If you’re a frequent traveler, you may have wondered: What is exactly is TSA PreCheck? How do you get TSA PreCheck? And, is TSA PreCheck worth it? The answer is that it’s one of a handful of expedited programs that travelers can use to streamline and speed up their airport experience. Each of these airport programs, from TSA PreCheck to Global Entry, is designed for different kinds of travelers, whether you’re a frequent international traveler or whether you don’t even have a passport.
Here are some key elements of TSA PreCheck to help you determine if it’s right for you, as well as thorough information about how to get TSA PreCheck.
What Is TSA PreCheck and What Does it Get You?
TSA PreCheck approval grants you expedited passage through Transportation Security Administration lines at hundreds of U.S. airports when you fly domestically with dozens of airlines. Basically, you can pass through airport security lines without taking off your shoes, removing any electronics or liquids from your bag, or taking off your belt or jacket. TSA reports that on average, PreCheck travelers wait less than five minutes to pass through security. From our editors’ experiences, PreCheck lines are almost always shorter than the general security line, but occasionally we’ve seen situations where PreCheck lanes are longer. However, keep in mind that even if the line itself is longer, the line does move quicker as you save time by not having to remove your outer layers, electronics, and liquids.
How Do You Get TSA PreCheck?
Travelers interested in TSA PreCheck must apply online for pre-approval. After being pre-approved, you will be prompted to schedule an appointment for a required 10-minute interview and a background check that includes in-person fingerprinting. To get TSA PreCheck, you’ll also need an “unexpired U.S. government-issued photo identification and proof of citizenship (i.e., passport only, or a driver’s license and birth certificate).” It costs $85 to enroll in TSA PreCheck for five years. Upon enrollment, you’ll get a “known traveler number,” which you will need to provide upon booking any airline ticket to be able to use your TSA PreCheck privileges.
Can I Bring Family Through TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck rules state that if children in your group are 12 years old or younger, they can go through the expedited TSA PreCheck lane with you, even if they don’t have TSA PreCheck themselves. Travelers in your group who are ages 13 and older and not enrolled in PreCheck must go through the regular security line. And although not guaranteed, oftentimes when you book multiple tickets on one reservation and one of the travelers is a TSA PreCheck member, the status then applies to others on the reservation.
Can Unenrolled Travelers Ever Use the TSA PreCheck Lane?
TSA has occasionally allowed ordinary, unenrolled travelers the opportunity to use the PreCheck lane under a program called “Managed Inclusion,” as long as they’re designated as “low-risk” travelers. But that program has been used less since 2015, and Congress may end it soon as a consumer protection for those who have paid to get TSA PreCheck.
Does TSA PreCheck Guarantee Expedited Passage Through Security?
No. TSA says that it uses “unpredictable security measures, both seen and unseen, throughout the airport. All travelers will be screened, and no individual is guaranteed expedited screening.” Presumably, however, those enrolled in TSA PreCheck will almost always receive expedited screening where available, as long as you’re at an airport that offers it and flying with a participating airline.
How Often Do I Need to Renew TSA PreCheck?
After five years, you have to renew your TSA PreCheck. Here’s a guide on how to renew your TSA PreCheck status.
Do All Airports and Airlines Participate in TSA PreCheck?
No. TSA PreCheck is currently available at more than 200 U.S. airports, with almost 70 airlines participating in the program. It’s smart to find out which airports and airlines participate in TSA PreCheck before enrolling to make sure that you can get good use out of the program. If your home airport doesn’t offer TSA PreCheck, it could be a waste of $85, and also a chunk of your time.
Does My Loyalty Program or Credit Card Cover the Cost of TSA PreCheck?
It may. Several travel credit cards, usually those with a fee, will reimburse or otherwise cover the $85 PreCheck fee. Helpfully, TSA provides a current list of credit card offers featuring TSA PreCheck for reference. Note that if your credit card covers TSAPreCheck it may also cover the cost of Global Entry.
Does TSA PreCheck Cover International Travel?
Since PreCheck is a TSA (short for “U.S. Transportation Security Administration”) program, it only affects domestic departures where TSA agents have jurisdiction and TSA PreCheck lanes are already set up. This does include departures from the U.S. to other countries on participating airlines, but having TSA PreCheck will not help you when you’re returning to the U.S. from abroad, or when you’re going through the U.S. Here are some international airlines that do accept TSA PreCheck (for your U.S. departure only): Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air France, British Airways, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Norwegian Air, Qantas, and dozens more.
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) screening. Global Entry, which is operated by CBP, provides expedited reentry to the U.S. through customs in addition to TSA PreCheck privileges, but Global Entry’s enrollment and approval process is different and more expensive.
Should You Get TSA PreCheck?
If you fly frequently, and mostly within the U.S., then TSA PreCheck is probably a good fit for you. Some important factors to consider include how often you fly internationally, whether your local airport or preferred airlines participate in TSA PreCheck, and how often you travel with your family or a large group that has unenrolled members. That being said, you don’t usually come across someone who regrets getting TSA PreCheck.
Frequent international travelers typically find more value in Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck, since Global Entry includes all the benefits of TSA PreCheck but also adds expedited customs processes. Or you could test out the privileges of Global Entry by using a free app called Mobile Passport.
Travel tip: One of our editors uses TSA PreCheck and Mobile Passport; it’s a cheaper alternative to Global Entry, but not always guaranteed to be quicker.
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More from SmarterTravel:
- 16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster
- 2 Easy Ways to Get a Faster Global Entry Interview
- A Guide to Global Entry Renewal
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.