TSA PreCheck – Here’s What You Should Know

Since airport security was tightened up several years ago, going through checkpoints has become something of a hassle. Items of clothes have to come off, laptops and liquids get scanned and checked separately, watches and belts removed… Once through the checkpoint, it’s a frantic rush to repack and get dressed, with little room or space to do so.

The stages of airport security
The stages of security. Image: TSA

Whilst all for our own good, these new procedures are time-consuming, and often clearing security can mean a long wait. Fortunately, for regular travelers who pose a negligible threat, there is something called the TSA Pre✓ program. Once enrolled, it will allow you to breeze through expedited security clearing at airports right across in the US. Here’s our complete guide to TSA Pre✓

What is the TSA?

TSA stands for Transport Security Administration, and is the agency responsible for, amongst other things, the security of US airports. While most people are familiar with TSA passenger screening locations at airports, the TSA does much more than that, including screening checked bags, and much more.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA Pre✓ is a way for frequent travelers to speed up their progress through airport security. The system uses a trusted traveler program, where members are subjected to a background check which then clears them to use TSA Pre✓ lanes. Since the traveler is known to the TSA, the process of screening can be expedited by allowing them to skip the in-depth checks.

Benefits of TSA PreCheck

The main difference when going through TSA PreCheck is speed. According to the TSA, the average wait time for 94% of TSA Pre✓ enrolled passengers to clear security is five minutes or less. This is achieved through a different screening process.

Standard screening requires travelers to remove their belts, shoes, jackets, liquids, laptops and other electronic equipment, and place them in trays to go through the security scanners. Going through the TSA Pre✓ lanes means travelers do not have to remove any of these items.

TSA precheck saves time
Photo: TSA

One thing to be aware of is, if belts or shoes have any metal parts, they will have to be removed and scanned along with hand luggage regardless of whether you have TSA Pre✓ or not.

If you are traveling as a family, then children aged 12 and under can use the TSA Pre✓ security lanes with an enrolled parent. Children over that age require their own TSA Pre✓ enrollment.

How does TSA PreCheck work?

The key to TSA PreCheck is the Known Traveller Number (KTN) system. After successfully enrolling in TSA Pre✓, you will be issued with a KTN. After this, whenever you book a flight with a TSA Pre✓ participating airline, you will be prompted to enter your KTN when making your booking.

TSA precheck
Image: TSA

Once you receive your boarding card (either digital or paper), it will be marked with your KTN and TSA Pre✓. You can then use your boarding card along with your photo ID to access the TSA Pre✓ lines at your departure airport.

Participating airlines

To take advantage of your TSA Pre✓ membership, you will have to be flying with an airline which is enrolled in the program. Currently, there are 56 airlines involved in the program.

TSA precheck
TSA precheck participating airlines. Source: TSA

Which airports have TSA PreCheck?

There are over 200 airports with TSA Pre✓ screening facilities across the US. This includes the busiest and biggest airports like Atlanta ATL, New York JFK, and Los Angeles LAX. One thing to remember is that while TSA Pre✓ may be available at an airport, it may not be available at all terminals in that airport, so it is always worth checking if your airport and terminal have TSA Pre✓.

TSA PreCheck cost & validity

Applying for TSA Pre✓ will cost you $85; if you are accepted for the program, your enrollment will be valid for five years.

TSA Precheck
Image: TSA

Who is eligible for TSA PreCheck?

Enrollment in TSA Pre✓ is not open to everyone. To be eligible to join the program you must be:

  • A US citizen resident in the US
  • A foreign citizen legally resident in the US
  • Foreign nationals who qualify and are members of the Global Entry Program may also be eligible for TSA Pre✓

Applying for TSA PreCheck

Applying for TSA Pre✓ is a relatively simple process. All you need to do to start is head over to the TSA website and hit apply now. You will then be taken to the first application page where you will enter your details.

TSA Precheck
Image: TSA

After this, you will be offered different locations and time slots to attend a short in-person interview. Once you have selected an interview slot, you’re done. All there is to do now is to prepare the required documents needed for the interview.

Finally, you will have to attend the short interview (it usually takes about 10 minutes). You will need to bring the following with you:

  • A credit card to pay the $85 enrolment fee
  • Two forms of photo ID; in most cases, if you travel internationally a passport and driver’s license are a great choice
  • You may also be asked to bring any immigration documentation if you are not a citizen but are a US resident

After the interview, you will have to wait to be notified if your application was successful or not. In most cases, you will be notified shortly after the interview, although this process can take between three and four weeks. So if you have any upcoming travel plans and are thinking of applying, make sure to leave ample time between your interview and your travel dates.

If you are successful, you will receive confirmation from the TSA along with your Known Traveller Number (KTN), and you are set to go and enjoy the benefits of TSA Pre✓.

How to get TSA Pre✓ for free

One of the best perks offered with some credit cards is a statement credit to cover your TSA Pre✓ application fees, meaning that it is essentially free. Cards that we know of  that offer this statement credit include:

TSA Precheck credit cards

The list is by no means exhaustive, and if you know of any other cards that include a statement credit for TSA enrollment, let us know, and we’ll add it to the list.

It is worth noting that some loyalty programs allow you to redeem points for TSA Pre✓ application fees. While this is a welcome addition, it’s not entirely recommended since the rates tend to be very low and you can get better value for your points elsewhere.

Who should apply for TSA Pre✓?

There are two types of travelers who can benefit most from TSA Pre✓:

  1. Any traveler who holds a credit card offering a statement credit on TSA Pre✓ application fees. This applies even if they only fly once or twice a year. Most credit cards providing a statement credit are fee-paying cards, so you’ve already paid for your TSA Pre✓ application; why not take advantage of it regardless of how often you use it?
  2. Frequent flyers, who travel several times per year may consider paying the $85 for the convenience of breezing through airport security. However, if you travel that frequently, then getting a travel credit card can make a lot of sense in the long run. Most of these will offer a TSA Pre✓ statement credit.

Global Entry option

If you travel a lot internationally, then you may want to consider applying for Global Entry. While TSA Pre✓ covers the security side of things, Global Entry provides expedited immigration clearance. This makes getting back into the US significantly easier.

in fact, it’s so easy that foreign nationals enrolled in the program often enter the US quicker than citizen using the normal immigration channels do. As an additional bonus, Global Entry will also entitle you to use TSA Pre✓ lanes when boarding flights in the US.

TSA Precheck or global entry
Image: Wikipedia

Final thoughts

If you regularly travel within the US, then signing up for TSA Pre✓ is a no brainer. With an average time of just five minutes to clear security screening, the $85 application fee will save you a bundle of time on your travels. That’s valuable time you can spend relaxing in the airport or even catching up on some work in a lounge.

Choosing which membership to go for will ultimately depend on your travel plans and patterns. If you mainly fly in the US then TSA Pre✓ will do. On the other hand, if you have a fair amount of international travel, then Global Entry might be a better option.

1 comment
  1. If you live close to the Canadian border, Nexus is the best option. $50 and it gives you precheck and global entry on top of the Nexus privileges.

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