Table of contents
- What is TSA PreCheck?
- TSA PreCheck benefits
- How much time does TSA PreCheck save?
- How to get TSA PreCheck (step-by-step process)
- Is TSA PreCheck worth it?
- Tips for using TSA PreCheck
- Are there any downsides to TSA PreCheck?
- Is TSA PreCheck always honored?
- If I’m flying with a child, do they also need TSA PreCheck?
- Is there a minimum age for TSA PreCheck?
- What’s the difference between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry?
- What’s the difference between TSA PreCheck and CLEAR?
- How long does my TSA PreCheck status last for?
- How to renew my TSA PreCheck
- TSA PreCheck alternatives
TSA PreCheck is one of the reasons why going to the airport and flying in recent years has been slightly less of a headache for us. We get to quickly go through security and we don’t have to worry much about leaving for the airport early to allot time for “security wait times that are out of control.”
We didn’t always have TSA PreCheck, though! It’s one of the things we’ve gotten in order to make flying more of a breeze. How do you get TSA PreCheck and is it worth it?
Let’s take a look and see, from both of our experiences together.
What is TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is a travel program from the US government available to American travelers. Having TSA PreCheck allows travelers accepted into the program to go through airport security in an exclusive line, and avoid long security lines at participating US airports.
There are a few other benefits to note, as well! I’ll get into those later and I’ll comment on them from my experience as a traveler with TSA PreCheck.
TSA PreCheck benefits
TSA PreCheck gets you into several benefits that make traveling so much simpler through security. This helps lower my stress levels at the airport, especially if I feel short on time.
For instance, some of my highest-stress experiences at home and abroad have been when I’ve been in a never-ending security line and my flight is beginning to board. I think these times have like some of my top most stressful experiences ever, while traveling.
Here are the main benefits of having TSA PreCheck during travel:
Skipping the regular security line
This is probably obvious by now, but you’ll get to skip all the people waiting in the regular security line, and you proceed right to the shorter TSA PreCheck line!
Better rules about laptops
You get to leave your laptop in your backpack, and you don’t have to take it out for scanning separately!
Leave your shoes on
You can keep your shoes on, as opposed to taking them off in a regular security line, and you don’t have to remove your belt or sweater/sweatshirt.
Keep your liquids in your bag
Your liquids still have to be bagged up and no single liquid container may not be larger in volume than 3.4oz (100ml), but you don’t have to remove them from your bag when your bag is scanned on the conveyor belt.
The travelers in the TSA PreCheck line seem a bit happier and the security personnel is nicer (or it’s just in our heads).
How much time does TSA PreCheck save?
TSA PreCheck will save you time in airport security about 99% of the time (in my experience). It ultimately depends on how long the regular security line is. If the regular security line is empty, and if TSA PreCheck is empty, it might save you less than five min.
The real time savings is based on the length of the regular security line and the number of security lanes open.
If you’ve ever gone to the airport and there’s a line so long it’s wrapping around the end of the line dividers, and the TSA PreCheck line has 10 people in it, you’d potentially save anywhere between 20-40 minutes.
You’ll zip through TSA PreCheck security if the lanes are properly staffed and there are no delays. Then, you can head to your airport lounge of choice, like we do.
How to get TSA PreCheck (step-by-step process)
I applied for TSA PreCheck online, and you can, too.
- Go to the TSA PreCheck website.
- Click “Apply Now,” which will take you to this application page, where you’ll list your main contact information, then citizenship information, residential information, “attributes” (what you look like), mailing address and more. It takes about five minutes.
- Schedule a 10-minute appointment in person at any of the enrollment centers, where you’ll be fingerprinted and have your background check verified.
- Wait to receive your “Known Traveler Number,” and then always add it to your airline reservations. (The wait time can be anywhere between 3 to 60 days, so stay patient!)
Is TSA PreCheck worth it?
In my opinion, yes — TSA PreCheck is very worth it, especially for the money, and especially if you travel around four times per year (internationally or domestically) from the US.
TSA PreCheck is worth it for what you pay ($78), if you fly often, or even if you don’t.
Especially during summer, on holidays and on weekends, having TSA PreCheck helps you beat the crowds at security and can make it so that you don’t have to leave as early for the airport.
I flew out of Newark International Airport for a domestic flight on a weekday morning, and decided to time my journey from getting out of my Uber to being through security, with TSA PreCheck. I believe it was seven minutes flat (as a disclaimer, I had checked into my flight online the night before, and I did not check a bag).
Tips for using TSA PreCheck
My first tip is to look at your boarding pass when you either print it or have it in your airline app on your phone.
If your boarding pass doesn’t say “TSA PreCheck,” then you will not be accepted into the TSA PreCheck line at security in the airport.
Double-check with the check-in staff from your airline to make sure they can apply your status to your boarding pass, if it is not present. It might have meant that you didn’t enter your Known Traveler Number (KTN) when you purchased the flight.
