If there's one thing everyone can agree on about flying, it's that nobody likes a long security line at the airport. Thankfully, when it comes to paying a little extra to skip the crowds, there are a few options to choose from.
Increasingly, statement credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees (of up to $100 every four years) are becoming a standard benefit of many travel rewards cards. And with a third alternative added to the mix, CLEAR, the decision of which program to choose for expedited security at the airport can be a difficult one to make.
If you travel often, these are great benefits that can save you both time and money — but which program does what?
Below, CNBC Select reviews the difference between each travel perk: TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR.
If you rarely travel abroad and don't want to pay for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck is $85 for a five-year membership and gives you expedited security checks at more than 200 select airports in the U.S. If you don't have a U.S. passport, this is the best option. Also, if you live in New York this is a good Global Entry alternative since Global Entry applications are temporarily suspended for New York residents.
For anyone who has experienced TSA PreCheck, the process is also less invasive than the standard security screenings. You don't have to remove your shoes, belt, light jacket, laptop or TSA-approved liquids.
To apply, you have to submit an online application and then schedule a 10-minute in-person appointment at one of the enrollment centers. The appointment includes a background check and fingerprinting.
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S. after traveling internationally. It basically means getting in the express line at customs and immigration, which can save you time and a potential headache after a long trip.
To apply, you must submit an application and a non-refundable $100 fee. If you're approved, your five-year membership includes both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck in the U.S.
To qualify for Global Entry, you must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent resident. Residents of select countries can also qualify, and you can learn more about international application requirements. Applicants under 18 must have a parent or legal guardian's consent to participate in Global Entry. Learn more about eligibility for Global Entry, and be sure to check out CNBC Select's how to apply for Global Entry.
Popular cards that waive the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees include the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express. Though each of these cards has an annual fee (the first year is waived for Capital One®), this travel bonus can help effectively offset it once every four years — not to mention all the additional rewards you can earn using these cards regularly.
The Global Entry and TSA PreCheck credits are worth $100 or $85, respectively, and they are typically offered every four or five years, depending on which card you have. You receive the credit after you submit and pay for an application, and it can take a few weeks to see the cost credited on your account.
Another Global Entry alternative is the newest addition to accelerating airport security screenings, CLEAR. CLEAR uses your eyes and fingertips rather than traditional IDs to verify your identity when you travel. The most expensive program of the three, CLEAR costs $179 for an annual membership and does not include TSA PreCheck, like Global Entry does.
With CLEAR, you can add up to three adult family members for only $50/year each. Kids under 18 are free and don't need to enroll. Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus members with status can often receive CLEAR discounts.
To apply, you sign up online and complete an in-person biometric scan. Once you are approved to use CLEAR, your experience going through security at the airport is pretty seamless. You report directly to a CLEAR kiosk and scan your fingerprints or eyes. A representative then escorts you to a security checkpoint.
For sports and music fans, the membership also grants you CLEAR Sports, which allows you to skip the security line when attending many major stadiums and entertainment venues throughout the country, including Staples Center and Madison Square Garden.
Right now, there is just one card that offers a statement credit toward the high CLEAR membership fee. With the American Express® Green Card, you can receive up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year toward a membership.
This credit can help offset the Green Card's $150 annual fee (see rates and fees) while you get to enjoy a discounted CLEAR membership. American Express® Green Card cardholders also earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on eligible travel, transit and at restaurants worldwide and 1X Membership Rewards® points on all other purchases.
You don't have to be a jet-setter to really benefit from any of these three travel programs.
Even if you only fly a few times a year, the hassle of waiting in airport security lines is often enough to justify enrolling in one of them.
Overall, it's generally recommended that you apply for Global Entry rather than TSA PreCheck (as long as you have a U.S. passport). Global Entry, which grants members expedited entry back into the U.S. after traveling internationally, is a five-year membership that also gives you access to TSA PreCheck, for just $15 more.
Although CLEAR offers the added entertainment access perk, its membership cost is substantially higher and you have to regularly fly through one of the 35 U.S. airports it serves to really benefit. Otherwise, you will still need to purchase TSA PreCheck or Global Entry to have shorter security lines when traveling.
Whichever route you choose to go with, these three programs are designed to minimize the amount of time spent waiting in queues, which is a pretty nice travel perk no matter where you are headed.
Information about the American Express® Green Card and Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.