Dear Cashing In,
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I just got back from a trip to Singapore. I was already beat after a long flight and then had to wait forever in lines at the airport. Since it looks like I'm going to have to travel on a regular basis, including overseas, I'm looking for a convenient and economical way to get around through screening. Can you recommend a rewards card that would help?
If you're willing to pay a hefty annual fee, you might consider one of the premium credit cards that offer to refund your application fee for expedited Global Entry screening as a benefit. Global Entry is the program offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allowing expedited entry into the United States for pre-approved travelers considered to be a low security risk.
If you have an American Express Platinum or Business Platinum card ($450 annual fee), you'll get Global Entry fees ($100 per applicant) reimbursed for you and any other cardholders on your account. That can prove handy if you travel with family. Other perks for Platinum cardholders include global concierge service, no blackout dates, and free lounge access for American, US Airways and Delta airlines. You also get a $200 annual credit toward checked bags and change fees or in-flight refreshments.
For a $400 annual fee, the Citi Prestige card offers similar perks -- including the $200 annual credit, global concierge service and statement credit for Global Entry application. Both cards come with chip technology and no foreign transaction fees.
Global Entry alone may not be enough to entice you to spend $400-plus in annual fees, but if you'll be traveling overseas a lot, you may find the other benefits, combined with time saved in airport lines, worth the investment.
I should mention another option for "trusted travelers," at least regarding the U.S. part of your travels: the PreCheck program, launched in 2011 by the Transportation Security Administration. For $85, preapproved travelers can access expedited security lanes at certain airports, allowing you to keep shoes, "light outerwear" and belts on. You also don't have to haul out your laptop and liquids. This speeds up the screening process considerably, which is why more than 15 million passengers have taken the TSA up on this offer so far.
PreCheck is open to U.S. citizens who belong to a participating frequent traveler program or Canadians who are members of Custom's NEXUS program. Participating airlines include Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, United, US Airways and Virgin America. JetBlue and Southwest are expected to be added soon. PreCheck membership is detected in the barcode of your boarding pass when your ticket is scanned. Right now, 40 airports offer PreCheck but the TSA just announced it will add 60 more by end of 2013, bringing the total to 100 airports.
Given your travel overseas, Global Entry may still be worthwhile in that it allows you to skip immigration lines upon returning to the U.S. You can apply at globalentry.gov and if your application is conditionally approved, you'll be instructed to schedule an appointment for an interview. Membership is good for five years.