What Is TSA PreCheck, And Is It Worth It?

What Is TSA PreCheck, And Is It Worth It?

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Over the years there have been several innovations that have made the travel experience easier for frequent flyers. These range from government programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, to private programs like CLEAR.

In this post, I wanted to take a closer look at TSA PreCheck. How does it work, how much does it cost, which airlines participate, etc.?

The basics of TSA PreCheck airport security

TSA PreCheck offers expedited security at airports in the United States. This is available to eligible travelers who belong to a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP), including TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and NEXUS.

When using a TSA PreCheck lane you don’t have to take off your shoes, and also don’t have to take your laptop or liquids out of your bag. Furthermore, you get to go through the metal detector rather than through the full-body scanner. Because of this being a streamlined process with generally more experienced flyers, you’ll also find that the lines move much more quickly.

TSA PreCheck offers several benefits

At what airports is TSA PreCheck available?

TSA PreCheck is available at a vast majority of commercial airports in the United States. The TSA’s website has a handy tool where you can check PreCheck availability and hours for airport terminals throughout the country. As you can see, it’s not available at all terminals at all hours.

Note that if a TSA PreCheck lane isn’t open but you have TSA PreCheck, you’ll typically be given a card that allows you to keep on your shoes and go through the metal detector rather than the full body scanner, while still using the “standard” lane.

TSA PreCheck can be a huge time saver

How do you apply for TSA PreCheck?

While I think it can be worth applying for Global Entry rather than TSA PreCheck (as I’ll explain below), the process of applying for TSA PreCheck is easier.

It takes five minutes to submit an online application, and then you need to schedule an in-person appointment that includes a background check and fingerprinting at an enrollment center. The good news is that there are plenty of enrollment centers, so you don’t have to go anywhere close to an airport to enroll.

A bit later I’ll talk about the merits of applying for TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry.

How much does TSA PreCheck cost?

A five year TSA PreCheck membership costs $78, which is pretty reasonable. Fortunately there are lots of premium credit cards that offer a reimbursement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, so if you’re into credit cards, this shouldn’t cost you anything.

Note that you just have to charge the enrollment fee to your card, and then it will automatically be reimbursed if you’re eligible. If you have multiple of these credits, you can even use them for family and friends.

One statement credit every 4 or 4.5 years* (every 4.5 years for the application fee for TSA PreCheck® and every 4 years for Global Entry) Authorized users also eligible
The Platinum Card® from American Express The Platinum Card® from American Express
One statement credit every 4 or 4.5 years* (every 4.5 years for the application fee for TSA PreCheck® and every 4 years for Global Entry) Authorized users also eligible
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
One statement credit per account, every four years
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Chase Sapphire Reserve®
One statement credit per account every four years
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
One statement credit per account every four years
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
One statement credit per account, every four years
Capital One Spark Miles for Business Capital One Spark Miles for Business
One statement credit per account, every five years
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
One statement credit per account, every four years
Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card
One statement credit per account, every four years
United℠ Explorer Card United℠ Explorer Card
One statement credit per account, every four years
United Club℠ Infinite Card United Club℠ Infinite Card
One statement credit per account, every four years
IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card
One statement credit per account, every four years
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

How long is TSA PreCheck valid for?

TSA PreCheck is valid for five years once you’re approved. You can start the process of renewing it within six months of the expiration date. There’s no disadvantage to renewing early, since five years will be added to your previous expiration date. You don’t typically need to go anywhere in person when renewing, which makes things a bit easier at least.

Is TSA PreCheck only available on certain airlines?

In order to use TSA PreCheck, you have to fly a TSA PreCheck participating airline. This includes virtually all airlines in the United States, plus a vast majority of airlines offering service to the United States. There are some notable exclusions, though, ranging from Fiji Airways to Iberia.

Most airlines flying to the United States participate in TSA PreCheck

Do kids need their own TSA PreCheck?

Each person needs their own TSA PreCheck enrollment in order to use the lane. The only exception is that parents can take their children through TSA PreCheck with them, assuming they’re 12 or younger.

How can you ensure you get TSA PreCheck?

Back when TSA PreCheck was first launched, many travelers were randomly given PreCheck, even though they hadn’t enrolled in the program. That’s no longer frequently the case, so if you want TSA PreCheck privileges, you’ll have to enroll in a Trusted Traveler Program.

However, you don’t just need to enroll in a program, but when you book your ticket you need to make sure you also include your Known Traveler Number (KTN) on the reservation. Virtually every airline flying to the US that participates in the program should let you add this, and this is what determines your eligibility for TSA PreCheck.

Don’t forget to add your Known Traveler Number

If you forget to include your Known Traveler Number at the time of booking, don’t worry. You can add it at a later point, either my managing your reservation online, or even during check-in.

Note that even when you have a Known Traveler Number, you may sometimes be randomly selected to not have access to this. That’s especially true if you get secondary security, which is denoted by an “SSSS” on your boarding pass.

TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry vs. Nexus vs. CLEAR

Often there’s confusion regarding the difference between Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, NEXUS, and CLEAR. What are the differences?

Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, and NEXUS, are all Trusted Traveler Programs, and are substitutes for one another:

  • If you sign-up for NEXUS, you get NEXUS, Global Entry, and TSA PreCheck
  • If you sign-up for Global Entry, you get Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
  • If you sign-up for TSA PreCheck, you just get TSA PreCheck

Each program gives you a Known Traveler Number, which is why any of those programs could get you TSA PreCheck privileges. Let’s take a closer look at the details of each of these programs.

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a parallel program to TSA PreCheck, though it has different benefits. Global Entry gets you expedited customs & immigration when returning to the United States from abroad, regardless of which airline you’re flying. You can use a kiosk at immigration, and thanks to your biometric data being on file, you’ll be on your way quickly.

This is a very nice complement to TSA PreCheck. Global Entry saves you time when arriving on an international flight, while TSA PreCheck saves you time when departing from a US airport.

Global Entry can save you time at immigration

What is NEXUS?

NEXUS not only gets you TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, but also gets you expedited immigration in Canada. Interestingly NEXUS is the cheapest of these programs at $50, so what’s the catch?

  • There aren’t as many centers where you can enroll for NEXUS, since it’s primarily intended for those traveling frequently between the US and Canada
  • Some credit cards offering Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credits don’t let you use those credits for NEXUS

What is CLEAR?

In the interest of being thorough, it’s also worth mentioning CLEAR. This is separate from TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, and isn’t run by the government. CLEAR is a technology company that stores biometric data to expedite clearing security at airports, and at select stadiums and other venues.

With CLEAR you can confirm your biometric data, and then you can typically skip the ID check, and head straight into the security line (if you have PreCheck you can get into that line, or otherwise you can get into the standard line).

Save time at security with CLEAR

Is TSA PreCheck worth it?

If you ask me, TSA PreCheck is probably the single thing that has most improved the travel experience within the United States in a long time. Having access to TSA PreCheck is essentially like having access to a priority security line. And even though enrollment has become really widespread, I still consistently find PreCheck lines to be much shorter than standard security lines.

Now, a few things to note:

  • If you’re going to apply for one of these programs, I’d recommend picking up a credit card offering a potential credit for this, as it’s a way to extract even more value from a card
  • If you travel internationally with any frequency, I’d recommend applying for Global Entry or NEXUS, so that you can get expedited immigration and expedited security
  • While CLEAR can be marginally useful, personally I find the time savings from TSA PreCheck to be much bigger

Bottom line

TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are awesome programs that can make the airport experience much more pleasant for frequent travelers.

While you can use Global Entry regardless of which airline you’re flying, only select airlines participate in TSA PreCheck (though nowadays most airlines do). If you’re trying to decide between registering for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, I’d always recommend Global Entry, since that also comes with PreCheck, while the inverse isn’t true.

The best part is that there are quite a few credit cards that give you a statement credit toward this, meaning you can sign up without paying anything out of pocket.

If you have TSA PreCheck, what has your experience been?

Conversations (19)
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  1. Marta wachter Guest

    We applied and paid for clear, ut how do we get a number which sok far we didn't get???

  2. iamhere Guest

    NEXUS is only useful for Canadian travel. I think if I did not have a credit card to pay for the expenses I would not be applying for either Global Entry or Pre-Check. First, because now that there are computer machines for regular applicants the lines for US citizens normally are not as long as before. Back in the day it used to be faster for Global Entry for this reason. Often times the regular...

    NEXUS is only useful for Canadian travel. I think if I did not have a credit card to pay for the expenses I would not be applying for either Global Entry or Pre-Check. First, because now that there are computer machines for regular applicants the lines for US citizens normally are not as long as before. Back in the day it used to be faster for Global Entry for this reason. Often times the regular airport lines are shorter than Pre-Check and the TSA agents can be really obnoxious if the boarding pass isn't correct about it even if nobody is there. Besides many other people can use the pre-check lane anyway.

  3. Tim Guest

    I am happy to have a NEXUS card, with which I take advantage of to cross the border into Canada (sometimes saving me over an hour at the border crossing), speed through the pre-check line, and use the Global Entry kiosks at airports when returning from overseas. All for $50, or $10 a year. Quite a bargain in my opinion.

  4. Alex Guest

    "you’ll also find that the lines move much more quickly"

    Friday I departed from Washington Dulles. The process to go through TSA Pre was a nuisance as for every TSA Pre passenger, at least one CLEAR member was brought in, jumping the line. The same is true at Tom Bradley at LAX. Thus, it is not always better to use the TSA Pre line if in general there are no long lines at security.

  5. Tony N Guest

    I will not get it. But if you must, do not pay for it. It's a government money making scheme. I think eventually everyone will be treated equally. I think they are in the process of getting new machines that analyze liquids and substances so no shoes need to be taken off.

  6. SDS New Member

    Would like a clarification. When I renewed last year Nexus and TSA pre could be renewed together but Global Entry was a separate charge. Initially TSA pre, Nexus and Global Entry were one application. I nowjust use Mobile Passporr instead of Global Entry.

  7. AaronP Guest

    You didn't mention Mobile Passport, free and the best kept secret in travel...

