Greatest Hits: Why Applying for (Just) TSA Pre-Check is a Terrible Decision

Posted in At the Terminal, Domestic US

It’s the first Monday in August and we’re going back to our Greatest Hits series to bring you the best of Fly&Dine. Today’s post covers the decision-making process of signing up for TSA Pre-Check.

Do you hear that noise? It’s the sound of thousands of blue-shirted government employees patting each other on the back. That’s because TSA Pre✓® just hit the 1,000,000 traveler mark. A million people! Woo hoo! That’s actually a staggering number when you think about it. A million people have now been screened and passed the security checks to get into the special Pre-Check lanes at 31 airports across the United States — either that or they were automatically given Pre-Check designation for having elite status on an airline. No matter how they got it, a million people are now qualified to keep their shoes and light jackets on. What a world we live in!

Truth be told, I love TSA Pre-Check. It makes my life so much easier at the airport. In fact, I timed it at DFW a year ago and I got through security in under a minute while it took my non-Pre-Check friend eighteen minutes to make it past the security conveyor belt. So why is applying for TSA Pre-Check a terrible decision?

The TSA Pre-Check Value Proposition

It all comes down to value. TSA Pre✓® is $85 for five years. That’s $17 a year. A deal, right? Technically, the answer is yes. In reality, though, it’s no deal at all. That’s because you can get Global Entry for a mere $100 for a five years. At $20/year versus $17/year, it’s a much better value. Global Entry INCLUDES TSA Pre✓® and for only $3 more a year, you also get an expedited customs experience every time you fly back to the US when you’re traveling internationally. Heck, I’d pay $3 each time for that privilege.

Paying for TSA Pre-Check without also getting Global Entry is like buying a car without a trunk. Sure, it works just like a car should, but wouldn’t you rather pay a little more for the convenience of a place to put your dead bodies groceries?

TSA Pre-Check < Global Entry < NEXUS???

The application process for each is similar, although you do need a passport for Global Entry and you don’t for Pre-Check. Here’s a comparison chart here. If you look closely on the chart, though, there’s another program that seems even better than Global Entry. It’s the NEXUS program and it’s only $50 for five years, but comes with both Global Entry privileges AND TSA Pre-Check. WHAT?!?!? I’m not as familiar with NEXUS, but it seems like it has all of the benefits of Global Entry and Pre-Check but for less money AND with additional border crossing privileges into Canada. Am I missing something here? Is NEXUS the best Customs & Border Protection Program out there? If you’ve tried it, let me know your experience down in the comments.

The Bottom Line

So, if you came here wondering if you should apply for TSA Pre-Check, the answer is no. Apply for Global Entry instead. While I’m not personally familiar with NEXUS, you should explore that as an option, too, especially if it’s the same as Global Entry, but cheaper. Why would the government run a program with all of the benefits of the other programs but for half the price? I don’t know. I bet they don’t either.

UPDATE: Thanks to @eprowten on Twitter for pointing out that the enrollment centers for NEXUS are all based in Canada or the northern US. That means if you live in a US/Canada border state, you can get your NEXUS discount. For the rest of us, Global Entry seems to be the best value for your $$$.

Photo:Attribution Some rights reserved by jurvetson

Comments

  1. For me personally I made what you see as a terrible decision because I thought it was likely that CBP wouldn’t classify me as a low risk traveller. I preferred to get the sure thing for $85 over taking a chance on whether the enrollment officer likes my explanation of why I spend so much time in what they once called “countries of interest” or how I can afford to travel without income. Furthermore, AFAIK standalone TSA issued Precheck cannot be taken away over a customs violation or tense verbal exchange with CBP, whereas Precheck tied to a GE KTN certainly can be.

  2. I went the NEXUS route since I grew up in Detroit (family there) and friends in Buffalo. I have used NEXUS quite a few times going back and forth both driving and flying into Canada. It basically makes it like back in the 90s going to Canada by car where it was just like crossing a bridge into another state. There have been a few times I flew up to Pearson Toronto airport from DC because the tickets to Europe were $400 USD vs $1200 USD. So when flying into Toronto it is exactly like using Global Entry in the states except they use retinal scans instead of fingerprint. Well worth the $50.

  3. I did the Nexus approach a couple of years ago. Colorado based, but I planned to use Seattle for my interview, even booked a refundable ticket to SEA for about $600 (worth it IMO). Ended up doing a “walk in” interview in Ottawa which they were happy to handle. Best $50 I have ever spent!

  4. To add, Nexus does include everything in Global Entry, so its a win/win if you can make a interview in Northern US locations or Canada work for your schedule. If you travel as much as I do, and also travel to Canada, Nexus (which includes Global Entry) is the way to go.

    Now comparing TSA Precheck to Global Entry: If you travel a fair amount domestically but don’t have a passport, $85 is still money well spent.

  5. Not too long ago CBP came to our company do to onsite enrollments. This may be a hidden option for some of you.
    The only “hassle question” from CBP was if I had citizenship in another country.

    Amex Platinum only reimburses for GE or TSA pre check and no other programs including Nexus, Sentri, Privium, etc.
    I think that’s one reason why Nexus gets less attention even though it’s in theory the better option (more features for less $).

    TSA pre-check at least has many more enrollment centers vs. GE. Seeing some of the GE enrollment hours, I can see why it appears to be more hassle (PIT is open for only 45 minutes/day 1:15PM – 2:30PM, Monday – Sunday except Wednesday and 1:15PM – 8:00PM, Wednesday!)

  6. You forgot to mention TSA pulling back on having full pre-check in many airports & only offering PC ‘lite’ much of the time now. Apparently they think the $85 is a charitable donation on the public’s part & do not see the need to provide the service we are paying for.

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