Why TSA PreCheck is fantastic for families
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
The process of waiting in a long airport security line is a drag. But if you have a kids with you in that "long boring line," it's worse by several orders of magnitude. Multiply that by a million if your kids are overtired and just done with travel by that point in the trip. (Such as when you clear customs upon re-entry in the U.S. but then have to go back through security to catch your next flight.)
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.
Of course, once you get through the line and arrive at the actual screening area, you still need to 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 bag, fold up the stroller, get milk/formula/juice out for inspection, etc.
Doing all this by yourself while holding a kid is misery.
Thankfully, there is a solution to many of these issues. 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 keeping your shoes on, laptops and tablets in their places and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags. This is always a win, but an especially huge help when traveling with kids. 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 an extra perk for PreCheck when you're without your kids.
Where does TSA PreCheck work?
TSA PreCheck qualifies you for expedited screening on both domestic and international flights at more than 200 select checkpoints with more than 70 airlines, including:
- Air Canada
- Air France
- Air India
- Air Serbia
- Alaska Airlines
- All Nippon Airways
- Allegiant Air
- American Airlines
- Aruba Airlines
- Asiana Airlines
- Austrian Airlines
- Boutique Airlines
- British Airways
- Brussels Airlines
- Cape Air
- Cathay Pacific Airways
- Condor Airlines
- Contour Aviation
- Copa Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Eastern Airlines
- Edelweiss Air
- Elite Airways
- Etihad Airways
- EVA Air
- Frontier Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- InterCaribbean Airways
- Japan Airlines
- JetBlue Airways
- Key Lime Air
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
- Korean Air
- Miami Air International
- Norwegian Air
- PAL Express
- Philippine Airlines
- Porter Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- 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
- TAP Air Portugal
- Thomas Cook Airlines (Scan.)
- Thomas Cook Airlines (UK)
- Turkish Airlines
- United Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- World Atlantic
- Xtra Airways
Once you enroll in TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, you'll get a Trusted Traveler number. Here's how to add your Trusted Traveler number to your profile for each airline that participates in TSA PreCheck screening.
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 apply for one of Customs and Border Patrol's (CBP) other entry programs, like Global Entry, SENTRI or NEXUS, which 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 piggyback through the TSA PreCheck lines with their guardian. My children have and use Global Entry for international trips, so they have their own PreCheck benefits, but if your child is 12 or under and all you want is PreCheck access, your younger kids don't necessarily need their own PreCheck approval.
Also note that if you have Clear, a for-fee privatized security lane at airports and other public places like stadiums, your kids 18 and under can use Clear with you for free. (And some Clear lines are specifically for those with PreCheck.)
Try clear for a two-month free trial using code TPG2M
The best credit card for PreCheck
The application fee for a five-year membership to TSA PreCheck is $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:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card ($95 annual fee) — credit every four years
- United Explorer Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) — credit every four years
- IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card ($89 annual fee) — credit every four years
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card ($95 annual fee) — credit every four years
- Chase Sapphire Reserve ($550 annual fee) — credit every four years
- The Platinum Card® from American Express ($695 annual fee see rates and fees) — credit every four to four and a half years
- 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. Just remember to keep track of which family member uses what reimbursement benefit since you'll want to use that credit again in four or five years when you need to re-enroll. Here are tips to keep track of your credit cards' Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credits.
You can also use 25,000 Marriott Bonvoy points to pay the PreCheck application fee, 10,000 United MileagePlus miles or 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. However, your odds of using it should be pretty good if you follow a few key steps.
First, you need to make sure that the name on your ticket and/or frequent flyer account matches exactly the name on your government Trusted Traveler 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 have 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 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.
To me, having or not having TSA PreCheck when traveling with a family is a difference of night and day. With so many credit cards now covering the TSA PreCheck application fee as a cardholder benefit, it's worth it to enroll yourself, your partner and any kids ages 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.
Here's more advice about expedited airport screening:
- 3 lessons from saving $400 on Global Entry applications
- Should you get TSA PreCheck or CLEAR — or both?
- Why I broke down and got CLEAR
- Enroll for TSA PreCheck at Staples
- Definitive guide to airlines offering TSA PreCheck
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.