    1. Never In Doubt Guest

      It’s “the best kept secret”, because it’s the best option for only the very lightest of travelers.

      TSA Pre-Check is $15.60/year, Global Entry + Pre-Check is $20/year (and many credit cards comp it).

      If you don’t travel enough to spend $15.60/year on TSA Pre-Check (one international trip/year, no domestic trips at all?), then maybe Mobile Passport is for you!

  8. D3kingg Guest

    TSA pre and global entry are 1000% worth it. If I didn’t already have then I would recommend a credit card that offers them.

    1. Tony N Guest

      It's a government money making scheme. That's all it is.

  9. jotlaptop New Member

    Note also that GlobalEntry is sufficient to get re-entry to the US from Canada at a land crossing, though the card has to be validated online. It is not technically sufficient to get into Canada, but when I tried the card last month, the guard relented when I also showed my NY drivers license. Then when re-entering the US showing my GlobalEntry card, I was mysteriously diverted to a nervous-making waiting line so that they...

    Note also that GlobalEntry is sufficient to get re-entry to the US from Canada at a land crossing, though the card has to be validated online. It is not technically sufficient to get into Canada, but when I tried the card last month, the guard relented when I also showed my NY drivers license. Then when re-entering the US showing my GlobalEntry card, I was mysteriously diverted to a nervous-making waiting line so that they could "validate" my card online -- no explanation. Nexus is intended for those driving regularly across the border, and lets a vehicle use an express crossing gate as long as everyone in the vehicle has a Nexus card.

  10. Dov Guest

    One of the biggest problems with applying and getting Global Entry is that of getting the “interview” required after preliminary approval of your initial application or even renewal application.

    My wife had applied for renewal of Global Entry but couldn't get the interview before the time limit expired. (There simply weren't any appointments available and there is no “walk in” capability unless you are returning to and going through immigration in the United States). The...

    One of the biggest problems with applying and getting Global Entry is that of getting the “interview” required after preliminary approval of your initial application or even renewal application.

    My wife had applied for renewal of Global Entry but couldn't get the interview before the time limit expired. (There simply weren't any appointments available and there is no “walk in” capability unless you are returning to and going through immigration in the United States). The time limit expired and all we got from the administrators of Global Entry was a snarky “too bad, you'll have to apply again and pay another $100.”

    1. Tony N Guest

      I'm Not anti government but I will not be taken by the government and not pay for it. Let my credit card pay for it and if I don't get an appointment, too bad.

  11. KK13 Gold

    I have both, Global Entry and CLEAR. I swear by them every time I fly. Both have saved me so much time and frustrations.

    Esp., on one of the recent international trips, Global Entry (GE) took me less than 1 min to walk through, while my friends who didn’t have GE waited for more than an hour. That’s a huge difference.

  12. shza Member

    Hard to believe there is a single reader of the site that doesn’t have PreCheck (whether via Global Entry or otherwise). I guess the idea is that this gets picked up in Google search results and brings non-readers in?

    1. S9 Guest

      Many foreigners without green card are not eligible for PreCheck and Global Entry.

    2. shza Member

      Fine, but if they're ineligible for it, this article isn't for them either.

    3. Never In Doubt Guest

      “I guess the idea is that this gets picked up in Google search results and brings non-readers in?”

      That’s “the idea” for *every* post

  13. Bob Guest

    The card that offers PreCheck and Global Entry re-imbursement, has anyone ever tried and getting re-imbursed for Nexus? The post mentioned no above - but has anyone actually tried and got rejected (or accepted)? We have Nexus bc (1) we go to Vancouver and Calgary often - proximity to Seattle, and (2) I go for business in MX often as well, so Nexus is super handy. The Nexus lane in Canada is nice, although for...

    The card that offers PreCheck and Global Entry re-imbursement, has anyone ever tried and getting re-imbursed for Nexus? The post mentioned no above - but has anyone actually tried and got rejected (or accepted)? We have Nexus bc (1) we go to Vancouver and Calgary often - proximity to Seattle, and (2) I go for business in MX often as well, so Nexus is super handy. The Nexus lane in Canada is nice, although for non Nexus members, there are often 'smaller' or less known crossing that almost never have queues (Lynden WA is an example), but having Nexus for MX is a time saver.

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Marta wachter Guest

We applied and paid for clear, ut how do we get a number which sok far we didn't get???

0
iamhere Guest

NEXUS is only useful for Canadian travel. I think if I did not have a credit card to pay for the expenses I would not be applying for either Global Entry or Pre-Check. First, because now that there are computer machines for regular applicants the lines for US citizens normally are not as long as before. Back in the day it used to be faster for Global Entry for this reason. Often times the regular airport lines are shorter than Pre-Check and the TSA agents can be really obnoxious if the boarding pass isn't correct about it even if nobody is there. Besides many other people can use the pre-check lane anyway.

0
Tim Guest

I am happy to have a NEXUS card, with which I take advantage of to cross the border into Canada (sometimes saving me over an hour at the border crossing), speed through the pre-check line, and use the Global Entry kiosks at airports when returning from overseas. All for $50, or $10 a year. Quite a bargain in my opinion.

0
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