Renewing TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

Nancy and I recently renewed our five-year memberships in the TSA PreCheck and Global Entry programs, because I think we can all agree that navigating airports is a challenge to just about anyone’s serenity. It all adds up to a stressful experience: arranging transportation, arriving early enough (but not too early!), making sure your liquids are properly sized and stored, and having your ID and boarding pass at the ready. Then you immediately begin the scramble of removing said liquids, laptops, phones, belts, shoes, and everything else in your pockets for a precious few moments, only to gather them all up, get them all back where they belong, and move along so the next poor soul can do the same. Even as a frequent traveler, who feels organized and prepared for the security skirmish, I always end up more than just a bit disheveled and disoriented. Truth is, I often start that way, but you get my drift.

So I’m interested in anything that eases that process. Unfortunately the world of private jets, and their nearly non-existent security processes, are far beyond our means. As a fairly frequent flyer, I really like the Global Entry program. For $100 and little bit of your time, Global Entry helps you speed through immigration and customs when re-entering the USA, and includes TSA PreCheck, which helps you speed through TSA security lines at participating US airports.

Initially I found it a bit confusing, but they are in fact two separate but related programs. TSA PreCheck is $85 for five years. But for $100 (an extra $15), you can also get Global Entry. Therefore the only reason to limit yourself to PreCheck is if you are 100% certain you will not leave the country for the five-year duration of your membership. Seems to me that the extra $15 is worth it just in case.

Five years ago, Nancy and I signed up for both programs to see how they worked. With TSA PreCheck, we go to a separate and always much shorter line, and are not required to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts or jackets. And for us that makes a big difference. More than 200 US airports and 73 airlines offer PreCheck and only once that I can remember was PreCheck unavailable. And with Global Entry, many, many times we have sped past long customs lines full of tired and understandably irritated fellow travelers to the automated Global Entry kiosks. Turns out we liked both programs a lot. It was an easy decision to renew for another five years.

Like the original application process, renewal was straightforward. Fill out an online questionnaire and schedule an in-person interview. Both times it was the interview scheduling that posed the greatest logistical hurdle, mostly because our little airport in Medford, Oregon does not do the interviews.

Although there are nearly 400 enrollment centers where TSA interviews take place, sometimes booking a time slot can be a little tough. For me, there were no available times on the west coast that met my travel schedule. Eventually, I was able to arrange a time several months out during a long layover we had coming up at New York’s JFK airport. A customer recently told us that she had to schedule her interview in Portland one year ahead of time. She also noted that she has received a few emails from the TSA encouraging her to “drop in” to a participating airport’s enrollment center for an interview. Nancy and I tried to do just that at SFO five years ago on our first go ‘round, and we were practically laughed out of the office. But perhaps things have changed in the interim.

The renewal process did pose a curious question, as I was required to interview again but Nancy was not. She was issued her Trusted Traveler Global Entry ID renewal straight away after applying online, while I was required to interview to complete the process. Who knows why? Other than my 2015 trip to India, we’d visited all the same countries during our five years in the program. However, upon review, Nancy believes it is possible she omitted Jordan from the “countries visited” on her renewal form. Nevertheless, after all that, my interview occurred almost exactly at the scheduled hour and lasted less than five minutes. A few weeks later, I received my renewed Trusted Traveler Global Entry ID in the mail and I was good to go for another five years.

For us, the $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee is worth it. We average about five round trip flights a year. Over five years that’s 25 trips, and because you go through security both ways, that’s 50 times through security. That’s $2 per TSA encounter. It’s pretty much an official bribe – kind of like slipping someone a couple of bucks to skip to the front of the line. And that’s before factoring in time saved at immigration and customs. I’ll take it.

Don’t Let Your TSA PreCheck Expire!

I am a busy woman, okay? I’ve got books piled up on my nightstand, waiting to be read. I’ve got a stack of New Yorker magazines gathering dust on the living room end table. There are recipes I want to try, hikes I want to take, and then there’s that pesky job waiting for me too. I tell you all this to offer up an excuse for why I didn’t realize until last Friday that my five year Global Entry membership expires in three weeks. Whoops.

I do vaguely remember getting an email about this some time ago, and I’m sure I told myself that there was plenty of time to renew. Well, time is now clearly running out for me to get my handy dandy TSA Pre-Check on each flight I take in the next few months.

Once I realized that my procrastination had gotten out of hand, I hastily got into my account on the Trusted Traveler website and filled out my online renewal. Among other things, I had to list every country I have visited since 2014. (Note to self: keep better records.) It’s possible I may have forgotten one country. Will this throw a wrench into my renewal? To be determined. After several screens of questions, I was able to pay my renewal fee of $100, and send in my renewal application. It’s unclear if I’ll have to do another in-person interview at a Global Entry office. It’s also unclear how long the renewal process will take. Some take a few weeks, others longer. It appears I might be able to keep my Global Entry membership while my application is under review, even after my current one expires. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

So if you’ve got TSA PreCheck or Global Entry – and if you’re a frequent traveler, why don’t you? – do yourself a favor and check the expiration date of your membership. Don’t wait until the last minute to renew. Let us hope the TSA gods shine favorably upon me.

Pick Up The Phone I’m Always Home

by Nancy Bestor

Last month I traveled to Los Angeles on Allegiant Air out of Medford, Oregon. My round trip flight was $130, a bargain in my opinion. I did not choose a seat ahead of time (up to $80), I did not sign up for preboarding ($4 – $12), I did not request a boarding pass ($5), I did not bring a carry-on suitcase ($10-$75) to go in the overhead compartment, and I did not buy any food or water (water costs $2) on the flight. So although Allegiant can add on fees, one does not have to pay them. And when one opts out, the bargain fare really does remain a bargain. I am perfectly willing to bring my own snacks and fill up a water bottle after going through security in the airport. I am also fine with sitting in any seat on the plane, as long as my flight is a short one. I had no complaints about my flight, but I did have one complaint about Allegiant.

I forgot to enter my Global Entry “known traveler id number” when I booked my flight. Once I realized this, I figured I could easily add it to my Allegiant ticket. Well I figured wrong. After some internet research, I determined that the best way to add my id number would be to call Allegiant. Apparently, cheap tickets translate to few customer service representatives, because I waited on the phone for 55 minutes before giving up. Allegiant’s website said you can call their phone number (it didn’t say that someone would answer—ha) or add your id number with an agent at the airport. I figured I could add it in Medford, and although it might not work for my flight down to LA, it would certainly work for the flight back. Once again, I figured wrong. The Allegiant agents at the ticket counter, although very nice, had absolutely NO IDEA what I was talking about. One of them had never even heard of a known traveler id number. I found myself having to explain what the id number is, then having to educate them on what it says on Allegiant’s website about adding it to my ticket. Needless to say, they were not able to help me and I didn’t get TSA precheck in either direction.

It wasn’t the worst thing in the world though. And again, my direct flight was only $130 round trip. I learned my lesson too. From here on out, I will ALWAYS put my known traveler id number in my booking when I make it, and I will not expect a customer service person to answer a phone. Because how ridiculous is that?