Anyone who’s been through airport security knows how much of a hassle it can be to simply reach your departure gate. But, as many of you probably know, having TSA PreCheck can make the airport-security experience much more tolerable.
For those of you who don’t already have it, let’s run through the ins and outs of the program, how it can help improve your travel experience, and show you how to get access.
What Is the TSA?
In response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) was created as an agency within the Department of Transportation. It was later moved to the Department of Homeland Security where it currently operates.
The agency’s main function is providing security for the commercial aviation industry, which includes the administration of the screening process at airports. Additional security measures, including canine units and Federal Air Marshals, are also used by the TSA at airports.
Hot Tip: Still have questions? Check out these TSA airport security FAQs.
What Is TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is 1 of 5 Trusted Traveler Programs, which also include Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS. These 4 are intended for personal and business travelers, while the fifth program is for commercial trucking (FAST).
Unlike the other trusted-traveler programs that are administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), TSA PreCheck is run by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The program was started in October 2011 and allows the TSA to expedite the security screening process for low-risk travelers.
What Airlines Participate in TSA PreCheck?
Below are the airlines that are currently part of the TSA PreCheck program:
|Advanced Air||Brussels Airlines||Icelandair||Southern Airways Express
|Aerolane Lineas Aereas Nacionales del Ecuador||Cape Air||InterCaribbean Airways||Southwest Airlines
|AeroMexico||Cathay Pacific Airways||ITA Airways||Spirit Airlines
|Air Canada||China Airlines||Japan Airlines||Sun Country Airlines
|Air Choice One||Condor Airlines||JetBlue Airways||Sunclass
|Air Europa||Contour Aviation||Key Lime Air||Sunwing Airlines
|Air France||Copa Airlines||KLM Royal Dutch Airlines||Swift Air
|Air India||Delta Air Lines||Korean Air||Swiss International Air Lines
|Air Serbia||Eastern Airlines||LAN Peru S.A.||Swoop
|Alaska Airlines||Edelweiss Air||LATAM Airlines||TAM-Linhas Aereas S.A.
|All Nippon Airways||EL AL Israel||Lufthansa||TAP Air Portugal
|Allegiant Air||Elite Airways||Norwegian Air||Turkish Airlines
|American Airlines||Emirates||Omni Air International||Ultimate Jet Charters
|Aruba Airlines||Etihad Airways||PAL Express||United Airlines
|Asiana Airlines||Eurowings Discover||Philippine Airlines||Virgin Atlantic
|Austrian Airlines||EVA Air||Porter Airlines||Viva Air Colombia
|Avianca||Flair Airlines||Qatar Airways||Volaris
|Azul Airlines||Flycana||Scandinavian Airlines||Volaris El Salvador
|Boutique Airlines||Frontier Airlines||Seaborne Airlines||WestJet
|Breeze Airways||Global Crossing Airlines||Silver Airways||World Atlantic
|British Airways||Hawaiian Airlines||Singapore Airlines||
TSA PreCheck Airport Locations
200+ airports in the U.S. participate in the program, including the 30 busiest airports in the nation:
Note that if you’re at an airport outside the U.S., you’ll have to wait in the “normal” security line with everyone else.
Hot Tip: TSA PreCheck can be especially helpful if you regularly fly out of an airport that has consistently long TSA wait times.
What Are the Benefits of TSA PreCheck?
The most noticeable perk of TSA PreCheck may very well be that you can leave your shoes on when passing through the security checkpoint. Additional benefits include the ability to leave on light outerwear, jackets, and belts, and keeping laptops and small liquids in your bag.
Essentially, it makes having carry-on luggage a breeze as you won’t have to take everything you carefully packed out again to go through the security line!
All of these benefits combined make the screening process much quicker, which is perhaps the best benefit of all, especially on busy travel days.
Even with these perks, some travelers will still be pulled at random for extra screening, but the overall time spent being screened will still be lower compared to a non-TSA PreCheck screening. In fact, the TSA reported that the average wait time for travelers in TSA PreCheck lines was less than 10 minutes as of January 2019 (the last time the agency has reported on this figure).
