How to Skip Airport Lines

PHOTO: Marius Dobilas/Shutterstock

If traveling the world is the dream, airport lines are what nightmares are made of.

On one hand, we get to go on unforgettable adventures, eat exotic food, and spend quality time with our loved ones. On the other, we have to endure excruciatingly-long wait times at the baggage drop, security check, immigration, and even the bathroom. Although there’s nothing we can do about those bathroom queues, we can help you skip most airport and land border lines in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. How? By introducing you to trusted traveler programs.

TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is a Department of Homeland Security trusted traveler program designed to get you through screening faster at more than 200 U.S. airports. Approved passengers get to enter a special, shorter security line at the airport, keep their shoes on, keep their laptop and liquids in their bags, and walk through a simple metal detector instead of the X-ray body scanner, aka the “nudescope.”

TSA PreCheck is available to U.S. citizens and Green Card holders.

To enroll in TSA PreCheck, submit an online application, make an appointment for an interview, and submit fingerprints. If you’re an eligible traveler, you’ll get approved within two to three weeks, or in most cases sooner. The application costs $85, and the membership is valid for five years. Seventeen bucks per year is a small price to pay for the privilege of reducing stress levels at the beginning of your vacation.

Global Entry

Is international travel more your cup of tea? In this case, we recommend enrolling in Global Entry instead. Global Entry is a trusted traveler program run by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that offers expedited customs processing (shorter lines) for low-risk travelers on arrival back to the United States. You’ll find some Global Entry ports when routing through Canada as well.

The enrollment process for Global Entry is similar to TSA PreCheck, except it takes longer to schedule an in-person interview and you have to provide a list of countries you’ve traveled to in the last five years. When you visit an enrollment center to complete the process, you will submit your fingerprints and have a conversation with an agent. Make sure your record is clean because it might not be an easy approval if it isn’t.

Global Entry application costs $100 for five years and includes TSA PreCheck membership as well. Even if you fly abroad just once or twice per year, it’s worth paying just a little more. U.S. citizens, Green Card holders, and citizens of the following countries are eligible for Global Entry: Argentina, Colombia, Germany, India, Mexico, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, and United Kingdom.

Even if you fly abroad just once or twice per year, it’s worth paying just a little more.

 

NEXUS

Trusted travelers who frequent Canada may enroll in NEXUS, a CBP program for those looking to enter Canada and the United States (from either Canada or Mexico) without a hassle. Program members can use the shorter, designated lanes at border entry points, both air, and land, to go through customs faster.

Eligible travelers are citizens or permanent residents of Canada or the United States and citizens of Mexico who hold a Viajero Confiable membership. Permanent U.S. and Canada residents can’t apply for NEXUS membership until they’ve lived in either country for at least three years. NEXUS membership costs $50 and is valid for five years.

SENTRI

The Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) is another CBP program ideal for those who travel mostly to Mexico. Membership in the program allows expedited entry into the United States when crossing at designated checkpoints along the southern border. It’s a great option for those who frequently drive back and forth for business or to visit family members in Mexico.

A five-year SENTRI membership costs $122.50 and is available to citizens of any nationality, as long as they also have all the necessary documents to enter the United States as well.

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FAST

Free and Secure Trade (FAST) is a program for commercial vehicle drivers from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. FAST port of entry lanes enable quicker processing of commercial cargo entering one of the three countries.

Drivers looking to enroll in FAST must complete background checks and be U.S. citizens or U.S. Green Card holders, Canada citizens or have permanent resident status, or Mexico citizens. A five-year membership costs $50.

How to Receive an Enrollment Discount

Although neither TSA nor CBP offer discounts on enrollment fees, some loyalty programs, and credit card companies offer enrollment fee credits to members.

If you hold one of the following credits cards or are a member of the following loyalty programs, you can enroll in either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry and receive a statement credit every four to five years, depending on the program terms:

  • Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card
  • BB&T Spectrum Travel Rewards Card
  • Capital One Venture Card
  • Certain American Express Credit Cards
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
  • Citi Prestige Card
  • Diners Club Carte Blanche Corporate Card
  • Expedia Rewards Voyager Card from Citi
  • HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Marriott Bonvoy rewards points
  • MasterCard Black Card
  • MasterCard Gold Card
  • Navy Federal’s Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Card
  • Provident World+ Travel
  • Orbitz Rewards
  • Radisson Rewards
  • SunTrust Travel Rewards World Elite Mastercard Credit Card
  • United Explorer Card
  • United MileagePlus
  • S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card
  • S. Bank FlexPerks Gold American Express Card

In many cases, additional perks offset paying membership fees on these credit cards, provided you use other benefits. By holding multiple credit cards on the list, you’re able to get more family members on the Global Entry wagon and skip airport lines in a group. Keep in mind that your membership doesn’t extend to your spouse or kids, and each family member needs to enroll in the program.