Don’t Redeem Your United Miles For TSA Pre-Check

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Loyalty programs have increasingly been adding opportunities for members to enroll in TSA Pre-Check. Some airlines have given TSA Pre-Check memberships away to elite members for free, while others have been allowing members to redeem points for them. On top of that, several credit cards offer Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check fee credits, like The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Citi Prestige® Card.


For example, a few months ago I wrote about how Alaska Airlines now lets you redeem 10,000 points for the $85 TSA Pre-Check enrollment fee. That’s a horrible value at 0.85 cents per mile, given that I value Alaska miles at ~1.8 cents each. Perhaps an even worse value is Club Carlson’s recent offer to redeem 65,000 points for the $85 TSA Pre-Check enrollment fee.


Now you can add United to the list of airlines that will let you redeem miles for the TSA Pre-Check enrollment fee. United will let you redeem 10,000 MileagePlus miles for the TSA Pre-Check enrollment fee.


Personally I value United miles at ~1.4 cents each, so to me those 10,000 miles are worth ~$140; I certainly wouldn’t redeem them for an $85 credit.

Not only is that a bad value in comparison to the cash cost of the TSA Pre-Check enrollment fee, but beyond that in 99% of instances it doesn’t make sense to even enroll in TSA Pre-Check. Why?

  • You can instead spend $100 to get Global Entry, which gets you expedited immigration; this comes with TSA Pre-Check, so it’s well worth spending the extra $15 and getting it all bundled
  • The very best value is signing up for NEXUS, which costs just $50, and gets you expedited screening at US and Canadian borders; on top of that it also comes with Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check, so it’s the best kept secret, as it’s the most comprehensive membership (the catch is that you have to go to a NEXUS enrollment center, and they’re more limited than Global Entry/Pre-Check enrollment centers)

Ultimately loyalty programs offering bad redemption opportunities is nothing new, and I think more choices are a good thing. After all, not everyone can get outsized value from these programs. As much as it kills me, there are plenty of people out there who use their miles for merchandise and other redemptions, getting them less than a cent per mile of value.

So more options are a good thing, though still, please don’t redeem your miles for TSA Pre-Check. If it were the Global Entry enrollment fee and you didn’t want to part ways with the cash I’d kinda sorta understand it, but no way for Pre-Check!

As airlines add this redemption opportunity, I don’t get why they don’t give members the option of redeeming for Global Entry as well.

Would you ever redeem your miles for TSA Pre-Check?

(Tip of the hat to The Points Guy)

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  1. Don’t understand why you’d understand it if you could redeem 10,000 UA miles for $100. If it were AA miles, would you say the same thing?

  2. @Bill

    “kinda sorta” doesn’t imply a full understanding 😛 I’d also assume Lucky values the $15 extra for expedited immigration is a good value. In that sense, the 10,000 UA miles for both expedited security and immigration would make more sense mostly because in dollar-wise it makes more sense.

    Lucky would never advocate for a traveller to only go for Pre-Check, I don’t think. If this was a “promotion” from AA, DL, B6, or even cash, he would probably point travelers towards the other options they have.

  3. Actually, I took advantage of a SWA offer of 9000 RR points for TSA preCheck. Had more than I needed of RR points, am going to use my Prestige GE credit for my wife, as she is more likely to travel internationally in the foreseeable future. i think it’s an OK deal, I get to keep $85 in my pocket, and I get, (hopefully), TSA PreCheck.

  4. It seems there is a basic rule of travel point programs . Only use frequent flyer miles for flights. Only use hotel points for hotels. Etc. Everything else is just a bad value.

  5. Absolutely don’t redeem your UA miles for anything but air travel – the longer the trip, the better. Redeeming US miles for “gifts” and such is a terrible deal, as is using them for TSA Pre-Check. As Lucky mentions, if you plan on any international travel at all in the next 5 years, get Global Entry, and that fee will be reimbursed by many credit cards, and you will automatically get TSA Pre-Check.

  6. I may be confused, but as far as I’m aware NEXUS only comes with Global Entry when entering the US via Canadian preclearance airports.. so may not be as good of a deal as initially advertised.

  7. For folks near international hubs, it’s a no-brainer to go with Global Entry over Pre-Check, but in my case, I’d have to take a midweek trip to another city to do this. There are a very limited number of facilities that handle Global Entry applications; the closest one to me is 200 miles away and only open two days a week. Not a good option.

    As far as using miles, if you have miles languishing in a United account, it’s not necessarily a bad deal. I haven’t flown United in a couple of years, so it makes sense to cash these out (even at a discount) and take what I can get.

  8. Interesting comments. My wife and I have points to spare if we transfer. I need 3000; she has 18000. The transfer would cost us about $30, as opposed to just spending the $85 or applying for a credit card with that as a benefit. I could hold on to the points and use them for a flight, but that assumes I would fly united. We also each have $100 vouchers (screw up on last flight). They have a dealine of a year (two months have gone). Going to need to use them first.

    I am strongly considering the apply for credit card route. No fee is important; Interest rate does not matter, as I would cancel as soon as got approved for the pre-TSA.

    So any thoughts on this scenario?

  9. After United dragged the Dr. off the flight, I’ve been looking to dump my miles for non-flight. I don’t want to get beat down on a plane. So for me, I will be dumping my 10,032 miles and closing my United card.

  10. United mile balance: 10,001. Haven’t flown United in years, and don’t expect to anytime soon. Redeemed 10,000 miles, have an appointment in two days, and a whopping 1 mile left. Kind of makes me feel good after United’s ‘forcefully haul passenger off plane’ incident, and the CEO’s ‘tough sh*t’ response.

  11. yeah, maybe it’s a bad value if you think of those 10K miles as $140, but I think of those miles as a free/heavily subsidized personal asset that my employer & customers funded – why pay $85 of my already taxed income back to the federal government when I can exploit an existing ‘free’ resource without incurring any additional out-of-pocket costs? You also have to consider how much time the Precheck application process will consume (4-5 hours? Longer if you don’t live near an application site) How does that application time compare to your future non-precheck wait times – how many flights will you need to take in order to justify any time savings? At some airports, the precheck lines offer no time savings over the regular lines – but maybe not having to remove your shoes, laptop & belt are worth more to you? TPA abd DCA are designed so that no security line ever has more than 15 concurrent departures, so you’re almost always guaranteed short wait times. Beware that DCA will be reconstructing its TSA checkpoint in the next few years – better for making connections, worse for DC area residents who now enjoy speedy security at DCA.

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