How Does the Program Work?
To use TSA PreCheck, you first need to complete the membership application and approval process. If approved, your membership will be active for 5 years — after that period, you’ll have to renew your membership if you wish to keep it.
Once you’ve completed the in-person appointment (assuming everything is in order with your background check), you’ll be notified. Then, you’ll receive your Known Traveler Number (KTN) and become eligible to use the TSA PreCheck security lanes.
Hot Tip: Some airports have launched the ability to create a screening time reservation, further reducing the time to wait in line during busy times.
Before traveling, make sure you add your Known Traveler Number to your reservation to ensure you have access to TSA PreCheck. Many airlines allow you to do this online, but you can also call the airline to have your number added to your reservation.
You can also add your KTN to your frequent flyer accounts so that it will be automatically included when you book flights.
If you notice that “TSA PreCheck” is not printed on your boarding pass or visible on your mobile boarding pass, speak with the appropriate airline check-in desk for assistance. It must be listed on your boarding pass, or you will not be allowed to access those security lanes.
For parents and guardians with children ages 12 and under, they are eligible to use the TSA PreCheck security lanes with you. Children older than 12 will need their own membership.
If you’re flying with an airline that is not a partner of the program, you won’t be able to utilize the program. Fortunately, TSA continues to partner with more and more airlines.
Who Is Eligible? What Are the Requirements and Restrictions?
To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or a lawful permanent resident and pass a background check.
Violations of transportation security regulations and incomplete or false information on your applications can disqualify you from membership.
Additionally, there are several criminal offenses and factors that can disqualify you.
If you are a citizen of the following countries, you can apply for Global Entry and may be granted the benefits of TSA PreCheck even though you can’t apply directly for the TSA PreCheck program:
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
How Much Does TSA PreCheck Cost?
The initial application fee is $85 and is good for 5 years. If you’re rejected from the program, you will not receive a refund.
As of October 1, 2021, if you choose to renew your application online, it will cost $70 and is still valid for the same 5-year timeframe. If you choose to renew in person, the fee remains $85.
Fortunately, there are several credit cards that will reimburse the fee regardless of approval.
What Credit Cards Reimburse the TSA PreCheck Application Fee?
We’re big fans of credit cards and the many travel benefits they provide, so, naturally, we want to share with you our recommended cards that will reimburse the application fee for TSA PreCheck.
If you use one of the cards in the table below to pay the $85 application fee or the $70 to $85 renewal fee, you will receive a statement credit. You could also use any of these cards to pay — and then get reimbursed — for the $100 fee for Global Entry instead since Global Entry provides automatic access to TSA PreCheck.
Cardholders are eligible for the statement credit once every 5 years, which corresponds with the length of your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership.
Here are a few of our favorite cards that offer complimentary Global Entry and TSA PreCheck:
If you already have a membership and don’t need the credit, you can pay for a friend or family member’s application and receive the credit that way. Not a bad birthday gift if you ask us!
Several of these cards will extend this benefit to authorized users as well. While you may be charged for adding authorized users on some cards, the $100 credit can help make it more manageable.
Applying for TSA PreCheck
To apply, you must fill out an online application so that the TSA can conduct a background check. You’ll have to include information such as citizenship, address, date of birth, and immigration documentation (if applicable).
Hot Tip: The TSA has a handy tool to determine which documents will be necessary here.
Once you’ve finished your application, you’ll need to make an appointment at an enrollment center. There are over 400 locations throughout the U.S.
At your interview, you’ll be required to show a valid photo ID, proof of citizenship, and immigration documentation if applicable.
The interview is quick and mostly for verification. You can expect questions about yourself and your travel, and you’ll be fingerprinted during the process.
You’ll be notified of approval (or denial) within 2 to 3 weeks once the in-person interview is complete, but many people are approved within 3 to 5 days. During this time, you can check your application status online.
