A hack for frequent travelers

By | April 4, 2016

I’m a little bit hesitant to publish this article because I don’t actually want these travel programs to become popular. The more people who join, the less valuable it is for me personally. But I only have a handful of readers and those readers, yes I’m talking about you specifically, are so marvelous that I felt obligated to share. If you travel often, are a U.S. citizen or a citizen of a few other random countries, aren’t on the terrorist watch list and can pass a background check, go apply RIGHT NOW.

Oh, I haven’t actually explained what the programs are that you’re applying for? Right. Sorry, I’m really excited about this. I’m talking about Global Entry, a perk from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CPB) and the TSA precheck, a perk from the Transportation Security Administration.


When I’m waiting in line, I like to strike a pose.

Global Entry lets you zip through customs and immigration when you’re flying into the United States internationally and the TSA precheck lets you zip through the security line in certain airports for certain airlines when you’re traveling domestically (or flying out of the United States). Whether it’s your pants or getting through long lines, who doesn’t like to zip?

I flew in from Montevideo to Miami recently and the experience was nothing short of heavenly. A horde of passengers exited my airplane and we all started walking through the airport to go to immigration and customs when we came to a fork in the hallway. There was an airport worker herding people; I said the magic words “Global Entry” and she smiled brightly and pointed to the right. The vast majority of my airplane comrade suckers veered left while I and approximately four others veered to the glorious right.

I timed this next part so I could share it with my sister.

Total time to get through customs and immigration using Global Entry: 4 minutes, 25 seconds

  • https://pixabay.com/en/time-clock-stopwatch-measure-217812/45 seconds at a kiosk swiping my passport, flashing my fingerprints, answering easy customs questions and printing a receipt.
  • 1 minute, 40 seconds waiting in line to talk to the immigration officer.
  • 2 minutes talking to the immigration officer. We spent most of that time talking about his friend also named Anita (my real name isn’t Thriftygal) who recently married. Her new last name was Mann and we chuckled about that. Anita Mann. It’s ironic because now that she’s married, she actually doesn’t need a man. Haha.

And then I was done! In less than five minutes, I finished one of the most annoying aspects of traveling internationally. You guys, the experience was life affirming.

TSA precheck is pretty fabulous as well. I flew to DC a couple of weeks ago and breezed through the special, always shorter line for the security screening. I didn’t have to take out my laptop or take off my shoes or remove my liquids from my luggage. I wished that I wore belts so that I could chuckle when I didn’t have to take it off when I went through security. The agents are friendlier and more handsome. The angels sang as I made my way through, passing up all the chumps waiting in the regular line. It reminded me of my time as a flight attendant and I’m in favor of anything that reminds me of that happy time.

Okay, so now that you’re sold on the utter fabulousness of this, you’re asking how much and how you can get this. The TSA precheck applications costs $85 and the Global Entry application costs $100. If you get Global Entry though, you automatically get the TSA precheck. I’m not sure why anyone would do only the TSA precheck – maybe if you never plan to leave the United States? Ever? But for an additional $15, I’d get it regardless. Didn’t my Montevideo story entice you at all?

To apply, go to the CBP’s website and fill out the application and pay the fee. They’ll email you an approval not too long after if you’re approved. You then have to schedule an interview. It’s mostly instructional, explaining how you use the kiosks and such. Then, you bask in the awesomeness of the shorter lines and the beautiful agents.

https://pixabay.com/en/credit-card-payment-credit-business-348720/Oh, one final note. Certain credit cards will reimburse you for the fees for these programs. I thought the vast majority of them were not worth the annual fee. Spending $450 to save $100 isn’t thrifty. Some of the additional perks *may* be worth the price for you personally, but I was unimpressed as you have to do quite a bit of planning. For example, you can get the Citi Prestige credit card. It costs $450/year, but if you’re getting the Global Entry application fee ($100) and buying an airplane ticket that cost more than $250 (they’ll reimburse up to $250) and already paying for four nights in the same hotel (they’ll reimburse for the fourth night) and will spend $3,000 in the first three months of having the card (they’ll give you 50,000 miles), this card might be worth getting. It seems like a lot of hoops to jump through and a lot to remember to make it worthwhile.

Do not get this card if you have credit card debt you’re struggling to pay off. Don’t get this card if you’re not going anywhere anytime soon and won’t need the perks. I imagine only three or four of you out there may actually benefit from this card. Please think very carefully if you’re one of those few. And in case you’re curious, I’m not getting any money if you click and apply for the card. I know there’s a way for bloggers to do that, but I couldn’t figure it out in a timely manner.

