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 welcome relief. TSA PreCheck was designed to do just that.
Originally launched in 2013, the program today has over 10 million members and more than 200 participating airports in the United States and 80 participating airlines. Even so, 96 percent of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in the expedited security lane in September 2021, according to the TSA. If you don’t yet have TSA PreCheck, here’s how the program works and what you can expect once you’re enrolled.
What exactly is the TSA PreCheck program?
TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program that allows travelers to participate in an expedited security screening for domestic and some international flights. At participating airports, TSA PreCheck will have a dedicated security line that is faster and simpler than standard lines. In these lines, you can expect to keep your shoes, belts, and light jackets on, and you will not have to remove your laptops or liquids from your 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 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.
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 much does TSA PreCheck cost?
The first-time, nonrefundable, application fee for TSA PreCheck is $85 and membership lasts for five years. As of October 1, 2021, the cost to renew your TSA PreCheck membership online dropped from $85 to $70. (The lower price only applies to online renewals; if you’re renewing in person or signing up for the expedited security screening program for the first time, PreCheck still costs $85.)
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 your fee, these credit cards will reimburse you for the membership fee for TSA PreCheck.
How long does it take to get TSA PreCheck?
After the interview, most applicants are approved within three to five days, though some can take up to 60 days. The same timeline is true for renewals.
Once you are approved, you will receive a Known Traveler Number, or KTN.
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 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 flier 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 or re-add it from within the airline app.
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 former 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 backpack or keeping your shoes on.
This article was originally published on January 31, 2019; it was updated on October 5, 2021, with current information.