12 key things to know about TSA PreCheck

Feb 23, 2020

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As airports across the U.S. continue to get busier, inevitably, security lines have only grown longer. If you haven’t already considered getting TSA PreCheck, now is the time to join.

Believe us when we say, PreCheck is a timesaver and stress reliever that you won’t look back on. There’s plenty of great reasons to get in on the perk and the process is faster, easier and cheaper than you might be aware.

Here’s what you need to know before you apply.

It gets you through airport security faster – Much faster

Launched in 2013, TSA PreCheck is a program for travelers who are deemed low-risk by the Transportation Security Administration. Those who are accepted can go through specially designated security lines at airports that often move much faster than the standard lanes.

PreCheck passengers do not have to remove their shoes or belts, or remove laptops or liquids from their bags. Travelers are also usually screened with walk-through X-ray machines rather than the full-body scanners most people are subjected to.

According to the TSA, 93% of travelers who used TSA PreCheck lanes in November 2019 experienced wait times of five minutes or less. Compare that to the 23 minutes you might be waiting at some of the nation’s busiest airports.

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 04: Passengers wait to clear security next to the newly opened TSA PreCheck lane which the Transportation Security Administration launched to cut down the time prescreened passengers need to stand in the traditional security line at Miami International Airport on October 4, 2011 in Miami, Florida. The pilot program launched today for fliers to use the expedited security screening in Miami, Atlanta, Detroit and Dallas/Fort Worth.The lane has a metal detector rather than a full-body imaging machine and passengers will no longer no need to remove shoes, belts, light outerwear, and bags of liquids that are compliant with TSA restrictions. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PreCheck can help you skip those ever-longer security lines. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It costs $85, but you can get it for free

Applications for TSA PreCheck cost $85 each, whether you are accepted or not. You can pay using a credit card, debit card, money order, certified or cashier’s check, or company check.

The good news is, many credit cards now include a TSA PreCheck (or Global Entry) application fee statement credit (usually worth up to $100) that can be used once every four or five as part of their benefits. You might even already be carrying multiple credit cards with this perk. If so, you can use some of your cards to pay for friends’ or family members’ applications. After your own, of course.

Among the popular cards that feature this benefit are:

For more information, see our post on The top cards for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.

The information for the Citi Prestige, PenFed Pathfinder, SunTrust Travel Card, U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

It’s not the same as Global Entry or CLEAR

TSA PreCheck just gets you into expedited security lines with less hoops to jump through when you get there. It will not help you speed through customs and immigration when returning to the US like Global Entry does. The reason some folks get confused is that usually if you have Global Entry, you also automatically get TSA PreCheck status, but not vice versa. That’s why you might just want to apply for Global Entry instead and get access to both programs’ benefits for $100 rather than just TSA PreCheck for $85.

By contrast, CLEAR is a biometric verification program that sends members to the front of security lines at airports (and some other venues). But it will not get you into TSA PreCheck lanes if you do not have PreCheck, too.

A Clear line at JFK Airport. (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)
TSA PreCheck is not the same as CLEAR or Global Entry. (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

It’s for security in the U.S., but you can use it when traveling internationally

You will find TSA PreCheck lanes at over 200 airports across the US. However, a total of 73 airlines currently participate in the program. So even if you are traveling abroad from the U.S., you might still be able to use PreCheck lanes during the security process. You just won’t be able to take advantage of it when originating abroad and returning to the US.

You don’t have to be a US citizen in order to join

The program is open to US citizens, US nationals and legal permanent residents, so some foreign residents might be eligible to apply.

There are two steps to the application

First, you must submit an online application for TSA PreCheck. The form is brief and requires you to fill in information including your date and location of birth, current address, height, weight and eye color, among other metrics.

Once you’re conditionally approved, you will need to schedule an in-person appointment at an enrollment center that includes fingerprinting and a background check. Here is the full list of nearly 400 enrollment centers, many of which are at airports. This process usually only takes a few minutes, but it could take weeks or even months to schedule an interview, so apply well before you plan to use PreCheck services. Don’t forget to check all the enrollment centers in your area for open slots, or consider using one at an airport whose enrollment center allows walk-in appointments if that fits your travel plans.

After your interview, you will be notified of the result in writing within two or three weeks. However, you can also check your application status online and find out whether you’ve been approved much faster.

Remember to add your Known Traveler Number to your frequent-flyer accounts.

You need to add your Known Traveler Number to your accounts and reservations

Even if you are accepted to TSA PreCheck, you won’t automatically get to use the expedited security lines. Although you do not receive a membership card like you do with Global Entry, you will be given a Known Traveler Number. You must add this to your frequent-flyer account profiles or when entering your personal information while purchasing tickets so that it is attached to your reservations.

When traveling, you will know if you are able to use the TSA PreCheck lanes when you see it noted on your boarding pass. If you do not see it noted, ask the agents at your airline’s check-in desk whether your Known Traveler Number is attached to your reservation. If it is not, you should be able to add it at the airport so you can access the PreCheck lines.

Your membership expires every five years

TSA PreCheck membership is only good for five years, which means you have to reapply and pay the application fee every so often. You can renew your membership up to six months before the expiration date in order to ensure your membership does not lapse, and the process is easier than joining initially. Most people will simply be able to renew online, though some might have to go back to an enrollment center to complete the process.

You can be disqualified

If you violate federal security laws and regulations, like interfering with security operations, using fraudulent documents, making a bomb threat, bringing a firearm onboard, or a variety of other actions, you can be disqualified from PreCheck.


You need to update your membership if your personal information changes

If your name or address changes, you will need to contact the TSA to let them know. You can either call them at (855) 347-8371, or submit an online inquiry and the agency will let you know what documentation you need to provide in order to process

There are no age restrictions

You don’t have to be a certain age to apply for TSA PreCheck, but kids ages 12 and under can use the lanes when traveling with an eligible parent or guardian even if they are not members themselves.

You won’t get to use the faster lines every time

Even if you have TSA PreCheck, there are times when you will be directed to use the normal security lines. This can be for any number of reasons, including security issues at certain airports. If it starts happening every single time you fly, though, you might want to contact the TSA to see if there is an issue with your membership.

Bottom line

TSA PreCheck has made the airport experience much quicker and easier for flyers who have chosen to participate. While you do have to jump through a few hoops to apply and attach it to your flight reservations, doing so is well worth it in order to skip the ever-growing lines at security checkpoints in airports around the US.

What’s more, you can even enroll for free by paying for your application with a credit card that refunds the application fee, of which there are over a dozen. On the other hand, if you travel internationally frequently, you might just want to apply for Global Entry instead and enjoy the benefits of both that program and TSA PreCheck combined.

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

For rates and fees of the Bonvoy Brilliant, please click here.

Featured photo by George Frey/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

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