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Should I Enroll in a Trusted Traveler Program?


It’s no secret that airline travel has changed dramatically in the last few decades. Gone are the days when passengers could arrive at the airport minutes before their departure time and expect to make their flight. Indeed, many of today’s travelers don’t even remember a time before the slow-moving headache of today’s airport security.


But there are ways around the dreaded interminable “hurry up and wait” of the security line. Trusted traveler programs are memberships that allow participants to skip the long waits and the hassle of taking off shoes or removing items from carry-ons. Instead, trusted travelers avail themselves of relaxed procedures and special lanes reserved just for them. Programs like TSA Precheck, Global Entry, and Clear collect traveler data to vet people for their likelihood to pose a security threat. Once you’re ruled nonthreatening, you can expect a breezier journey through the TSA.  But these programs aren’t right for everyone. Here are some factors to consider if you’re thinking about enrolling in a trusted traveler program.

1.   How much you travel

If you’re a frequent flyer, the time you spend in security at airports can really add up. Because trusted traveler programs are designed to make traveling more efficient, people who find themselves at the airport fairly often are most likely to get their money’s worth. On the other hand, if you only travel very rarely, a trusted traveler program might not be worth the price tag just to save a couple hours a year.


And that brings us to…

2.   Cost

Enrolling in and maintaining a membership with a trusted traveler program is not free. Simply applying can cost anywhere from $50 to almost four times that amount, depending on the program you choose. Moreover, your membership will only last a few years, and then you’ll have to reapply. If you don’t travel very much, or if you prefer to travel on a budget when you do, this might not be how you want to spend your money.


However, if the bulk of your traveling is related to business, consider asking your employer if they’d be willing to foot the bill when it comes to membership in one of these time-saving programs. After all, they benefit from saving you time, too.

3.   Traveling internationally

Some trusted traveler programs like Global Entry are particularly useful to those traveling internationally as they expedite not only the security lines, but customs processing as well. That means membership to these programs saves you time both when leaving the States, and when returning home. If you frequently visit family out of the country, or do most of your traveling internationally, these are the programs most likely to appeal to you.

4.   Eligibility

Not everyone is eligible for every—or any—trusted traveler programs. Many of these programs involve a detailed background check and if any red flags pop up (even some as seemingly minor as a history of unpaid parking tickets), you may be disqualified from enrolling. Furthermore, some of these memberships are only available to U.S. residents.


Overall, the choice of whether to enroll in a trusted traveler program comes down to a basic cost-benefit analysis: Is the benefit of saving an hour or more at the airport worth the cost of an application and membership fee? If you think you’re a good candidate for one of these programs, head over to the Extra Mile for an in-depth breakdown of which program is right for you.