Often times, the least attractive aspect of travel is the process of traveling itself. Getting to your destination can be a series of hassles and long lines, so anything that can streamline your journey is a welcome relief. TSA PreCheck was designed to do just that.
Originally launched in 2013, the program today has more than 15 million active members and is available at some 200 participating airports in the United States with 87 participating airlines. Even as membership continues to grow, 92 percent of those enrolled report waiting less than five minutes in the expedited security lane, according to a recent update from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). If you don’t have TSA PreCheck yet, here’s how the program works and what you can expect once you’re enrolled.
What is TSA PreCheck and what does it do?
TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program that allows travelers to go through an expedited security screening process for domestic and some international flights. At participating airports, TSA PreCheck will have a dedicated security line that is typically faster and simpler than standard lines. In these lines, travelers can expect to keep their shoes, belts, and light jackets on, and will not have to remove their laptops or liquids from their carry-ons.
How to apply for TSA PreCheck
You can apply for TSA PreCheck online in about five minutes, and then you’ll need to schedule an in-person appointment at an enrollment center, which can be found at a variety of locations, including airports, Staples stores, and a growing number of IdentoGo enrollment outposts. Expect to spend about 10 minutes at the appointment, which will include fingerprinting for a background check. Once you’re approved for TSA PreCheck, you’ll get a Known Traveler Number.
There are several ways to get TSA Precheck: You can apply for it on your own (if you’re mainly traveling domestically), or you can opt for Global Entry (a trusted traveler program for expedited customs processing upon arrival into the United States), NEXUS (for entry into the U.S. from Canada), or SENTRI (for entry into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico)—all programs that include TSA PreCheck membership.
Children under the age of 12 don’t require their own membership if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian with TSA PreCheck. Children older than 13 will need their own Known Traveler Number—or will have to go through the regular security line.
How much does TSA PreCheck cost?
The first-time, nonrefundable, application fee for TSA PreCheck recently dropped and is now $78 for a five-year membership. It costs $70 to renew a TSA PreCheck membership.
How to get TSA PreCheck for free
The best way to get TSA PreCheck for free is through one of several travel credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card from American Express. As long as you use the credit card to pay for the TSA PreCheck fee, these credit cards will reimburse you.
How long does it take to get TSA PreCheck?
After the in-person appointment, most applicants are approved within three to five days, though some applications can take up to 60 days to be approved. The same timeline is true for renewals. According to TSA, “applicants can receive updates on their enrollment application status by email, phone, text or by checking online.”
How to add TSA PreCheck to your boarding pass
Before you can enter the TSA PreCheck lane, you’ll need to flash your boarding pass, either a paper or mobile version, with the PreCheck logo on it, which shows you’re a preapproved traveler.
“You have to add your Known Traveler Number to your frequent flier profile and/or itinerary,” says Daniel Gillaspia, creator of the travel blog UponArriving.com. “Sometimes your Known Traveler Number may ‘disappear’ from your itinerary and you’ll need to re-add it; you can do this at check-in.”
If you don’t see the TSA PreCheck logo on your boarding pass and you’re flying with an approved carrier, head to the airline counter to have the agents add your Known Traveler Number back to your booking or you can add it back from within the airline app.
Be aware that the information you provide TSA, such as your full name, should match your ticket and loyalty information exactly or it might not get added.
Even if you’re approved, there are times when you can’t go through PreCheck
Because not all airlines participate in the program, if you book on a non-TSA PreCheck carrier (not all international airlines are TSA PreCheck partners) you will still have to go through the regular security line—which is why some frequent travelers also opt to purchase a Clear membership. The opposite scenario can happen, too. “When lines become excessively long, security will sometimes move non–TSA PreCheck passengers into the TSA PreCheck line,” says Stephanie Miller, founder of travel bog the Scenic Suitcase. “This can create longer waits for members, especially when the people being moved into the PreCheck line may not be frequent travelers and thus [are] not as adept at the security process.”
It’s also worth noting that not every airport has TSA PreCheck and not every terminal within an airport has it. And TSA PreCheck lines may have their own hours and are not always open when the standard security line is open, such as early in the morning. At these times, if you show security agents that you’re approved for PreCheck, they may let you skip some of the security steps, like keeping electronics and liquids in your bag or backpack or keeping your shoes on.
Is TSA PreCheck worth it?
If you travel often, TSA PreCheck is definitely worth it, especially if you’re able to get it for free via a credit card (and even if not, the fee only comes to about $14 to $16 per year), as it will save you time and stress once you get to the airport. The process has become much easier now that there are ample enrollment centers where travelers can conduct the in-person appointment (often very close to home). And you will never appreciate TSA PreCheck more than when you see a general boarding security line snaking endlessly through the terminal or after you’ve had to wait in such a line and nearly miss your flight—or worse, actually have missed it because of a long security line.
Add to the shorter wait times, the fact that you don’t have to face the exhaustive juggle of removing your shoes, belts, and light jackets or of taking laptops and liquids out of your carry-on bags when going through TSA security lanes and TSA PreCheck offers another way to simply reduce the hassle and stresses of air travel.
This article was originally published in January 2019; it was most recently updated on March 24, 2023, with current information.