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How to Optimize Your Air Travel with TSA PreCheck, Clear, Global Entry, and Mobile Passport

Imagine arriving at the airport for a long awaited vacation, when you suddenly realize everyone else has the same idea as you and getting through security lines will take a very long time, almost to the point of being unbearable or missing your flight.  If you have ever been in that type of situation, you know how stressful it can be.  Luckily, there are a few ways to help reduce that potential stress and save time when flying.

There are many ways to optimize air travel, especially when flying with kids, that include saving time at security checkpoints, mobile apps, having airline loyalty status, saving money on bag fees, and the list goes on.

One of the ways I like to optimize air travel is knowing which programs to sign up for to spare ourselves  waiting in long security lines at the airport, whether departing or on arrival back into the United States, when traveling internationally. 

There are a few programs that can help and include TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, Mobile Passport and Clear.  These programs are all expedited screening programs that help travelers get through airport security checkpoints much faster. 

The main differences between all of these programs are that TSA PreCheck and Clear save you time when departing for flights, while Global Entry and Mobile Passport help save you time when returning to the United States from an international destination.

Flight Departures

TSA PreCheck is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Trusted Traveler Program that provides expedited security screening benefits for flights departing from U.S. Airports and is valid for five years.

  • Experience a smoother screening process with no need to remove shoes, belts, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops, or light jackets.
  • Wait 5 Minutes or Less
    • In August 2022, 95% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than 5 min.
  • Families Welcome
    • Children 12 and under can join a parent/guardian with TSA PreCheck in the dedicated lanes.
  • Nationwide Reach
    • More than 200 airports and 81 airlines provide TSA PreCheck

Clear is a private company program that allows for a quick identity verification experience before the physical security checkpoint. Step right up to a Clear machine and verify you are you with your eyes or fingerprint instead of waiting to show government issued photo I.D.

  • Clear is only available at some airports nationwide, but does offer benefits at sports stadiums and health passes on their mobile app
  • Even with Clear, you’ll still need TSA PreCheck if you want to avoid the general security line altogether and avoid having to remove shoes, jackets and other items.

Clear pricing starts at $189 per year for one person, with family plans an additional $60/adult.  There is promotional pricing available (United and Delta members) and sometimes other promotional offers available to reduce the price.

If you do not travel multiple times per year internationally, I'd recommend applying for the TSA PreCheck Program, as it is cheaper and typically much faster.  The current cost of TSA PreCheck is $85 with it being valid for five years.  If you're a frequent traveler, one of your current credit cards may even cover the fee, Credit Cards and Loyalty Programs featuring TSA PreCheck.

Flight Arrivals

When arriving back to the United States from an international flight, there are two programs that can help save you time that include:

Global Entry costs $100 and is valid for 5 years

  • Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports.
  • Global Entry members also receive TSA PreCheck benefits as part of their membership.

If you aren’t eligible for Global Entry or don’t want to go through the long application process, Mobile Passport is another option that is free.  Mobile Passport is free app for expediting going through customs on arrival at certain airports.   

Mobile Passport Control is a free mobile app (available on iOS and android) that streamlines the entry process on arrival

  • Mobile Passport Control (MPC) allows eligible travelers to submit their passport and customs declaration information through a free, secure app on their smartphone or other mobile device. The use of MPC streamlines the traveler’s entry process into the United States by reducing passport control inspection time and overall wait time.  Use of MPC is free and does not require pre-approval. Travelers who successfully use the MPC app will no longer have to complete a paper form or use an APC kiosk. As a result, travelers may experience shorter wait times, less congestion and efficient processing.
Based on my experience, the lines for Mobile Passport at the immigration checkpoint are sometimes a lot shorter than the lines for Global Entry, but your experience may vary depending on the arrival airport and number of passengers.


Summary
If you fly even once or twice a year, I would highly recommend getting TSA PreCheck, at a minimum, as the time savings and expedited screening is well worth the cost.  

We have been in situations where we have arrived for our flight late or the airport is just really busy with long lines and being able to quickly go through security screening has saved us from missing our flights on many occasions.

When traveling we routinely use TSA PreCheck and Mobile Passport and have used Clear when entering Oracle Park in San Francisco, as well as showing our Clear Health Pass to gain faster entry into museums (when Covid vaccination status was being checked/verified).  As we have started to travel more internationally, I am considering signing up for Global Entry and covering the cost of it for our family with a few travel credit cards that provide a credit for it.

There are many ways to optimize your travel when flying and I hope this guide helps you make a decision on adding one of these great time-saving programs for your next flight.