TSA Pre-Check: Everything You Need To Know (Plus How To Get It For Free)

Filed Under: Security/TSA
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While there are aspects of the US travel experience that are worse than ever before, there have also been some innovations in the past several years that have made air travel more pleasant. Specifically, TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry are among those.

In this post I wanted to take a closer look at TSA Pre-Check. How does it work, which airlines are participating, how can you get TSA Pre-Check for free, and more?

What Is TSA Pre-Check?

TSA Pre-Check offers expedited security for eligible travelers at US airports. When using a TSA Pre-Check 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, you’ll generally find that the lines also move much more quickly.

Do note that not all US airports have Pre-Check, and even at those airports that do have it, it’s not always open.

Global Entry Vs. TSA Pre-Check

Often there’s confusion regarding the difference between Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check, and then NEXUS is thrown into the mix as well. These are all great programs that can help travelers, though what’s the difference between them?

Before we look at the details of these, I should note:

  • Enrolling in Global Entry (which costs $100) automatically gets you TSA Pre-Check, but enrolling in TSA Pre-Check (which costs $85) doesn’t automatically get you Global Entry; that’s why I always recommend applying for Global Entry if you’re eligible
  • Global Entry works regardless of which airline you’re flying, while for TSA Pre-Check you have to be flying select airlines

To make sure that your itinerary is eligible for TSA Pre-Check, make sure that you enter your Trusted Traveler Number at the time you make your reservation. This can usually be entered on the same page where you enter your other personal details.

What Is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a parallel program to TSA Pre-Check, though it has different benefits. Global Entry gets you expedited customs & immigration when returning to the US from abroad. You can use a kiosk at immigration, and just have to provide your fingerprints, have your picture taken, and answer a few questions, and you’ll be on your way.

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

Global-Entry

What Is NEXUS?

There’s yet another program worth being aware of, and that’s NEXUS. Joining NEXUS costs just $50, and gets you both TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry, and also gets you expedited immigration in Canada.

So, what’s the downside? Two things:

  • 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
  • If you have a credit card offering a Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit, it’s not valid for NEXUS

Registering For Global Entry & TSA Pre-Check

While you can pay to register for TSA Pre-Check directly, you’re much better off registering for Global Entry, as it also comes with TSA Pre-Check (TSA Pre-Check, on the other hand, doesn’t come with Global Entry).

I registered for Global Entry for the first time in mid-2011, and wrote about my experience at the time. Global Entry is valid for five years, and I renewed my membership in 2016.

You’ll have to fill out an online application for Global Entry. Then once it’s conditionally approved you’ll have to schedule an in-person appointment to get your final approval.

How To Get TSA Pre-Check For Free

There are quite a few credit cards that offer either a TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry fee credit. In the case of all cards offering this benefit:

  • You receive the benefit either every four or five years
  • You just have to charge the $85-100 enrollment fee to your card, and it will automatically be reimbursed
  • There’s no requirement for you to be signing yourself up; you can sign up a friend or family member, and just give them your credit card to pay with, and it will be reimbursed

The Best Credit Cards For TSA Pre-Check

Some of the best credit cards for TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry fee credits include the following:

Cards offering Global EntryFee credit terms
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressOne statement credit every four years, authorized users also eligible
The Business Platinum Card® from American ExpressOne statement credit every four years, authorized users also eligible
Chase Sapphire Reserve®One statement credit per account, every four years
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardOne statement credit per account every four years
Capital One® Spark® Miles for BusinessOne statement credit per account, every four years
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®One statement credit per account, every five years
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit CardOne statement credit per account, every four years
United℠ Explorer CardOne statement credit per account, every four years
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit CardOne statement credit per account, every four years
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit CardOne statement credit per account, every four years

Which Airlines Belong To TSA Pre-Check?

As mentioned above, individual airlines have to register for TSA Pre-Check, so you’ll only be able to use Pre-Check lanes if you’re flying an eligible airline. The good news is that quite a few airlines are participating, including virtually all US airlines, and most foreign airlines as well.

US Airlines Participating In TSA Pre-Check

The following US airlines participate in TSA Pre-Check:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Allegiant Air
  • American Airlines
  • Boutique Airlines
  • Cape Air
  • Contour Aviation
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Eastern Airlines
  • Elite Airways
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Key Lime Air
  • Miami Air International
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • Silver Airways
  • Southern Airways Express
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • ViaAir
  • Xtra Airways

Frontier Airlines participates in TSA Pre-Check

International Airlines Participating In TSA Pre-Check

When TSA Pre-Check first launched it was only available for domestic flights, but nowadays it’s available on international itineraries, including on select foreign airlines. Now that TSA Pre-Check for international flights is a thing, let’s take a look at the international airlines participating in Pre-Check:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Air France
  • Air India
  • Air Serbia
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Aruba Airlines
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Azul Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific Airways
  • China Airlines
  • Condor Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Edelweiss Air
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • EVA Air
  • Finnair
  • Flycana
  • Icelandair
  • InterCaribbean Airways
  • Interjet
  • Japan Airlines
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Norwegian Air
  • PAL Express
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Porter Airlines
  • Qatar Airways
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Sunwing Airlines
  • Swift Air
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • Swoop
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thomas Cook Airlines (Scan.)
  • Thomas Cook Airlines (UK)
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • VivaAerobus
  • Volaris
  • WestJet
  • World Atlantic

Etihad Airways participates in TSA Pre-Check

TSA Pre-Check Summary

TSA Pre-Check 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 Pre-Check (though that list is always growing).

If you’re trying to decide between registering for TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry, I’d always recommend Global Entry, since that also comes with Pre-Check.

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

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Comments
  1. NEXUS can be even cheaper.

    1. Canadians pay C$50, not US$50.
    2. If you do it by mail and credit card, it ends up costing about US$47 plus you may get some points or miles.
    3. If you get approved right after your birthday (probably apply just before your birthday), you can get up to 5 years, 11 months since NEXUS is good for 5 year renewals and 5 years to 5 years 11 months the first time.

  2. Not sure what everyone is complaining about. I’d wager the post is super informative for people who don’t know much about PreCheck or Global Entry. Selling signups for cards has been part of Ben’s business strategy for this blog for ages. Nothing new here…

    @Alvin Care – Clear is a privately run program that works in coordination with the TSA and allows you to cut to the head of the line. If you have PreCheck you can still use that lane, but can jump even the PreCheck line. The downside is that its rollout is quite slow, and is in use at far less airports than PreCheck is. You get a discount for signing up for just being a Delta Skymiles member. Its primarily in use at Delta hubs and is being rolled out to United hubs as well now. They also use it for purposes beyond airports, like security screening to enter Yankees games etc. Ben has written about it extensively in the past.

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