Carl Unger

TSA PreCheck is one of a few expedited travel programs that travelers can use to streamline their airport experience. Each airport program, from PreCheck to Global Entry, is designed for different kinds of travelers, whether you travel internationally often or you don’t have a passport.

Here are some key elements of TSA PreCheck to help you determine if it’s right for you.

What does TSA PreCheck get you?

PreCheck approval grants you expedited passage through airport security at hundreds of U.S. airports when you fly domestically with dozens of airlines. That means you can pass through an airport security lane without taking off your shoes, removing any electronics or liquids from your bag, or taking off your belt or jacket. TSA says that on average, PreCheck travelers wait less than 5 minutes to pass through security.

How do you enroll in TSA PreCheck?

Travelers interested in TSA PreCheck must apply online for pre-approval. After being pre-approved, you will be prompted to schedule an appointment for a required 10-minute interview and a background check that includes in-person fingerprinting. TSA states that PreCheck also requires an “unexpired U.S. government-issued photo identification and proof of citizenship (i.e. Passport only, or Driver’s License & Birth Certificate).”  The cost to enroll in TSA PreCheck is $85. Upon enrollment you’ll receive a “known traveler number,” which you will need to provide upon booking any airline ticket to be able to use your TSA PreCheck privileges.

Can I bring my family through TSA PreCheck if they aren’t enrolled?

If your children are 12 years old or younger they can go through the expedited TSA PreCheck lane with you. Travelers in your group age 13 and up who are not enrolled in PreCheck must pass through the regular security line.

Can travelers who are not enrolled ever use the TSA PreCheck lane?

TSA has occasionally allowed ordinary, unenrolled travelers the opportunity to use the PreCheck lane under a program called “Managed Inclusion,” as long as they’re designated as “low-risk” travelers. But that program has been used less since 2015, and Congress may end it outright soon as a consumer protection for those who have paid to use TSA PreCheck.

Does TSA PreCheck guarantee expedited passage through security? 

No. TSA says it uses “unpredictable security measures, both seen and unseen, throughout the airport. All travelers will be screened, and no individual is guaranteed expedited screening.” Presumably, however, you will almost always receive expedited screening where available, as long as you’re at an airport that offers it, and flying with a participating airline.

How often must you renew TSA PreCheck?

Membership is valid for five years, after which you’ll need to reapply.

Do all airports and airlines participate in PreCheck?

No. As of September 2018, PreCheck is available at more than 200 airports in the U.S., and 54 airlines participate in the program. You should check to see which airports and airlines participate prior to enrolling to make sure you can get good use out of the program. If your home airport doesn’t participate, it might be a waste of $85.

Does my loyalty program or credit card cover the program cost?

It may! Several travel credit cards (usually those with a fee) will reimburse or otherwise cover the $85 PreCheck fee. TSA maintains a current list of eligible options.

Does PreCheck cover international travel?

Since PreCheck is a TSA (U.S. Transportation Security Administration) program, it only affects domestic departures where TSA agents have jurisdiction and PreCheck lanes are already set up. This does include departures from the U.S. to foreign countries on participating airlines, but PreCheck will not help you when you’re returning to the States from abroad, or when you’re going through U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) screening. Global Entry, which is operated by CBP, provides expedited re-entry to the U.S. through customs in addition to TSA PreCheck privileges, but the enrollment and approval process is different and more expensive.

Is PreCheck for me? 

If you fly frequently, and mostly within the U.S., then PreCheck is probably a good fit for you. Some important considerations include how often you fly internationally, whether or not your local airport or preferred airlines participate, and how often you travel with your family or a large group that may not be enrolled.

Frequent international travelers will find more value in Global Entry, which includes all the benefits of PreCheck along with expedited Customs process. Or, you could test out Global Entry privileges by using a free app called Mobile Passport.