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The last time you stood in line at the airport, you might have watched with envy as others zipped through security with minimal wait. As you might have figured, those flyers likely had TSA PreCheck, which allows them to skip the standard security screening that you hate to go through.
Waiting in line can be a pain, and TSA PreCheck may be the answer to a more comfortable and efficient travel experience. But what are the program's benefits? What does it cost? And is TSA PreCheck worth it?
We break down the TSA PreCheck program, what it includes and whether the perks outweigh the cost.
What Is TSA PreCheck?
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), is responsible for ensuring the safety of passengers and flight crew aboard passenger airlines. When you travel, you are required to pass through TSA's security clearance by showing identification and your boarding pass, along with following restrictions for carry-on luggage, including removing liquids, phones, computers, metals and shoes when going through TSA security lines.
Instead of waiting in TSA's long security line, TSA PreCheck is a paid membership that allows you to enter a separate security line that is usually shorter and faster. You can even bypass having to remove liquids, shoes, laptops and jackets.
A TSA PreCheck membership costs $78 and is valid for five years, which equates to less than $16 per year. It also comes with several perks that frequent travelers may find convenient.
What Perks and Benefits Come With TSA PreCheck?
There are many perks and benefits to becoming a TSA PreCheck traveler:
- Average wait is less than five minutes, based on June 2023 estimates by TSA.
- Children 12 and under can accompany a parent or guardian with TSA PreCheck.
- You do not need to remove your shoes, laptops, belts, light jackets or 3-1-1 liquids.
- Pre-check perks are available at more than 200 airports and through 85 airlines across the U.S.
How Do You Sign Up for TSA PreCheck?
As you can imagine, obtaining TSA PreCheck-status is not as easy as filling out a form and instantly receiving your membership as you are essentially bypassing stricter travel screening with the program. Safety is of the utmost importance to the TSA, so PreCheck membership eligibility has a number of requirements you must meet before being approved.
Here are the steps required to sign up for TSA PreCheck:
- You must be a U.S. resident, U.S. national or lawful permanent resident.
- Complete the online application.
- Make an appointment at one of the more than 380 enrollment centers.
- You'll be required to bring certain documents depending on your citizenship status.
- Your appointment will likely take about 10 minutes and include fingerprinting for a background check.
- Wait to receive TSA PreCheck approval. If you're approved, you could receive your Known Traveler Number (KTN) within 3-5 days or it may take up to 90 days.
- You can check the status of your application here.
Once you're approved, you can use that traveler number any time you book a flight through an eligible airline to receive TSA PreCheck. Please note that for safety purposes, you may not always receive TSA PreCheck status on your boarding pass and would then be required to go through standard airport security.
You can renew your TSA PreCheck status up to six months before it expires. Online renewals cost $70 for five years.
Can Family Members Go With You Through TSA PreCheck?
Children 12 years and under can accompany a parent or guardian with TSA PreCheck through the faster security lines. Kids between 13 and 17 can join enrolled adults in the dedicated lanes if they are traveling on the same reservation and if the TSA PreCheck indicator appears on the child’s boarding pass.
If your spouse, sibling or children want the perks of TSA PreCheck, they must apply individually.
Does TSA PreCheck Include International Travel?
Yes. TSA PreCheck includes international travel from a U.S. airport to a foreign country. It also includes domestic, connecting flights once you return to the United States.
It may be worth noting, however, that if you travel internationally more than four times per year, it may be more beneficial to apply for a Global Entry pass.
Global Entry is $100 for five years and provides you TSA PreCheck plus self-service kiosks, or E-gates, using facial comparison technology, and does not require that you fill out paperwork when entering a foreign country. You can also use Global Entry for travel by air, land and sea.
Can You Get TSA PreCheck for Free?
Yes. Technically, you could get your TSA PreCheck for free in a few ways:
- If you're an active military member.
- If you're a member of the Department of Defense, including U.S. Military Academy at West Point, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy or U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
- If you have a credit card or are part of a loyalty program that pays part or all of your TSA PreCheck fee. Participating organizations can be found here.
- If your company reimburses you for TSA PreCheck due to frequent travel for work.
7 Best Credit Cards That Include TSA PreCheck and Global Entry
Is TSA PreCheck Worth It?
Yes, TSA PreCheck is worth it if you want to save considerable time going through airport security. TSA reports that PreCheck members only spend an average of five minutes in line for security screening while travelers without PreCheck can spend about an hour or more at the busiest airports during peak times.
Here are some scenarios where TSA PreCheck can be worth the cost:
- If you have young children, TSA PreCheck can be worthwhile to help you get through longer lines faster.
- If you travel even a few times per year, the cost per trip becomes increasingly smaller while the perks look more and more beneficial.
- If you travel frequently for work, TSA PreCheck can make traveling more comfortable and convenient. Plus, your company may likely reimburse you for the cost of the membership.
- Even if you only fly once a year for a family vacation, TSA PreCheck could be worth it to help you get through security faster.
TSA PreCheck may not be worth it if:
- You don't fly at least once per year.
- Your local airport you use most frequently doesn't offer TSA PreCheck
- You only travel with your children, and they're 13 or older—because they'll need their own TSA PreCheck membership to skip the standard security line. The added cost may outweigh the benefits of the faster line if your family rarely travels.
Again, if you travel internationally regularly, it's likely a better option to get Global Entry, which automatically includes TSA PreCheck. Global Entry allows you to get through customs faster, too.