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 $85 and is valid for five years, which equates to $17 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 April 2022 estimates by TSA.
- Children ages 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 81 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.
- To be eligible, 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?
Only children 12 years and under can accompany a parent or guardian with TSA PreCheck through the faster security lines. If your spouse, sibling, or children 12 years and older 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 different 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. Learn more here.
- 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.
Is TSA PreCheck worth it?
There is no black and white answer to this question. It all depends on whether you think the cost is worth the added perks.
When TSA PreCheck Is Worth It
The first question to ask is, “How often do I travel?” Even if you travel via airplane only once per year for your annual family vacation, you may find it worth the $17 per year to get through security faster without the hassle of taking things out of your bag and off your body to get to your gate.
Some additional scenarios where TSA PreCheck can be worth the cost:
- If you have smaller children, this perk could increase in value exponentially seeing as children may be hard to manage through a long, tedious standard security line.
- If you travel a few times per year to see family out of state or simply enjoy more than one vacation 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 much more comfortable and convenient. Your time is valuable and you need to get to and from your gates in a timely fashion. Plus, your company may likely reimburse you for the cost of the membership.
When TSA PreCheck Is Not Worth It
- If you find that you don’t fly at least once per year, but instead opt for road trips or no vacations at all, then TSA PreCheck is likely very unnecessary.
- While many airports across the country offer TSA PreCheck, not all do. If your local airport doesn’t offer TSA PreCheck, it likely won’t be worth the annual fee.
- If you only ever travel with your children, and they’re 13 or older, they’ll need their own TSA PreCheck membership to skip the standard security line. Paying $85 per person in a family of three or more may outweigh the benefits of the faster line if your whole 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.