The expedited screening program is designed to get you in and out of the airport security line as quickly as possible. It’s now available at more than 200 airports and growing quickly.
Few people would say they love the process of traveling. Getting to your destination can be a series of hassles or a downright pain, so anything that streamlines your journey is a godsend. TSA PreCheck was designed to do just that.
According to the TSA, in November 2018, 93 percent of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in the expedited security lane. The program is growing quickly: It launched in 2013 and today has more than 7 million members, and there are more than 200 participating airports in the United States and 56 participating airlines.
What exactly is the TSA PreCheck program—and how do you apply?
With TSA PreCheck, you go can through a designated security screening line that is faster and simpler. There’s no need to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, or light jackets. You can apply online in about five minutes, and then you’ll need to schedule an in-person interview at an enrollment center, many of which are located at airports. Expect to spend about 10 minutes at the interview, which will include fingerprinting and a background check. Once you’re approved for TSA PreCheck, you’ll get a Known Traveler Number. The application fee of $85 is nonrefundable, and membership is good for five years. 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, NEXUS, or SENTRI—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 a TSA PreCheck. Children older than 13 will need their own Known Traveler Number—or will have to go through the regular security line.
How can you get TSA PreCheck for free?
A few travel credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card from American Express, will reimburse you for the $85 fee for TSA PreCheck—although you must use the credit card when paying the fee. “But make sure any card with an annual fee provides enough value for your lifestyle to make it worth it,” notes Nathan Grant, a credit industry analyst for Credit Card Insider.
How do you get TSA PreCheck on your boarding pass?
Before you can enter the TSA PreCheck lane, you’ll need to flash your boarding pass with the PreCheck logo, which shows you’re a preapproved traveler. Daniel Gillaspia, creator of the travel blog UponArriving.com, points out a couple of must-knows: “You have to add your Known Traveler Number to your frequent flyer profile and/or itinerary,” he says. “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 it re-add your Known Traveler Number.
Be aware that your information with the TSA has to match your ticket and loyalty information exactly or it doesn’t get added. “If your TSA PreCheck is Michael Thomas Smith, but Delta has you in their system as Michael Smith, your TSA PreCheck may not translate and you won’t get to use it,” says Shelby Byrnes, a travel expert with Lola.com, a business travel management platform.
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, you will still have to go through the regular security line. 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 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 PreCheck and not every terminal within an airport has it. And 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 keeping your shoes on.
Where else can you use TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck isn’t just good for airports. If you are a fan of certain teams, it can get you into their home stadiums faster. “In 2017, TSA partnered with the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Jets to create quick lanes to get into the stadium,” says Joe Cortez, NerdWallet’s travel expert. “The pilot project could expand to additional stadiums in the future.”
The program is always evolving, so be on the lookout for changes. There’s new biometric technology that will make security lines even more streamlined, and Congress is working on legislation to ensure that only PreCheck members can take advantage of the speedy security lines.