Don’t wait to apply as in-person appointment slots can fill up quickly.
How Did I Get TSA PreCheck Without Applying?
When the program was first rolled out in late 2011, some members of frequent flyer programs were invited to participate free of charge. These frequent flyers were not given KTNs, though, so they were still required to formally enroll in the program.
However, you have 3 other options for getting access without directly applying for it. If you’re approved for Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI, you’ll be given access to TSA PreCheck.
A Step-by-Step Application Walkthrough
If you’re looking for a quick rundown on the initial application process, we have you covered! Let’s dive right into it:
Step 1: Visit the TSA PreCheck Home Page
Once on the homepage, you need to click on the red Apply Now button in the middle of the page. This will bring you to the first page of the application, which asks for biographical information.
Step 2: Complete the Application
Work your way through each page of the application. The application is simple and won’t take more than 15 minutes if you have all the necessary information on hand.
Step 3: Schedule Your In-Person Interview
The final piece of the application process is to select a location for your in-person interview. You’ll need to search for your location. The search results will show options near you and how many appointment slots are available in the next 45 days.
After selecting a location, you will need to choose a date and time for your in-person interview.
Step 4: In-Person Interview
Bring all the required documents. You’ll select which 2 forms of ID you’ll bring in the online application. This could be a driver’s license and a passport. If applicable, bring any required immigration documents as well.
You’ll also need to bring a credit card to pay the $85 fee. You could pay by cashier’s (or certified) check, but with so many credit cards that reimburse you for the fee, why would you?
Step 5: Wait for an Update
Most will be notified within 3 to 5 days after their appointment, but it can take up to 90 days to hear back. Keep this in mind when planning a trip: you don’t want to leave your application and interview to the last minute!
Step 6: Add Your Known Traveler Number to Frequent Flyer Accounts
Once approved, you’ll be notified and provided with your Known Traveler Number. Add this to your frequent flyer accounts so it’s automatically included in your itineraries going forward.
Step 7: Enjoy the Benefits
You can now use the TSA PreCheck security lanes at over 200 airports nationwide. Enjoy your expedited screening experience!
Compared to Other Trusted Traveler Programs
With 4 common Trusted Traveler Programs, how do you know which one to choose? This section compares each of the different programs so you have a better idea.
TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry
Global Entry provides expedited screening upon re-entering the U.S. from abroad. The program is administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security.
If you’re a member of Global Entry, you’re provided access to TSA PreCheck. However, having a membership to TSA PreCheck does not provide access to Global Entry.
The enrollment process is similar as each requires an application and in-person interview. The Global Entry application is available online. The fee for Global Entry is $100 but can be reimbursed by several credit cards, similar to TSA PreCheck.
TSA PreCheck vs. NEXUS
NEXUS is a joint program between the U.S. and Canada designed to allow more efficient travel between the 2 countries, and it provides access to both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.
In addition, NEXUS provides expedited entry into Canada. Global Entry and TSA PreCheck members do not get this benefit.
The cost is only $50, which is a fantastic deal, but you’ll have to visit one of the enrollment centers located in select cities in the northern U.S.
TSA PreCheck vs. SENTRI
On the southern border of the U.S., the SENTRI program provides similar benefits to that of NEXUS in the north.
To receive an expedited entry into Mexico, you’re required to have a SENTRI membership, so, again, neither Global Entry nor TSA PreCheck on their own will be enough. Enrollment centers are located in Arizona, California, and Texas.
If you’re going to travel often, you definitely want to sign up for the TSA PreCheck program to make the security screening process a little less painful!
With so many credit cards that will reimburse you for not only TSA PreCheck but Global Entry as well, you might as well sign up for Global Entry, if possible. You get the same access to TSA PreCheck, and it will make your return to the U.S. much easier.
If you know you won’t travel outside of the U.S. for 5 years, though, perhaps you only need TSA PreCheck.
Whatever the case may be, think about enrolling in this program to save time and increase efficiency at the airport!
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