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Your Complete Guide to Trusted Traveler Programs

So, let’s talked trusted traveler programs! They’ve been on my mind as I recently got an email reminding me that it was time to renew my Global Entry membership. Also Cleveland Hopkins, our local airport, recently added CLEAR screening capabilities. With something new to consider, it seemed like a good time to review all the options and benefits.

People that may benefit from a trusted traveler program (or two) include:

  • Frequent travelers, natch! In airports every week? Take back a little “you” time.
  • Anxious travelers. Do crowds and the “hurry up and wait” component of travel set your heart a-flutter? Buy yourself some extra time and space with one of these programs.
  • Traveling with multiple small children. Dread the herding of cats every time you enter the airport? Take one or two to-do’s off your plate.
  • Elderly travelers or those who travel often with an elderly friend/relative. While it’s true that those over 75 don’t need to remove shoes or light jackets during screening, if they travel somewhat frequently or internationally, a trusted traveler program will offer additional benefits that might help reduce the cumbersome/stressful nature of travel.
Complete Guide to Trusted Traveler Programs | CLEAR | TSA Pre-Check | Global Entry

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TSA Pre-Check

TSA Pre-check is likely the most familiar of the travel expediting services. It’s available at most major airports and allows participants the ability to forgo removing liquids, laptops, shoes, belts and coats when going through airport screening. The drawback to the service is that it has become so popular! Lines at TSA Pre-Check are now sometimes even longer than the traditional screening line. Personally, with Global Entry costing just $15 more for 5 years and including TSA Pre-Check, I don’t see any reason to sign up for TSA Pre as a stand-alone option. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever travel outside the US, for an extra $15 I’d bet on the chance that something might come up and go with Global Entry instead.

TSA Pre-Check

Global Entry

To date, Global Entry has been my trusted traveler program of choice. You get all the benefits of TSA Pre-Check along with expedited re-entry to the US from foreign destinations. At just $100 for 5 years, it seems like a pretty small price to pay even if you don’t travel especially frequently.

Making Global Entry an even better option is the fact that more and more credit cards are covering the cost of membership. The list below (including Natty Gal favorite, the Chase Sapphire Reserve) ALL offer free or reduced Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check to their cardholders. While some of them have high annual fees, they also offer many benefits and are worth considering if you travel frequently.

When traveling with Global Entry, keep in mind that it works most effectively when you hand carry your luggage. If you have a tight connection, much of the time you save by getting through customs and immigration quickly will be eroded if you have to wait for luggage pickup before transferring to your connecting flight.

Trusted Traveler Programs | Global Entry
Global Entry and APC Kiosks, located at international airports across the nation, streamline the passenger’s entry into the United States. Photo by James Tourtellotte

CLEAR

CLEAR membership allows you to use quick moving, self-service kiosks to identify yourself using biometric data prior to physical screening. No more worrying if your state ID is still compliant with new FAA rules! If you use CLEAR in combination with Global Entry, you should be in pretty great shape.

The drawback is it’s expense. At $179 per year, it’s significantly more costly than the other Trusted Traveler programs. However, there are a few ways you can save on membership:

  1. When one household member enrolls at full price, 3 additional family members can enroll at just $50/year. These should be over 18 year old family members, as those under 18 but traveling with a CLEAR member, are allowed to use the CLEAR line for free.
  2. There are an abundance of “two month free” offers out there. Right now you can use the codes INSIDER, AFF149 or GIVING2M.
  3. If you are Delta Sky Miles Member (free to sign up), you can get $60 off. If you have Silver, Gold or Platinum elite status OR have a Delta SkyMiles branded credit cardholder, $70 off and if you are Diamond status, your membership is free. NOTE: If you are using a Delta benefit to sign up, register online HERE. You’ll be prompted to add your SkyMiles number.
  4. AmEx card holders should look for statement credit offers. A $50 or more cash back benefit is a popular one that AmEx frequently offers.
Complete Guide to Trusted Traveler Programs | CLEAR | TSA Pre-Check | Global Entry
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NEXUS and SENTRI

These lesser known programs are really only beneficial if your international travel is limited to Canada and/or Mexico. NEXUS costs $50 for 5 years and expedites air, land and sea entry to the US from Canada. If Canada is the only place you travel to regularly and if you typically are traveling by car, it’s a slightly more cost effective option than TSA Pre or Global Entry. SENTRI covers air and land entry to the US from both Canada and Mexico. It costs $122.25 for 5 years and again, seems most beneficial to those that travel primarily by car.

SENTRI | NEXUS
NEXUS Lane at the Canadian Border

In conclusion, I definitely plan to renew Global Entry. It’s included with my primary credit card so there really is no reason not to. And I’m considering CLEAR but am not quite 100% sold yet. The majority of airports that offer it are ones that I’d typically just transfer through as opposed to actually checking in at. And while TSA Pre lines have grown longer in Cleveland, I’ve yet to experience any extraordinary delays.

Because you don’t need an appointment for CLEAR and can register any time you happen to be at the airport, I think I’m going to wait things out. If I get stuck in a really long TSA Pre line at an airport that also offers CLEAR, the option is there to sign up right then. And if I’m at an airport that doesn’t offer CLEAR but has a long TSA Pre line, signing up wouldn’t do any good anyway. Also CLEAR Sports is currently free so there is no reason to upgrade for just that benefit. As additional airports sign on and as other companies (Delta, Hertz) continue to partner with CLEAR, there might be a more compelling reason to join the paid membership.

Even if you are new to trusted traveler programs, it’s not too late to take advantage prior to the summer season. Happy travels!

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