All the reasons why TSA PreCheck is worth it (now more than ever)
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full advertising policy: How we make money.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
If you enjoy standing in long lines, removing items from your carry-on or pulling off your coat at 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.
TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program designed to help travelers 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. Oh, and the security line is almost always shorter.
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.
How to get TSA PreCheck
You can apply for TSA PreCheck at any time, and there’s 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 400+ enrollment centers nationwide and you can even finish your enrollment at some Staples locations.
Despite COVID-19, you can still enroll at these locations. The TSA assures you that the process is safe, and you’ll just need to pop in for a 10-minute fingerprinting. Pretty much everything else can be done online.
How much does TSA PreCheck cost?
TSA PreCheck costs $85 for a five-year membership. An effective $17 per year is already a steal for all the hassle TSA PreCheck saves you, but there are plenty of ways to get it for free.
How to get TSA PreCheck for free
Check out our guide to the top credit cards for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. These cover 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 five years for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.
You can also receive TSA PreCheck for free if you’re an Orbitz Platinum member.
4 reasons why TSA PreCheck is worth it
Now more than ever, TSA PreCheck is a valuable status to have at the airport. Airport security is inconvenient enough, but now that coronavirus has become an issue, we all want to spend as little time as possible at the airport.
You don’t have to mess with those disgusting TSA bins
It’s alarming to me how airports and airlines obsess over sanitizing common touchpoints while they absolutely 100% do not clean the TSA bins after every use. At least I’ve not personally seen that in my travels the last few months.
With TSA PreCheck, you won’t have to take your laptop out of your bag and put it in a separate bin. You won’t have to put your toiletries in a separate bin. You won’t have to put your belt, shoes, and light jacket in a separate bin.
As a TSA PreCheck member myself, I honestly can’t even remember the last time I used one of those big gray bins. I put my carry-on and purse atop the conveyor belt, and I immediately waltz through the metal detector with no issues.
Lines are shorter — and faster
Standing in long lines evokes more anxiety than ever nowadays. We’re constantly reminded to maintain social distancing and avoid crowds. If you’re trying to avoid the endless serpentine queues at the security checkpoint, enroll in TSA PreCheck and unlock the shorter, faster, line.
I recently flew with my parents who don’t have TSA Pre, and I sat for literally 10 minutes on the other side of security waiting for them to join me, and another few minutes waiting for them to get dressed again.
You (probably) won’t receive a pat-down
Again, TSA Pre is a “trusted traveler” program. This isn’t a 100% guarantee, but I don’t recall a time I’ve ever been patted down after having TSA PreCheck, unless it was a “random security check” or something.
TSA PreCheck passengers walk through a simple metal detector — not those gigantic cylindrical body scanners. I’d rather not be exposed to X-radiation more than I have to. Being a trusted traveler puts you in a higher tier than 96% of America. In my experience, pat-downs have been a thing of the past — YMMV, I suppose.
Your overall airport experience is shorter
When you have TSA PreCheck, you don’t need to arrive at the airport quite as early as you normally would. On a recent trip from a moderately sized airport, I made it from the sliding front doors to my gate in about eight minutes thanks to TSA PreCheck. I speculate that I saved about fifteen minutes thanks to TSA Pre.
You aren’t guaranteed TSA PreCheck benefits
On the previous note about arriving to the airport later, I feel I should mention something very important. 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 to 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. Fortunately, TSA PreCheck lines are still operating during coronavirus.
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.
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
Here’s the hack of the day: You can sign-up for Global Entry instead of TSA PreCheck, and still get TSA PreCheck.. 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 the U.S. 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 the 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.
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 (credit worth up to $100). 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.
For more travel and credit card news, deals and analysis sign-up for our newsletter here.
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)
Join the Discussion!