Arguably the best perk that many airline frequent flier programs have to offer is the privilege to speed through security in a special, reserved line. For me, this one privilege outranks every other perk of elite membership in a frequent flier program, including upgrades to first class. Here are a list of the top programs that allow you to skip the immigration and customs waits:
1. Global Entry
Who is Eligible: Citizens of U.S.A., Mexico, Canada, and the Netherlands, and members of the NEXUS, Privium, and SENTRI programs.
Airports Accepted: 26 U.S. and 5 Canadian airports, as of Summer 2012.
Global Entry is a program started by the U.S. government that gives frequent fliers the opportunity to fly through immigration and customs in certain major airports in the United States and Canada by pre-screening them. Travelers enrolled in the program can skip the lines at immigration by checking themselves in at a designated kiosk, as well as saving time by not having to fill out paperwork. There are also benefits in several other countries through similar partner programs. Travelers wishing to apply for Global Entry membership can apply at GlobalEntry.gov, where there is a long application that needs to be filled out and a $100 (USD) processing fee to be paid. After completing the application, an agent will contact the traveler to schedule an in-person meeting, where membership will be approved or denied.
Check out GlobalEntry.gov for more details.
2. Automated Gate
Who is Eligible: Japanese Nationals (with passport) and Foreigners (with passport AND re-entry permits).
Airports Accepted: Narita, Haneda, Chubu, and Kansai airports.
Automated Gate is a Japanese program similar to the U.S. Entry program that allows pre-registered members to speed through customs and immigration at several major airports throughout Japan. Registration can even be done on site on the day of travel. Automated Gate members can go into a booth where they will hold up their passport’s identification page and scan their fingerprints on a biometric reader; Japanese passport holders need only scan their fingerprints. When the process is complete the gate on the other side will open. Check out Japan’s Ministry of Justice website for more information.
Who is Eligible: Australian and New Zealand Passport Holders (Over the age of 16).
Airports Accepted: Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne, Perth, Gold Coast, and Darwin International Airports (AUS), and Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington International Airports (NZ).
SmartGate is the Australian counterpart to other trusted traveler programs. Members can self-process themselves at designated passport control areas, which involve a kiosk and a gate. It has facial recognition technology that takes the place of the Customs and Border Protection officer that would normally process each traveler manually. Though it is currently only available to Australian and New Zealand passport holders, there are plans to soon make the system available to nationals of several other countries. Visit the official SmartGate page for more details.
Who is Eligible: Hong Kong and Macau Residents, and Registered Frequent Visitors.
Airports Accepted: Hong Kong Int’l Airport, Lo Wu Control Point, Hung Hom, Lok Ma Chau, Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, Man Kam To, Sha Tau Kok, Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal, Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal, Tuen Mun Ferry Terminal, and Shenzhen Bay.
E-Channel, also known as the Automated Passenger Clearance System, is an automated entry system introduced by the Hong Kong Immigration Dept. It is more accommodating than other programs, as it allows Hong Kong residents, Macau residents, and registered frequent visitors to use the system on land and sea entries, as well as in certain airports. Travelers are given a Frequent Visitor Card if they have entered Hong Kong 3 or more times in the past 12 months. It uses fingerprint and document verification to facilitate the system’s automation. Visit the GovHK Immigration page for more details.
Who is Eligible: Frequent Fliers to Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol
Airports Accepted: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Privium is a program serving only the main Dutch international hub of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. It is available in two levels of membership: Privium Plus and Privium Basic. Privium Basic (EUR 119/yr) simply offers fast border passage with an iris scan, while the Privium Plus (EUR 189/yr) adds to that nearby parking with valet services, a club lounge, and assistance services. An iris scanner along with the Privium membership card and valid passport is all that is needed to get through the expedited process. In addition to some of these benefits, members are eligible to join the United States’ FLUX Program, entitling preferential treatment in the United States. Check out the Privium website HERE.
6. FLUX Alliance
Who is Eligible: Citizens of the U.S.A and the Netherlands who have Privium and Global Entry Memberships.
Airports Accepted: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and All U.S. Airports that accept Global Entry.
FLUX (Fast Low Risk Universal Crossing) is a collaboration between the Dutch and American governments. Membership is restricted to citizens of the Netherlands and the USA who are also Privium members. As an intergovernmental program, FLUX coordinates between the U.S. Global Entry and Netherlands Privium programs. It is believed that FLUX will soon approve CANPASS members. Application for the FLUX program involves both a fingerprint and an iris scan, both which are used during entry and exit screening. Read up more on the FLUX Alliance HERE.
7. CANPASS Air
Who is Eligible: Citizens of U.S. and Canada
Airports Accepted: Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto (Pearson International Airport and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport), Vancouver and Winnipeg International Airports.
CANPASS Air is similar to the NEXUS program, but it is administered solely by the CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency). Members of CANPASS can enjoy expedited customs clearance at some of Canada’s major airports. Membership is currently valid for United States and Canadian citizens who have lived in either country continuously for the last three years. Enrollment costs $50 CAN, and is valid for one year. Traveling members of CANPASS simply go to the designated kiosk, where a biometric reader with iris recognition technology takes a photo and compares it to the one on file. For more information, visit the website.
Who is Eligible: Citizens of U.S. and Canada
Airports Accepted: All Airports Accepting Global Entry and CANPASS Air.
Similar to the FLUX Alliance, NEXUS is a bi-national program implemented by both the CBSA (Canada) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection that offers expedited border clearance in airports, as well as in land and marine modes of travel. Members can clear the border faster when traveling to both Canada and the United States. And similar to the CANPASS Air program, membership is valid for United States and Canadian citizens who have lived in either country continuously for the last three years.