What you need to know about the TSA pre-screening

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Many people feel the itch to start traveling again. If that’s you, consider TSA PreCheck.

With your boarding pass, “you don’t have to remove as many items from your carry-on bag,” says a TSA spokesperson. Lisa Farbstein. You get a dedicated line at airport security, and it tends to move faster.

A TSA PreCheck membership can save you time and effort, but it comes at a cost: $85 for five years, or $17 per year.

Is it worth it?

What is a TSA pre-screening?

TSA PreCheck is a program administered by the Transportation Security Administration, or Transportation Security Administration, and is a component of the Department of Homeland Security. PreCheck aims to screen passengers before they arrive at the airport. As Farbstein explains, “It allows the TSA to focus more on passengers we know so little about.”

Signing up for PreCheck costs $85. Once approved, you get a Known Traveler Number, or KTN, which is valid for five years. This means that the annual cost of TSA PreCheck breaks down to $17.

You can then use your KTN when you book a flight, assuming you fly with one of the 73 participating airlines and to and from one of the more than 200 participating airports. In the vast majority of cases, using your KTN when you book means you get a boarding pass with “PreCheck” on it.

This boarding pass is your ticket to the PreCheck line at the airport. It’s pretty much a fast lane at the airport. “You’re directed to a completely separate security line, which usually reduces the wait for identity verification,” says Zach Griff, frequent flyer and travel analyst at The Points Guy. Gref says passengers are not required to remove as many items from their bags as possible, which speeds up the screening process.

“It makes traveling a more enjoyable experience.”

With your KTN, you can head to the PreCheck line at airport security. In this line you do not need to remove:

  • your shoes
  • your electronics
  • Any light jackets (such as a jacket or windbreaker)
  • your belt
  • Your 3-1-1 bag (which most people use for cosmetics)

Since you don’t need to do any of this, the airport pre-screening line moves faster than standard safety lines.

Think: more quickly. “During the pandemic, TSA PreCheck passengers typically waited four minutes or less. The standard route waits about ten minutes,” Farbstein says. The average pre-pandemic wait times were five or six minutes, she says.

It should be noted that you are not guaranteed in the case of pre-screening. To ensure the safety of all flyers, Farbstein explains, “there must be a random nature to the system.” Every now and then, you might book a flight and not get PreCheck status on your boarding pass.

Is TSA Worth Pre-Verification?

Determining whether or not PreCheck is worth it in an analysis of the $17 per year cost and program enrollment process versus benefits.

Yes, it is worth it

Even if you only make one round trip per year, it can be worth the $8.50 per airport visit to reduce your hassle and time spent in line.

“The peace of mind is worth the cost,” says Greve, a frequent traveler. “I don’t like spending a lot of extra time at airports. With PreCheck, I can almost guarantee that I will be notified through security in minutes.” He says the safety lines for getting on a plane on a regular basis are more than just a wildcard.

But it’s not just about saving time. You avoid the hassle of taking out liquids, electronics, and your shoes, Gref says.

“On a recent flight from New York to Los Angeles, I was the only passenger in the PreCheck line, while the regular security checkpoint was manned at the entrance to the line,” Greave says.

If you are traveling on business and you can calculate TSA PreCheck, even better.

Furthermore, there are some privileged travel cards that include PreCheck membership payment as a credit. The American Express® Platinum Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® are the two cards with this benefit. Check the benefits of your existing cards to be sure.

No, it’s not worth it

With vaccines and herd immunity on the horizon, travel is expected to increase in the next few months. But still, not everyone has the desire, need or ability to travel this year. Wasting a year’s TSA PreCheck membership basically means tossing $17 in the trash.

If you don’t plan to travel in the near future, you may want to wait to apply to avoid wasting time on your membership.

It may also be helpful to skip PreCheck if the local airport is not participating in PreCheck. Use the TSA map to find out.

Another thing to consider: children. If your children are 12 or younger, they can have a pre-screening with you. But if they are 13 or over, they will need to get their pre-verified status to join you in the urgent line.

Finally, if you travel internationally, it is best for you to get a Global Entry. This program costs $100, and helps you return to customs more easily when returning from traveling anywhere abroad. It includes pre-screening, so you don’t need to get it separately. To learn more about Global Entry, visit the US Customs and Border Protection website to begin submitting an application online. Once your application is approved, you will need to visit the registration center.

Another caveat: As mentioned before, enrolling in PreCheck doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a PreCheck boarding pass either. You can get a standard boarding pass to make sure the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can randomize sorts.

professional advice

If you’re planning to travel, consider TSA PreCheck. For $17 a year, it helps you save a lot of time in airport security.

Eligibility for TSA Pre-screening

If you fall into any of the camps that can benefit from TSA PreCheck, you need to make sure you qualify.

To become a member of TSA PreCheck, you must be a US citizen, US citizen, or Lawful Permanent Resident. Foreign nationals can participate in TSA PreCheck if they meet specific citizenship/residency requirements.

Past violations of transport security regulations, erroneous application information, or certain criminal offenses may result in your disqualification.

There are no age restrictions to apply for a TSA PreCheck. However, children 12 and younger can benefit from the Expedited Screening as long as they are traveling with a qualified parent or guardian using TSA PreCheck, so they may not need to take the TSA PreCheck themselves.

How do you get a TSA pre-screening?

Assuming you qualify for TSA PreCheck, you can begin the process online. Here is a step-by-step guide.

  1. Fill out the initial request.
  2. At the end of the online application, you will be asked to make an appointment at one of the 380+ TSA PreCheck registration centers.
  3. Head to your appointment. You will need to bring certain documents with you. These requirements vary depending on your citizenship status. Use this tool from the TSA to find out what you should bring. Your appointment should take about 10 minutes, during which time your fingerprints will be taken.
  4. Wait for approval. You should get your KTN in writing within two to three weeks.

Next, it’s time to use KTN to get PreCheck benefits at the airport.

If you have a frequent flyer profile with an airline, you can give them your KTN, so that they have a profile to facilitate future bookings.

Each time you book a flight, be sure to enter your KTN number along with your other information (such as your name and gender). Pre-screening status will not be guaranteed because, as mentioned before, the TSA has to randomize for security reasons. But often, booking with KTN will result in a PreCheck boarding pass.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I bring family through TSA PreCheck?

Children 12 and younger can benefit from expedited screening if they are traveling with an eligible adult with TSA PreCheck. Adults and children 13 and older must undergo a TSA pre-screening themselves to benefit from the expedited screening.

How often do I need to renew a TSA pre-screening?

You will need to renew your TSA PreCheck membership every five years.

Do all airports and airlines participate in TSA pre-screening?

Currently, more than 200 airports and 79 airlines TSA offers PreCheck nationwide, but not every airport or airline participates in the program. You can check if TSA PreCheck is provided by the destination airport or airline by going to TSA PreCheck Official Website.

Does my loyalty program or credit card cover the cost of TSA pre-screening?

Does TSA PreCheck cover international travel?

TSA PreCheck does not cover international travel. If you travel a lot internationally, TSA PreCheck’s sister program Global Entry may be a better option. Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck and offers express screening for both domestic and international travel for a membership fee of $100 for five years.

Does the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pre-screening guarantee expedited passage through security?

No, although you will get prescreened status on your boarding pass most of the time, the TSA uses unpredictable screening methods throughout the airport for security reasons. For this reason, no one guarantees a quick scan every time.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Registration may be required for some American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to find out more.

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