As a record number of passengers head to the country’s airports this summer, the Transportation Security Administration is looking at ways to bolster enrollment in its expedited security screening program.
Many frequent fliers will attest that the $85 enrollment fee for a five-year membership in the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s TSA PreCheck program is worth its weight in gold.
The agency’s expedited security screening program gives its members access to security lanes that are typically shorter and quicker, where pre-screened travelers are not required to remove their shoes, belts, or light jackets or take their laptops and 3.4-ounce liquid containers out of their bags.
Case in point: The Friday before this past Memorial Day (May 24), TSA experienced its busiest day ever, screening nearly 2.8 million travelers, and yet 91.5 percent of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in security, according to the agency.
But despite the amount of time TSA PreCheck can and often does save travelers, enrollment in the program could use a boost, which is why TSA is considering a different fee structure, USA Today reported.
“We want to get people into the program and so we’d like to make it easier,” TSA Acting Deputy Administrator Patricia Cogswell told USA Today in an interview this week.
Cogswell said the TSA is studying a variety of fee options and is expected to make recommendations in the next couple months.
One new fee structure that has been suggested by the U.S. Travel Association earlier this year is to allow enrollees to pay for membership in TSA PreCheck under a subscription model. USTA also suggested that TSA offer volume discounts and streamline its enrollment process.
“The TSA can benefit tremendously if more passengers enrolled in the program,” the USTA said in a statement. “This expedited screening process requires fewer officers, and allows TSA to focus on non-vetted passengers. TSA Precheck is therefore not just about passenger convenience—though that is a happy byproduct, it is about allocating resources on the areas of greatest risk, thereby increasing security overall.”
Cogswell told USA Today that a common refrain among some travelers who haven't signed up for PreCheck is “I have to commit to five years? What if in three years it’s a totally different ball game and I don’t want to be in this program?”
Given that, perhaps the agency could look into cheaper enrollment options that aren’t for a full five-year term, as one alternative to the current model.
TSA PreCheck enrollment options
Launched in 2013, TSA PreCheck currently has more than 7 million people enrolled.
Travelers who would like to enroll in the TSA PreCheck program can apply online, and, as stated above, the enrollment fee is $85 for a five-year membership. They will then need to complete an in-person interview and provide fingerprints at an enrollment center, and once approved following a background check, they will have access to the TSA PreCheck lanes at the more than 200 airports that currently have them.
But the TSA is also looking into ways to make it easier to enroll in PreCheck, Cogswell told USA Today. One option, she said, would be to give travelers the ability to sign up for TSA PreCheck on the spot at the airport and have immediate access to the PreCheck line—though they would still have to remove their shoes, liquids, and laptops at that time, since they won’t have completed their background check yet.
Existing ways to get PreCheck for less
Until the agency decides how and whether it will make the PreCheck program more accessible, there are a few travel credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card from American Express, that will reimburse you for the $85 cost for TSA PreCheck if you use the credit card to pay the fee.
In fact, TSA offers up a long list of cards and loyalty programs that either cover the fee as a member benefit or allow members to use rewards points to pay for the fee.
It’s also worth noting that of TSA’s five trusted traveler programs, three of them include membership in the TSA PreCheck program. There is of course the standalone PreCheck program, but there is also the Global Entry program, which allows for expedited international arrival processing at a cost of $100 for a five-year membership, and includes PreCheck, and NEXUS, for expedited travel between the United States and Canada, which is a $50 five-year membership that includes PreCheck.