What Is TSA PreCheck? What It Does, Benefits, and How to Qualify

What Is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a U.S. government program that allows travelers deemed low-risk by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a U.S. Department of Homeland Security agency, to pass through an expedited security screening process at certain U.S. airports. In March 2021 alone, 98% of TSA PreCheck passengers took less than five minutes to pass through security. As of 2021, there are more than 10 million travelers enrolled in the PreCheck program.

Qualifying travelers often have their own special lines at the security checkpoint. They don’t have to remove their belts, shoes, or lightweight jackets. They may also leave a laptop in its case and a 3-1-1 compliant bag (which can contain items with small quantities of liquids and gels, such as a travel-size bottle of mouthwash) in their carry-on luggage, instead of removing it, as regular passengers have to do.

Key Takeaways

  • TSA PreCheck is a U.S. government program that allows air travelers deemed low-risk to enjoy an expedited security screening process at U.S. airports.
  • TSA PreCheck passengers have shorter lines at airport security; have to remove less clothing; are subject to less-rigorous scans, and other conveniences.
  • You can start the TSA PreCheck application online, but an in-person appointment for fingerprinting and background check is also required.
  • TSA PreCheck status costs $78 and is good for five years.
  • The program began in 2013 and has over 10 million active enrollees as of 2021.

How TSA PreCheck Works

The TSA PreCheck program began in Dec. 2013, and is intended to speed up the passage of verified travelers through security checkpoints, which often become crowded as passengers gather to board their flights. Typically, passengers must remove articles of clothing and personal items that could be used to contain hazardous materials.

Shoes, for example, were previously used in attempts to smuggle and detonate explosives on an airplane. Electronic equipment, such as laptops, are also usually subject to scrutiny at checkpoints because of attempts to hide materials inside by removing components.

TSA PreCheck verifies which passengers are present the lowest risk to flight security, so these passengers can pass through security checkpoints without the need to remove shoes, belts, or jackets from their person or laptops and liquids from their bags.

Applying for TSA PreCheck

Some 200 airports and 79 airlines offer TSA PreCheck service. You can begin the application process online via the TSA's website. However, you will have to enroll in person, via a visit to one of the more than 380 application centers, where you will be fingerprinted and asked for a valid proof of identity and U.S. citizenship documents. Travelers who are foreign citizens must meet certain residency requirements in order to qualify for the program.

The online application takes less than five minutes, on average, and the in-person appointment takes about 10 minutes.

Once approved for TSA PreCheck status, you will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN). Use that number any time you book a flight, and you will automatically have your TSA Pre status applied to your boarding pass—it looks like this: TSA Pre✓.

And you can then start using those faster lanes at participating airports reserved for TSA pre-passengers.

$78

The cost of becoming a traveler with TSA PreCheck status. Though the fee is non-refundable, your membership lasts for five years, and is then renewable.

Cost Coverage With Credit Cards

Many credit cards provide access to TSA PreCheck as a membership benefit. Some offer periodic statement credits for TSA PreCheck, while others allow their members to pay for the program with their loyalty points. According to the TSA, these cards include:

  • Bank of America: Premium Rewards credit card
  • Capital One: Spark Miles Card, Venture Card, and Venture X Card
  • Certain American Express Credit Cards
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
  • Citi:  AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, Prestige Card
  • Commerce Bank® World Elite Mastercard
  • Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card, Reserve American Express Card
  • Expedia® Rewards Voyager Card from Citi
  • HSBC: Elite World Elite Mastercard, Premier World Mastercard
  • Marriott: Bonvoy, Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card
  • MasterCard Black Card, MasterCard Gold Card
  • Truist: Business Travel Rewards credit card, Enjoy Beyond credit card, Enjoy Travel credit card
  • UBS Visa Infinite Credit Card
  • US Bank: Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card, FlexPerks Gold American Express Card

Other Traveler Programs

TSA PreCheck only applies to air travel. The Department of Homeland Security operates other federal programs such as Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI for verifying the identities of trusted travelers, and speeding their path through security.

  • The NEXUS program covers pre-screened travelers who are traveling between Canada and the U.S. by plane, car, or boat. It costs $50.
  • The SENTRI program governs travel on land into the U.S. from Mexico by air or land. It costs $122.50.
  • Global Entry lets trusted travelers who are traveling internationally by plane, ship, or auto quickly move through customs and border protection. It costs $100.

For U.S. citizens, membership in these programs membership includes TSA PreCheck status as well.

There are also private programs that can speed up your trip. One of them is Clear, a security technology program that uses biometric data to help identify passengers. Clear is already used in around 50 airports, as well as other locations such as stadiums.

200+

TSA PreCheck is available at over 200 U.S. airports, and over 85 different carriers.

TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry vs. Clear

TSA PreCheck is one of several programs offering a smoother airport experience. It allows trusted U.S. citizens and permanent residents to skip the lines at U.S. airport security. It costs $78 for a five-year membership.

However, TSA PreCheck is only available for flights leaving the U.S. Global Entry is a similar program for international travel, allowing trusted passengers to quickly move through customs and border checkpoints. It costs $100 for five years.

Clear is a private program for identification technology. Rather than have airport officials manually compare passengers to their identification documents, it uses biometric data—such as fingerprints and iris scans—to quickly verify passenger identities, allowing them to move quickly through airport or stadium security. This is more expensive than PreCheck or Global Entry: Clear costs $189, and only lasts for one year.

What Are the Requirements for TSA PreCheck?

The TSA PreCheck Application Program is only open to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents. Applicants may be ineligible due to incomplete or false application information, violations of transportation security regulations, or disqualifying criminal offenses.

Applicants must fill out an online application and schedule an in-person interview at a regional TSA office for screening. A non-refundable processing fee is also required.

What Are the Benefits of TSA PreCheck?

Travelers who have TSA PreCheck status can enjoy faster-moving dedicated security lines at airports and do not have to remove their shoes, belts, or light jackets. Gels and small liquids may often remain in carry-ons as well as laptops.

How Can I Apply for TSA PreCheck?

First, submit a short online application via the TSA's PreCheck website, then schedule an in-person interview at an enrollment center. Enrollment centers can be found by searching by zip code or address.

Can My Children Join Me on the PreCheck Line?

Yes, children 12 and under can join a parent or legal guardian with TSA PreCheck in the dedicated lanes if traveling together, even if they do not have their own known traveler number.

Is TSA PreCheck a Security Vulnerability?

The TSA argues that TSA PreCheck is safe and all enrollees are fully-vetted and undergo recurrent criminal history checks. Critics have argued that the vetting process is flawed and that those with bad intent can falsify statements made during in-person interviews. Still, there have not been any known security incidents related to PreCheck since its inception in 2013.

The Bottom Line

Since 2013, the TSA PreCheck program has allowed enrollees to speed through airport security via dedicated lanes that have less stringent screening criteria. The program is available to all U.S. citizens and legal residents who do not have a criminal history. To enroll, there is an online application and in-person interview. The application costs $78 and enrollment lasts five years, after which time it can be renewed for additional 5-year periods.

Article Sources
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  1. Transportation Security Authority. "TSA PreCheck."

  2. Transportation Security Administration. "TSA PreCheck® Airports and Airlines."

  3. Department of Homeland Security. "Trusted Traveler Programs."

  4. Transportation Security Administration. "Credit Card and Loyalty Programs Featuring TSA PreCheck."

  5. Transportation Security Administration. "TSA PreCheck."

  6. Transportation Safety Administration. "TSA PreCheck® FAQ."

  7. L.A. Times. "Op-Ed: The scary truth about TSA’s PreCheck security vulnerabilities."

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