With COVID-19 vaccines and boosters widely available and case numbers more under control in the U.S., the country seems to be breathing a collective sigh of relief. And with that, clients are opting back into travel near and far. According to data gathered by the U.S. Travel Association, travel spending in spring 2022 has nearly reached pre-pandemic levels, and six in 10 Americans intends to take at least one summer trip.
This uptick means that more clients are gathering required travel documents and considering Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP). The processes for each program vary, but the intention behind them is the same: to increase safety overall and to ease the stress of airport travel, especially when it comes to long waits at security checkpoints.
Some travel advisors are happy to guide their clients through any travel-related application processes. For example, Heather Christopher of Heather Christopher Travel Company has even gotten on a video call to do so — but ultimately, most of the legwork lands on the traveler. Here’s a quick guide to a few options for frequent flyers.
How it Helps: This program has a big impact on a traveler’s airport experience. Passengers with TSA PreCheck walk through a separate security line and are not required to remove shoes, belts or light jackets, nor unpack their tech devices. In April of this year, most TSA PreCheck travelers waited less than five minutes at security.
Once approved, a traveler is given a Known Traveler Number, or KTN. Travelers apply this number when making flight reservations, and then the TSA PreCheck indicator appears on their boarding pass, allowing them to enter the streamlined security line. Note that children 12 and under can join TSA PreCheck adults in line without being part of the program themselves.
How to Apply: Clients can apply for TSA PreCheck online, though part of the process will be an in-person appointment. They can find nearby enrollment locations online. Additionally, IndetoGO is an approved enrollment partner, so clients can hunt for a nearby appointment via the company website.
How Long Does it Take: Some applicants receive TSA PreCheck approval within three to five days, while others have reported waiting up to 90 days.
Cost: Fees for TSA PreCheck are currently $85, and PreCheck status lasts for five years. Some credit cards reimburse the cost of TSA PreCheck.
How it Helps: Travelers regularly flying from the U.S. and back might opt for Global Entry. This program is offered via U.S. Customs and Border Protection and includes the same perks as TSA PreCheck, plus more.
Approved Global Entry travelers enjoyed expedited clearance at customs counters upon return to the U.S. by presenting their passports, completing a fingerprint (or facial recognition) scan and filling out customs declarations at automatic Global Entry Customs kiosks. Note that unlike TSA PreCheck, Global Entry expedites entry into the U.S. by both land and sea, as well.
How to Apply: Travelers can start their Global Entry application process online, then sign up for an in-person meeting at an enrollment center. Note that appointment availability varies from location to location, so planning ahead is advised. A valid passport and other identifying documents will be needed.
How Long Does it Take: According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, approval time can exceed 90 days. There is currently a significant backlog of Global Entry applications due to pandemic closures and increased demand.
The Cost: The processing fee is $100 and Global Entry lasts for five years. Since that’s only slightly more than the TSA PreCheck fee, advisor Heather Christopher says Global Entry is her top suggestion for clients. Several credit cards reimburse the cost of Global Entry.
How it Helps: Now available in more than 50 U.S. airports, stadiums and other venues, Clear allows users to verify their identification via eye and face (or biometric) recognition technology. Once at a participating airport, for example, a Clear user finds a Clear kiosk, is scanned and identified, then can access Clear Airport Lanes. Yet another method of skipping those long security lines.
How to Apply: Travelers can become Clear members online, then complete the process at any airport Clear location. All that is needed at that point is government-issued ID.
How Long Does it Take: According to Clear, registering online takes less than five minutes, and the registrant can complete the process at a participating airport, no appointment needed. No lengthy lag times are necessary, then.
The Cost: Clear is a private company, and its fees are notably higher. Users pay an annual fee of $189, though the website states that additional family members can join at a discounted rate. According to Nerd Wallet, prospective Clear users can also pay lower fees if they are frequent flyers with United or Delta airlines, which are Clear partners. Select American Express cards also include discounted or free Clear membership.
How it Helps: Real ID is not a program, but a new form of driver’s license that is also recognized by the federal government — that is, it creates an identification standard across all 50 states. All passengers ages 18 and up will be required have a Real ID in order to fly as of May 3, 2023. This deadline has been pushed a couple of times in response to the pandemic, but it’s wise for travelers to prioritize getting this updated form of identification now.
How to Apply: Clients applying for a Real ID must go to a local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) with certain documents. In California, that includes proof of identity (e.g., valid passport or birth certificate) and proof of state residency (a utility bill, mortgage bill or bank statement). Once applicants have gathered all necessary documentation, they can make an appointment online for their in-person meeting at a DMV.
The Cost: Fees will depend on the state. In California, the fee for a Real ID is currently $39, while in Arizona, it’s $25.
How it Helps: Passports continue to be required for all international travel.
How to Apply: Passport renewals can be done via a mail-in application. Applicants fill out the DS-82 Renewal Application (try the editable online version), then follow mail-in instructions.
Anyone needing their first passport, or applying for a minor, must fill out form DS-11 then book an in-person appointment. Most post offices and libraries offer these, but note that at the time of this story, the first appointment within 60 miles of the Los Angeles area was more than six weeks out. Once clients have secured an appointment, they should gather the required documentation (original birth certificates, for example) and arrive with all things in hand to avoid an even longer wait.
How Long Does it Take: Whether clients are renewing or applying for the first time, the current estimated wait time is eight to 11 weeks. For an extra fee, applicants can request an expedited process. The wait time for that is currently five to seven weeks. So, once again, getting in the queue well in advance of your expected travel dates is advised.
The Cost: The adult passport renewal fee is $130, while the fees for a first-time adult passport applicant is $130 plus a $35 execution fee. Passports for minors (those 16 years old and younger), whether renewal or not, cost $100 for the application and $35 for the execution fee. For more details on pricing, see the passport fee chart.