In this work we compare two apparently different stabilization procedures for the finite element approximation of the incompressible Navier–Stokes equations. The first is the characteristic‐based split (CBS). It combines the characteristic Galerkin method to deal with convection dominated flows with a classical splitting technique, which in some cases allows us to use equal velocity–pressure interpolations. The second approach is the Galerkin‐least‐squares (GLS) method, in which a least‐squares form of the element residual is added to the basic Galerkin equations. It is shown that both formulations display similar stabilization mechanisms, provided the stabilization parameter of the GLS method is identified with the time step of the CBS approach. This identification can be understood from a formal Fourier analysis of the linearized problem.