As far as travel hackers go, I’ve been slow to join the luxury travel party. I’ve been stockpiling miles, travel rewards and hotel points for almost four years now, but only recently have decided to up my game in regards to travel perks. Meanwhile, well known travel hackers like The Points Guy and Million Mile Secrets have been flying first and business class – posting endless photos of themselves flying with exorbitant leg room, fancy meals and lie flat beds. In retrospect, I can see why it took me a while to dive into that kind of travel, since I didn’t really believe that I could keep amassing miles for very long (seemed too good to be true), and since I usually travel with my husband and son I didn’t want to squander a large amount of miles on one flight. Those attitudes changed when I repeatedly passed the million mile/point mark, and realized I had more miles than we could use in the near future. This year I’ve started flying business and first class and am loving it. (As I write this I’m sitting in first class on American Airlines, on my way to Buenos Aires).
But what doesn’t make sense is why I waited so long to get Global Entry approval. For those of you who don’t know, Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler program intended to expedite clearance upon re-entering the country. It’s available for all pre-approved, low-risk travelers at participating U.S. airports. Once approved you get to skip the long customs lines, which can sometimes take as long as 2 hours to navigate depending on the airport and the amount of incoming travelers. The program also includes TSA PreCheck, which allows you access to shorter security lines where you don’t have to remove your laptop, shoes, belt or jacket. It costs $100 – however your approval lasts 5 years. At only $20 a year – less than you’d pay for a nice meal on the town – I think the fee is totally worth it.
I don’t know if it was the idea of paying $300 for the whole family, or having to fill out a form and go to the airport to do an interview that put me off – or maybe I just thought it wasn’t that big of a deal to have these kind of travel perks. But after getting the dreaded red X at the computerized kiosk for the 3rd or 4th time coming back into the country (which last year meant being stuck in 1.5 hour line while my girlfriends went through a 20 minute line) I was ready.
I researched the Global Entry program, and also decided to chose to open the Citi Prestige credit card which includes a $100 statement credit to apply to Global Entry (so you basically get it for free). It can be a bit confusing since there are three programs that you can sign up for independent of each other: TSA PreCHeck, Global Entry and Nexus (expedited entry into the US from Canada by car). Basically Nexus is the best deal since for only $50 you are approved into all three programs at once (even though Global Entry is normally $100) – however there are limited interview locations on the border to Canada, meaning you have wait a long time to get an appointment and then travel to get there, which for many people is not worth it. Although I live about 2 hours from a Nexus enrollment center, I was planning a trip to France with my father in a few months and didn’t want to wait 6-8 months to get my interview. So Global Entry it was. I applied for both my husband and I online via the US Customs GOES (Global Online Enrollment System) website, completing a long but fairly painless application form, and landed us both appointments within about 6 weeks. The interview itself took place at Seattle-Tacoma airport only 20 minutes from my house, was basically just getting additional information about the program and getting my fingerprints taken – it lasted 15 minutes. And that was that.<
Travel post Global Entry approval? Heaven. It has shortened my customs entry times by more than half, and I’m loving having TSA PreCheck. The quality of my flight travel days has gone up, while stress and anxiety has gone down. Travel feels tangibly less complicated and more enjoyable. So do I recommend getting approved. Of course. Just make sure you don’t wait as long as I did.