Are these programs worth the cost? Short answer: YES!
What's the difference between the two programs? Which one is best for you? Are there other similar programs?
This post covers the difference between TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry. If you regularly fly for races and endurance events, then I would recommend signing up for either program based on your travel needs.
TSA Pre-CheckTSA Pre-check is "expedited security screening program connecting travelers departing from airports within the United States with smarter security and a better air travel experience" (from the TSA website).
If you fly more than four times a year domestically, I think it is worth it. TSA Pre-check (for domestic travel) costs $85.00, and is valid for for five years.
What this means is you voluntarily submit to a background and identity check, plus put your fingerprints on file, to be able to go through an expedited boarding lane at airports.
In this special pre-check lane, you won't have to take off your shoes or take your laptop out of your carry-on bag, and will have a much shorter line wait. (There is always the possibility you may have to go through a special screening, especially if you pack something you shouldn't have.)
Once you get approved, you will be given a Known Traveler Number (KTN) that you need to report to all the airlines you use. For Southwest, it was just a matter of me logging on to my account and adding the number. For future flights, when you print out your loading pass or load it on your smartphone, your ticket will show that you are TSA pre-check approved and you go to that special lane at airport security.
It is easier than ever to get TSA Pre-check for domestic flights (international is different). My TSA Pre-check application/verification site was at an H&R Block just minutes from work.
Note that TSA Pre-check lanes are not always open. Some airports don't open them before a specific time or close them at a specific time even though not all flights are out. Being TSA Pre-check doesn't mean you can show up at the airport a half hour before your flight boards. But know that 99 percent of the time, you will have a much easier and quicker experience going through airport security.
Register for TSA Pre-check online. You can start the application process and get more details here.
International Travel: Global EntryAre you a regular international traveler? Do you have an overseas trip planned for the future? Global Entry is the international version of TSA Pre-check. It is administered by US Customs. If you are a regular international traveler, the benefits are worth it- no paperwork and faster lines.
Global Entry is a $100.00 fee versus the $85.00 TSA Pre-check fee. Global Entry involves more detailed background checks and interviews, and the interviews are held typically at airports versus partner businesses in your area.
And yes- if you have Global Entry, you can use the TSA Pre-check lines in the United States airports for domestic travel. You just need to enter your ID number in the known traveler number area for your airline records.
Before you apply for Global Entry, you should already have a valid US Passport. For the difference of $15.00 and a slightly longer approval process, it may be worth it for you to go for Global Entry versus TSA Pre-check.
Which Program is the Best for Me?
In addition to TSA Pre-check and Global Entry, there are other special Trusted Traveler programs that offer expedited screening and shorter lines. For example, there is also the NEXUS program for expedited screening for those who frequently travel between the United States and Canada.
Check out the Department of Homeland Security's guide to these programs to help decide which one is the best for you based on your regular or future travel plans.