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The process of waiting in a long airport security line is a drag. Full stop. But, if you have a kid, or two or more with you in that “long boring line,” it’s worse by an order of magnitude. Multiply that by a million if your kids are overtired and just done with travel by that point in the trip. It’s like waiting to ride Dumbo at Disneyland without a FastPass, only there is no cute flying elephant at the end, just a security screening.

Avoid this line with TSA PreCheck
Avoid this line with TSA PreCheck.

As a parent without PreCheck, once you get through the line and arrive at the screening area, you still need to suddenly sprout octopus arms to hold your kid(s), take off your shoes, take the liquids out of your bag, remove any coats or belts, take the laptop out of your purse, fold up the stroller, get their milk/formula/juice out for inspection, etc. Doing all this by yourself while holding a kid is … fun?

Thankfully, there is a solution to some large parts of those problems. By now, you have probably heard of TSA PreCheck. If you haven’t heard of it, or aren’t all that familiar, keep reading.

With TSA PreCheck your family can use a dedicated lane for screening that is not only generally quicker than the standard line, but has the added benefits of leaving on your shoes, light outerwear and belts and keeping leaving laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags. This is always a win, but an especially huge help when traveling with a kid. You also get to go through the walk-through metal detector instead of the body scanner. That’s standard when traveling with little kids, but it is a benefit when you are without your kids.

Where Does TSA PreCheck Work?

TSA PreCheck qualifies you for expedited screening on both domestic and international flights at over 200 select checkpoints with 56 airlines, including:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Air France
  • Air Serbia
  • Alaska Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Allegiant Air
  • American Airlines
  • Aruba Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Boutique Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Cape Air
  • Cathay Pacific Airways
  • Condor Airlines
  • Contour Aviation
  • Copa Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Finnair
  • Flycana
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Icelandair
  • InterCaribbean Airways
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Key Lime Air
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Miami Air International
  • Norwegian Air
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Porter Airlines
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • Silver Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Southern Airways Express
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • Sunwing Airlines
  • Swift Air
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • Thomas Cook Airlines (Scan.)
  • Thomas Cook Airlines (UK)
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • ViaAir
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • WestJet
  • World Atlantic
  • Xtra Airways

Note that to use all of your PreCheck benefits, you need to use specific TSA PreCheck lines that are limited in location and operating hours at some airports, so pay attention to signage or ask for directions to the PreCheck line.

How Do I Sign Up for TSA PreCheck?

You can apply online for TSA PreCheck, or for one of Customs and Border Patrol’s (CBP) other entry programs, like Global Entry, SENTRI or NEXUS programs that also confer TSA PreCheck privileges.

The online application process for these programs will only take a few minutes to complete but you will then need to schedule an in-person appointment at an enrollment center for a background check and fingerprinting.

If you don’t plan to apply for Global Entry or any of the other CBP programs, you can apply separately for TSA PreCheck and likely have your choice of more enrollment centers and a much faster appointment time at places like Staples.

Do Kids Need TSA PreCheck?

Children of all ages are eligible to apply for TSA PreCheck, or have it conferred by virtue of having Global Entry or similar, but unlike with Global Entry, children 12 and under can piggy back through the TSA PreCheck lines with their guardian. My children have and use Global Entry for international trips so they have their own PreCheck, but if your child is 12 or under and all you are after is PreCheck, your kids don’t necessarily need their own PreCheck approval.

The Best Credit Card for PreCheck

The application fee for a five-year membership to TSA PreCheck costs $85 per person. However, you don’t necessarily have to pay cash from your own pocket. Many credit cards will cover the application fee for TSA PreCheck (or Global Entry) as a member benefit. Just charge the application fee to your eligible card and you’ll get a statement credit to cover the cost. Some cards that offer this benefit include:

  1. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) — credit every four years
  2. United Explorer Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) — credit every four years
  3. IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card ($89 annual fee) — credit every four years
  4. Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card ($95 annual fee) — credit every four years
  5. Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card ($450 annual fee)(See Rates & Fees)— credit every four years
  6. Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee) — credit every four years
  7. The Platinum Card® from American Express ($550 annual fee) (See Rates & Fees)— credit every four years (authorized users with Platinum cards also get the credit once every four years)
  8. Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard ($450) — credit every five years

If you have multiple eligible cards, you can use different cards to pay for different family members’ application fees and have them reimbursed.

You can also use 25,000 Marriott Rewards points to pay the PreCheck application fee, 10,000 United MileagePlus miles or use 30,000 IHG Rewards Club points, though frankly, taking advantage of a credit card’s application fee benefit is the better choice.

How Do I Know If I Am Approved to Use PreCheck?

If you have PreCheck for your flight, it will be printed on your boarding pass. Even if you are approved for the program, you won’t necessarily get approved for expedited screening for every single flight, but your odds should be pretty good if you follow a few key steps.

TSA PreCheck is located to the right of the United logo on this boarding pass. (Image by Brian Biros / The Points Guy)

First, you need to make sure that the name on your ticket and/or frequent flyer account matches exactly the name on your GOES account. If your names aren’t exactly the same, you may not get to use PreCheck on a given flight. You also need to be sure that your Known Traveler number is included on your reservation and/or in your frequent flyer account.

Here are some tips if you are approved for TSA PreCheck, but it isn’t displaying on your boarding pass.

TSA PreCheck for Families

It is common sense that a streamlined security experience benefits families, but here is a story that really brings home how fantastic TSA PreCheck is for families. It’s an older story from when PreCheck was first introduced, but it still rings true today.

Security in Austin when we didn’t have PreCheck took about 25 minutes for us and our toddler. We waited in line, had to take out all liquids (including baby food and medications), take off shoes and laptop, everyone has to get a full pat down due to baby liquids that can’t be opened, watch while other liquids are opened and potentially contaminated. All the liquid bags were run through the explosive detection system, and then everything had to be repacked.

Contrast this with using PreCheck at LAX on our return home. There was no waiting and no line, we didn’t have to take off shoes or get our laptop out. We didn’t have to take our liquids out of our bags. For our excess liquids for our son, a quick explosive detection was done on the outside of the bag and that was it. The whole thing took just a couple of minutes and we were on our way.

Bottom Line

To me, having or not having TSA PreCheck when traveling with a family is as stark of a difference as night is to day. With so many credit cards now covering the TSA PreCheck application fee as a card holder benefit, it’s worth it to enroll yourself, your partner and any kids 12 and up in this program. Even if you have to pay the $85 fee out of pocket, that is more than worth it for five years of a much-improved security screening process for your family.

For rates and fees of the SPG Luxury Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, please click here.

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