18 thoughts on “A hack for frequent travelers

  1. Adventures With Poopsie

    Unfortunately I don’t qualify (Australian citizen), but Poopsie is a dual Australian/UK citizen, so I will get him to check it out. We are travelling to the USA in August so he can breeze through customs and I can join the long line 🙁

  2. Papadad.

    Global entry and TSA pre check are indeed great. I never bothered with global entry only because you had to schedule an interview only at certain border entry airports to qualify and I was always in a hurry to get here or there while on travel that I didn’t want to take the time out for the interview -or schedule a long layover especially after a 17 hour flight etc etc.

    Now, TSA Pre check is absolutely great. Used to get it automatically with gold status on a number of airlines for almost every flight but not anymore. Now it requires a background check Etc to qualify. Still worth it.

    After a few million miles flown, I don’t get excited about flights any more. Delays happen. Luggage gets lost, etc etc. I finally learned to just go with the flow, expect delays and lousy service, and just keep smiling. When good service and on time arrivals occur I consider it a bonus upside. Sad but true !

    It’s great to be retired and not traveling all the time – now it’s entirely for pleasure. Good stuff. Life is good.

  3. Gerard

    The equivalent for Canadians is called Nexus, and it’s absolutely awesome because you can use it both for the US and for Canada. You can also use it for land crossings, including by car (but only if everyone in the car has it).
    And I wouldn’t worry about this getting spoiled by too many chumps getting in on it. I’ve been in a couple of conversations with airport security folks where they say the plan is to eventually encourage/coerce almost everyone into having it, and moving more and more staff over to the trusted traveller lines. Eventually almost everyone will use it to breeze through, and the only people in the regular lines will be people who fly once every five years and people who don’t want The Government looking at their irises or fingerprints.

  4. SteveR

    “I’m not sure why anyone would do only the TSA precheck” – The number of cities that have Global Entry interview centers is way fewer than the number of cities that have TSA PreCheck interview centers. So, if you live in certain medium-sized cities, you can interview for TSA PreCheck locally and conveniently, but you might have to travel far to get Global Entry.

    And honestly, I think most people are aware of PreCheck but not Global Entry, so they wouldn’t even think to get the latter.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      @SteveR – gotcha! That does make sense for why someone would opt only for the TSA precheck.

  5. FrugalVeganTravel

    Yes! TSA PreCheck and Global Entry have made my traveling life SO much easier! I’ve had the same experience with Global Entry time-wise… though I’ve never timed it, it always seems to take about 5 minutes. The first time I used it, I was coming back from Guatemala with my boyfriend. He didn’t have Global Entry, so I went through on my own and then waited for him. He spent 45 minutes in line. And for me it’s not just the time; it’s the utter despair that comes from waiting in what feels like the world’s longest line. It’s so nice to skip that!

  6. Meg

    I love your blog, please keep writing. : ) How long do these passes last for?

  7. Waz

    I applied a week ago for Global entry as I am about to travel soon.

  8. Carol Bonella

    Do they do these for European travellers? I am from the UK.

  9. darelldd

    Thanks for asking, Meg! I just came here for the same question. I couldn’t find anywhere on the official pages that mentions how long the benefit lasts. I wish I could also find where the “interview” will take place.

  10. Ally

    I discovered I was in pre check about 2 years ago. My brother applied for it because he was traveling on business a lot, and somehow the Gumment decided they would just clear me, too, for free. It is quite nice. I heard on NPR just last week that it is well below goal on sign ups, which has resulted in hiring fewer tsa agents, so the lines will be very long for regular travelers this summer.

  11. Tasha

    I first wanted you to know I am reading your posts and enjoy your ‘voice’ and stories – so thank you for each of those. Second, I only signed up for pre check recently because I was in a rush (thrifty no no) and missed that global was inclusive (sort of a duh moment later). Also a consideration is that global can apparently take up to 6 months to get an interview appointment whereas TSA pre check was a few days to a week at most. Lastly, if you want to get jiggy with the explanations – helping people understand the investment of say $85 to save two hours versus what you can make or enjoy life otherwise in 2 hours might be a fun challenge…..thank you again!

  12. tissueking22

    I don’t fly international but I will admit that my business travels would be more enjoyable without that initial wait in the security line.

    Two people I travel with quite often point jokes at me because I have to wait in line while they zoom right on past with their Precheck. I think it’s time to stop being cheap.

  13. Ahmed E

    I only got global entry last year and just used it for the first time on 4/1 on an international flight .. It is true that it got me through passport control quickly.. But it also was the first time that customs asked to open my bags and check everything inside.. So even if you have global entry you might still get stuck in customs and miss your connection (that’s what happened to me.. Ended up in Miami for 8 more hours) I would still get it for the always “Pre-Check” which is AMAAAZING and living so close to Vancouver I can use the Nexus lanes! Best $100 spent last year.. Wait actually work paid for it! 😉

  14. morton Kelsey

    Thank you for the information on Global Entry, my wife and I just applied for it. I really enjoy your blog, very informative and interesting.


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