Why Applying for TSA Pre-Check is a Terrible Decision

Posted in At the Terminal, Domestic US

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


  1. Sensational and misleading title. Makes it sound like you are advocating against TSA pre-check. But in the end, you are, just using a different vehicle.

  2. NEXUS is a great program, and I have been a member for 6 years now along with my wife and kids. The issue for many people is that NEXUS is a joint Canada-US program and you need to be interviewed by both US and Canadian officials. These interview locations are (for the most part) only at Point-of-Entry stations like Buffalo/Fort Erie or the Peace Arch BC/WA crossing.

  3. So if I never travel internationally, I’m still getting a bad deal? I travel internationally once in a blue moon with my young child. I’m not going to pay $100 for Global Entry for her. She can accompany me through TSA Precheck though. Everyone’s circumstances are different and I agree with others that think your title is misleading/offensive to those that have signed up for TSA Precheck

  4. Nexus is also free for kids. So for $100 (For 5 years) all 4 of us get GE, Nexus, and Pre Check.

    Evan mentioned the one downside (or plus depending on where you live). The other is you need to be approved by both us and Canada, so certain crimes/issues may prevent a nexus approval

    • $100 for five years for you and your kids? That’s an amazing deal, Josh! I wonder if the extra hassle of double-approval leads to the lower application fee for NEXUS. I’d actually assume it would be higher if both the US and Canada receives a cut.

  5. Global Entry also requires that you have a passport. If you don’t already have a passport you’re looking at another $110 + $25 in fees for a new passport (which is valid for 10 years). The Pre-Check only program is targeted at people without passports, although I think the message gets a bit muddled.

  6. If you’re offended by an article about TSA pre-check, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. I think this is a very informative piece about other options that are out there for frequent travelers. Don’t get your panties in a bunch, people!

  7. I’ve had Nexus since it was implemented, as I used to travel to Canada weekly for work. Forget about everything else, the first time you have to wait in a border crossing line for 2 hours on a holiday weekend, you’ll pay $50 to avoid that each time. Nexus users also get their own driving lane close to the border crossing. It’s absolutely expedited. But it’s also complicated. Not only do you need to apply, but then you’ll get a notification about an interview process at a pre-requested border location. The date is not easily changeable. Then you need to be interviewed, approved and briefed by both US and Canadian officials regarding the program. It takes a good 90 mins once you’re there.

    The good news: I get status matches elsewhere like with Global Entry. I travel mostly to and from Korea these days, and they also honor Nexus by giving me their Global Entry equivalent, SES. All for $50 every 5 years.

    • Nick, I’d rather admit I don’t know something than spend time trying to understand it and then presenting it to my readers as if I’m an expert on it. Luckily, my other readers have done a great job in illuminating me and everyone else through the informative comments they’ve left here.

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