, long lines at customs and immigration are not all that uncommon. Luckily, there are a number of programs that allow approved travelers to bypass those long lines. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) administer the following trusted traveler programs which offer travelers expedited entry into the United States: Global Entry, NEXUS, Sentri, and FAST. However, of the programs included in that list, there are two programs that are of more use to frequent flyers than others.
The first program is Global Entry. Launched in 2008, Global Entry allows approved travelers to receive access to dedicated kiosks and lanes upon arriving in the United States at a number of major US airports. Global Entry dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes to clear immigration at participating airports.
The second program is similar to Global Entry however, is designed for travelers who frequently cross between the United States and Canada-border. Here’s a more detailed look at the two expedited immigration and customs programs:
Global Entry offers the most value of any program included in this guide. Global Entry comes with TSA PreCheck and of course all of the benefits of Global Entry. Global Entry can be used at a number of major US airports upon arriving off of an international flight.
Rather than wait in line to use automated kiosks and then once again to see a CBP agent, travelers with Global Entry can proceed to dedicated kiosks which use biometric data to pull up a traveler’s personal information including flight details. Once the kiosk has identified who that traveler is, they will be presented with a slip of paper with personal details including flight information. They can then proceed to a CBP agent, hand the agent the slip of paper, and head to baggage claim. It’s that simple and seamless.
As previously mentioned, Global Entry also comes with TSA PreCheck which can be used at over 200 airports throughout the US. Additionally, when you receive Global Entry, you’ll receive a physical ID card in the mail. This card can be used as a Real ID when traveling to and from the US. With the Real ID deadline just months away, your Global Entry card can prevent any travel disruption should you face problems receiving a Real ID.
Out of all of the programs included in this guide, NEXUS is by far the least popular program. This is because the program is only worthwhile for a limited number of travelers in the US and Canada. Unlike Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, the benefits of NEXUS can also be used when arriving at and departing from select airports in Canada.
NEXUS is essentially a joint trusted traveler program between the US and Canada that allows travelers who frequently cross the US-Canada border the opportunity to breeze through immigration. NEXUS is especially useful for passengers that commute between the two North American countries or for travelers who frequently travel between the US and Canada. Travelers enrolled in the NEXUS program can use dedicated lanes in Canada and Global Entry kiosks in the US when traveling between either country. The main difference between Global Entry and NEXUS is that travelers enrolled in NEXUS can only use the Global Entry kiosks when arriving from Canada.
In addition to using dedicated lanes at immigration when traveling by air, some major border crossings between the US and Canada feature dedicated lanes for travelers enrolled in NEXUS. Finally, travelers enrolled in NEXUS will also receive TSA PreCheck which can be used when traveling from over 200 airports in the US.
Bottom Line – Trusted Traveler Programs
I personally have enrolled in a number of these trusted traveler programs included in this guide. That being said, I don’t recommend that leisure travelers or occasional travelers apply for every program on this list. Each program comes with its own unique pros and cons. However, regardless of what program you choose, you’ll save a significant amount of time each year and enjoy a less stressful experience when traveling by air.
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