Categories: airports

Which Trusted Traveler Program is Right for You?

Have you ever walked up to the airport security line or immigration line and didn’t want to wait in line? Wish you could just skip it? Or at least mostly skip it – I can’t say you can skip lines altogether, without making anyone mad or getting in trouble. Fortunately, there are ways to make your airport experience much better. How? By getting a Known Traveler Number. There are several Trusted Traveler Programs that give you a known traveler number, but which one is the best for you?

Long TSA Security lines like these can be avoided

What is a Known Traveler Number?

A Known Traveler Number (KTN) is a number that is assigned to you by enrolling (and being accepted) into one of several programs facilitated by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The exact perks depend on which program you apply for, but once accepted it will be well worth it.

What are the Steps to Get a KTN?

Even though the Trusted Traveler programs themselves vary, the steps are pretty much the same. There’s the application, then an interview after waiting some time for them to review your application. 

  1. The Application: This is the point at which you should know the depth of information you’re about to give the government. In addition to your current address and work, you’re required to detail everywhere you’ve lived, worked, and countries you’ve visited for the last 10 years. This also requires an application fee. The amount depends on which program you’re applying for.
  2. The Interview: After waiting for your application to be processed, you’re required to have an in-person interview. The interview is usually with a Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) agent. It’s basically why do you want to be approved, what you intend to do and make sure you don’t have a criminal history.
  3. Approval: Typically, you’ll be told if you passed or not at the end of your interview. Sometimes they’ll have to review more things. If you get denied, sorry, go home. If not, then you’ll receive your card and KTN in the mail. You can then add your KTN to your frequent flyer profiles and make sure it is added to your previously purchased tickets.

Different Programs – Different Benefits

As I mentioned, there are several different Trusted Traveler Programs. Each one has slightly different benefits, though they all help minimize the time you’ll spend waiting in lines while you travel. Benefits last for at least 5 years and you can renew them before they expire. The three main Trusted Traveler Programs that you will likely consider are PreCheck, Global Entry, and Nexus. There are other programs but they overlap or are for a very specific group of people.

Should You Get TSA PreCheck?

This is the most basic of all of the programs, though oddly not the cheapest. PreCheck is amazing. I hate when I go to an airport that doesn’t have PreCheck which tends to only happen at small airports. PreCheck lines are separate from other airport security lines. You don’t have to take off your shoes or belt and you don’t have to take anything out of your bag. It really makes security a breeze.

PreCheck goes $85 and is perfect if you only travel within the United States. Interview locations are available at most airports and wait times for interviews are usually fairly minimal.

Should You Get Global Entry?

The next step up from PreCheck is Global Entry. This allows you quick entry into the United States when coming back via air, land or sea. You should consider this over PreCheck even if you only take a few international trips.

It’s $100 so it’s an incremental cost from PreCheck. Locations for interviews are typically only at international airports, though there may be off-airport locations that might be more convenient for you. It’s $100 so it’s an incremental cost from PreCheck.

Many credit cards offer a Global Entry credit. If you’re not sure if yours does, feel free to contact me – I’ll be happy to help. 

Should You Get Nexus?

This Trusted Traveler Program is very similar to Global Entry, but it also allows you quick entry into Canada as well. The TTP website doesn’t say that it allows quick entry into the US, like Global Entry, but it has been my experience that it does. It is also the cheapest Trusted Traveler Program at only $50. If there’s an interview location convenient to you or you go to Canada often, Nexus is the way to go.

There are a couple of caveats with Nexus. The interview is at locations near the US-Canda border, so they’re less numerous than Global Entry Locations. This means the wait to get an interview can be longer. Also, the interview is with a Canadian agent as well. While the interview is a bit more stringent than the Global Entry interview, Nexus can be very worthwhile as Canadian immigration can be tough sometimes. 

What You Need to Know

While both Global Entry and Nexus allow you to breeze through customs and immigration, as long as you don’t have to declare anything, they come with an extra perk. They both include PreCheck. So you can skip lines when you get to the airport and when you get back. Travel has become so much easier for me.

Back to the bit about declaring goods when you enter. Honest mistakes won’t give you a pass if you have Global Entry or Nexus. The old adage “you should have known better” definitely applies here. Part of participating in these programs is that you should know the rules. If you get caught, then you most likely will have your membership revoked (or worse). Err on the side of caution, and ask if you need to declare something if you’re not 100% sure.

If you’re applying for Global Entry, don’t pay for it! Use a credit card that has a Global Entry credit. Unfortunately, those credits are only for Global Entry. There are so many cards that have this credit. Even if you don’t have one yourself, I’m sure you probably know someone that does. I know I already said this, but it’s easily overlooked. 

Being in a Trusted Traveler Program is one of my top travel tips. Leave a comment below with your best travel tips.

Published by
Adam Sterling

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