Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Sep 12

You can beat the long lines at security (but it may cost you)

In the Wall Street Journal today, travel columnist Scott McCartney wrote about American’s return to peak scheduling, where all the flights tend to come in during particular banks of times, as opposed to spacing them throughout the day.  By “banking” flights, American is making layovers shorter and connections more logical.  Mr. McCartney notes that it may lead to some delays and make the airport more chaotic during “rush hour,” but it makes more sense for the airline financially and will cut down on connection times.

Frankly, delays and chaos caused by rush hour traffic does not scare me.  The real delay that I worry about is at the security line.  Day to day, I never know whether the line will be an hour or five minutes, meaning that I end up spending more time at the airport, anyway.  But there’s a way around the lines.

Most people know that the airlines can grant you access to the “fast lane.”  Such access is often granted to the airline’s elite customers or those flying in a premium cabin.  But while you do get a special line to wait in, those lines are often as long as the regular lines.  In addition, you are still subject to the same level of scrutiny once you show your ID, including the body scanner, removing metal, water, laptops, etc. from your bags.  If you want to use the “Walk-thru Metal Detector (WTMD),” you will have to ask to opt-out and be subject to a full pat-down.

Or, you can significantly speed up your security check and pay for it.  By going through a background check and an interview, you will be given a card that lets you go through the “pre-check” lane at the airport.  No removal of liquids, shoes or laptops.  Walk through the metal detector.  In and out in minutes, instead of a half hour.  There are a number of programs you can sign up for, either through the TSA or Customs, which will cost you $50-100 per person, depending on which one you choose.

[important]Note: Your credit card, particularly if you have a high-end one, may pick up the fee for Global Entry.  Check with them before paying yourself.[/important]

[notice]Note: Your airline can also “sponsor” you to use the pre-check lane, but it will only be for that airline.[/notice]

While there are four different programs, Nexus stands out as being both the cheapest and the most comprehensive.  Not only does it get you through the pre-check line at the airport but it also allows you to use the fast lane at customs, both at the airport and land crossings into Canada.  At the airport, you may not even interact with a customs agent.  Walk to a kiosk, scan your card and you’re on your way.  Global Entry offers all of what Nexus offers except for land crossing.  It costs $50 more, but it is also the program that your credit card is most likely to pick up the tab for.

[warning]Global Entry only applies to the cardholder.  If you are traveling with your spouse or children, they’ll need their own cards.[/warning]

[warning]At the security check, you must have your Known Traveler Number (KTN) in your reservation and it should show on your boarding pass.  Your card alone is not enough.[/warning]

I’ve talked to a number of people who don’t like the idea of paying for something that they believe should be free.  Others don’t want the government snooping through their background.  While I can’t argue with either of those points, it is strictly a personal decision and when my credit card offered me five years of Global Entry for free, I took them up on it.  Technically, your pre-check isn’t guaranteed; you may still trigger a random check, which has only happened to me once in a couple of dozen trips.  But you’ll still likely get bumped to the front of the line.  It’s a good way to save a lot of time at the airport and prep yourself for your tight connection in Miami.

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