Everything you need to know about TSA PreCheck and how to apply

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If you enjoy standing in long lines, removing items from your carry-on or pulling off your coat in record speeds, this post is not for you. For the rest of us, TSA PreCheck can be a huge time (and stress) saver at the airport. A membership to TSA PreCheck means you won’t have to remove your toiletries or computer from your bag or take off your light jacket at security checkpoints.

And TSA PreCheck lines are almost always much shorter than the regular security lines. So let’s review everything you need to know about TSA PreCheck, including how to complete an application and how you can get it for free with the right travel credit cards.

Make your airport experience smoother with TSA PreCheck. (Photo by David Tran Photo/shutterstock.)

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program designed to help folks spend less time (and experience fewer headaches) at security checkpoints. With TSA PreCheck, you can speed through security because you can leave your shoes and belt on, don’t need to remove your laptop or 3-1-1 compliant liquids from your bag and the security line is shorter.

In order to get these benefits you’ll need to go through an application process which includes an in person interview and background check. You’ll also get TSA PreCheck benefits if you are approved for some of the other trusted travel programs, like Global Entry or Nexus.

How do I get TSA PreCheck?

You can apply for TSA PreCheck at any time and there is no age limit. Family members age 12 and under can go through the line with a parent who has TSA PreCheck, but ages 13 and up will need to enroll in TSA PreCheck.

You can apply for TSA PreCheck if you’re a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident without any history of violations of transportation security regulations or disqualifying criminal offenses. If that’s you, you can apply online. After your application is conditionally approved you’ll need to find an enrollment center near you and schedule an appointment to meet and finish the process. There are 380+ enrollment centers nationwide and you can even finish your enrollment at some Staples locations.

When you visit the TSA PreCheck enrollment center you’ll need a valid form of photo identification, as well as proof of citizenship or an immigration documentation. You’ll have to answer some basic questions about yourself and your recent travel history. You’ll also get a background check and be fingerprinted.

How much does TSA PreCheck cost?

TSA PreCheck costs $85 for a five-year membership, but there are plenty of ways to get it for free. You should start by checking out our guide to the top credit cards for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, which covers the details of the best cards for getting your application fee reimbursed. When you use one of those cards to pay for your TSA PreCheck application you’ll receive a statement credit for the expense. For most of the cards, you can earn an application fee credit once every four or fives years for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.

You can also receive TSA PreCheck for free if you’re an Orbitz Platinum member.

How to use TSA PreCheck

You can use TSA PreCheck at over 200 airports around the U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii). There are currently over 70 airlines participating in TSA PreCheck:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Air France
  • Air India
  • Air Serbia
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Alitalia
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Allegiant Air
  • American Airlines
  • Aruba Airlines
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Azul Airlines
  • Boutique Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Cape Air
  • Cathay Pacific Airways
  • China Airlines
  • Condor Airlines
  • Contour Aviation
  • Copa Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Eastern Airlines
  • Edelweiss Air
  • Elite Airways
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • EVA Air
  • Finnair
  • Flycana
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Icelandair
  • InterCaribbean Airways
  • Interjet
  • Japan Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Key Lime Air
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Miami Air International
  • Norwegian Air
  • PAL Express
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Porter Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • Silver Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Southern Airways Express
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • Sunclass
  • Sunwing Airlines
  • Swift Air
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • Swoop
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • VivaAerobus
  • Volaris
  • WestJet
  • World Atlantic
  • Xtra Airways

If you book a ticket with an airline not on this list, you won’t be able to use the TSA PreCheck line. When booking your flight, make sure you add your Known Traveler Number (KTN) to the ticket. Otherwise, the airline won’t know you have TSA PreCheck. You can add your Known Traveler Number to your airline profiles, so you won’t need to enter the number every time. You can add your Known Traveler Number to both paid and award flights.

Before you stroll up to the TSA PreCheck line, make sure your ticket indicates you are TSA PreCheck eligible. The words “TSA PreCheck” (or something similar) will be printed on your boarding pass.

Then you’ll just need to find the TSA PreCheck lane, which are easy to spot. They are clearly marked with large blue banners.

You aren’t guaranteed TSA PreCheck benefits

Just because you have TSA PreCheck does not mean you’ll always speed through security. Things can still happen to slow your experience. There are times when you’ll want make sure you leave for the airport just as early as you did before enrolling in this trusted traveler service.

These factors can influence whether or not you’ll be able to speed through the TSA PreCheck line.

Hours of operation

TSA PreCheck only operates at certain times of the day and each airport has its own schedule, which you can check here. You can also google “TSA PreCheck hours of operation” and include the name of your airport. Or, you can tweet AskTSA for the answer.

Location of TSA PreCheck lanes

TSA PreCheck lanes aren’t available at every security checkpoint. If you’re flying out of a large airport, you may waste more time walking to the TSA PreCheck lane than you would have saved by entering the regular security lane.

Passenger volume

Some airports may decide to open or close the TSA PreCheck lane depending on the amount of travelers that day. In other words, if the TSA doesn’t feel the lines are long enough to warrant opening the TSA PreCheck lane, you’ll have to go through the regular security lane like everyone else.

TSA PreCheck can be a valuable and convenient way to speed through airport security. But at the end of the day, it’s really up to the TSA officers whether or not they want to staff the TSA PreCheck lane. This stinks, because you can pay the $85 TSA PreCheck fee and receive no more benefit than anyone else, although this is rare.

Consider Global Entry instead of TSA PreCheck

You could sign-up for Global Entry instead of TSA PreCheck. That’s because when you have Global Entry, you’ll also be approved for TSA PreCheck on most flights. And Global Entry also helps you avoid the long lines at U.S. Customs and Immigration when you return to from overseas.

To qualify for Global Entry, you must be one of the following:

  • U.S. citizen
  • Lawful permanent resident of the U.S.
  • Citizen of Argentina
  • Citizen of India
  • Citizen of Colombia
  • Citizen of United Kingdom
  • Citizen of Germany
  • Citizen of Panama
  • Citizen of Singapore
  • Citizen of South Korea
  • Citizen of Switzerland
  • Citizen of Taiwan
  • Mexican nationals

As is the case with TSA PreCheck, if you have a criminal background, you probably will not be approved for Global Entry. You can apply for Global Entry online and schedule an appointment for an interview with a Customs and Border Protection officer. Or, if you don’t want to wait for a Global Entry appointment, there are some Global Entry centers that accept walk-ins.

There is a $100 application fee, but the same cards that cover the price of enrollment with TSA PreCheck also cover the price of Global Entry enrollment (one or the other, but not both). So if you travel internationally, you may as well get Global Entry.

Bottom line

TSA PreCheck can save you time and stress at airport security checkpoints. You won’t have to take off your shoes, light jacket or belt and you can keep your toiletries and laptop in your bag.

TSA PreCheck costs $85 and is valid for five years, but if you pay with cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express, you’ll get your first application fee reimbursed. Applying for TSA PreCheck is simple, but you’ll need to schedule a meeting where you’ll receive a background check. And you’ll also need to be fingerprinted and complete a short interview before you’re approved.

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