Another tip for using TSA PreCheck is to make sure you have your Known Traveler Number handy when you book a flight! Store it somewhere safe, like in your 1Password account.
My last and final tip is to still leave time for going through security and don’t cut it too close, when you head to the airport. At select times, TSA PreCheck lanes could be closed, if there are staff shortages, and some very small domestic airports may not offer TSA PreCheck.
To drive this point home, I found that there are more than 5000 airports in the US (ranging from tiny ones to gigantic ones in major cities), yet “only” 200 airports have TSA PreCheck supported.
Are there any downsides to TSA PreCheck?
The only downside I can think of in regard to TSA PreCheck is that you’ll invest in it and you may find that in some rare scenarios, a domestic airport will have the TSA PreCheck line closed off for a few hours when you need to go through security. That has happened to me a handful of times.
Another downside is that you have to keep in mind that TSA PreCheck is not available at airports abroad (but that makes sense because the TSA is a US-based entity).
If you fly domestically very often and get used to zipping through security with TSA PreCheck, then waiting in a security line with “everyone else” when you’re out of the country will bring you back to your pre-TSA PreCheck days.
Is TSA PreCheck always honored?
If you are traveling internationally, remember that TSA PreCheck is not supported outside the US! Actually, your boarding pass (if from a US-based airline) may say “TSA PreCheck” on it, but if you’re flying out of Colombia or Mexico or somewhere, you certainly won’t get the American TSA agents helping you along through TSA PreCheck at the foreign airport.
Like I mentioned above, if you fly from a smaller airport within the US, it is worth checking in advance if TSA PreCheck is supported there. At some regional airports in the US that do not qualify as major hubs in large metro areas, TSA PreCheck still may not be available.
A good way to see if you have TSA PreCheck honored on your ticket is if your boarding pass has a small symbol that says “TSA Pre” with a checkmark symbol. If your boarding pass doesn’t say this, it either means you didn’t enter your Known Traveler Number (KTN) when you reserved the flight, or, TSA PreCheck is not available where you are.
If I’m flying with a child, do they also need TSA PreCheck?
Unlike the need for all US citizens to have Global Entry, TSA PreCheck actually works whereby children can proceed through TSA PreCheck if they are with an “enrolled adult” who is in the program. Regarding Global Entry for babies and kids, see my tips on how to get Global Entry for a child.
There is a minimum age, though.
One thing to know about TSA PreCheck when flying with a baby is that if you have a baby or toddler in a stroller, the baby must be in your arms during screening in the metal detector.
Is there a minimum age for TSA PreCheck?
Children who are 12 and under can come through TSA PreCheck with a parent or guardian who has TSA PreCheck. That means that children younger than 12 years old do not have to apply for TSA PreCheck on their own.
Children 13 and over can apply for TSA PreCheck, so 13 is the minimum age. Note, though, that if a child between 13 and 17 is traveling with a parent or guardian who has TSA PreCheck, the child can go through security in the TSA PreCheck line with the adult(s).
If a child between age 13 and 17 is applying for TSA PreCheck, he or she will need the same types of documents and application process that an adult would need.
What’s the difference between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry?
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are both travel programs that allow trusted and frequent travelers to optimize their time spent at the airport. For example, if you travel often for business or you have same-day business trips, you’ll want to make your airport experiences efficient.
Both TSA PreCheck and Global Entry help travelers skip lines; however, the difference is that TSA PreCheck helps travelers skip the regular security line before a flight (in US airports) and Global Entry helps travelers skip regular passport control lines upon returning home to the US from international destinations.
In short, TSA PreCheck is for before a flight, within the US, and Global Entry is for after a flight (if flying in from abroad).
What’s the difference between TSA PreCheck and CLEAR?
The main difference between TSA PreCheck and CLEAR is that TSA PreCheck is a way to go through airport security faster (you will have your passport checked by a TSA staff member) and CLEAR will let you have your identity verified by a “pod” scanner to bypass the need for waiting to have your identity checked by a human.
Having CLEAR and TSA PreCheck makes the most sense, whereas having CLEAR without TSA PreCheck wouldn’t. Having CLEAR does not equate to having TSA PreCheck.
How long does my TSA PreCheck status last for?
TSA PreCheck status lasts for five years, and then you have to renew it. Luckily, the renewal fee is only $70 (currently). Keep an eye on when you applied, so that you know when to renew!
How to renew my TSA PreCheck
It’s recommended to apply for renewal at least 60 days or two months before your TSA PreCheck will expire. To renew, go to this page of the DHS website and start your process online.
Also, there’s a different price for renewals online versus in person! The online fee is $70 for TSA PreCheck renewals, whereas $78 in person. Hmm.
TSA PreCheck alternatives
There are TSA PreCheck alternatives, but I think having TSA PreCheck is the best program, as well as the most useful. TSA PreCheck seems to be the most widely-accepted of the alternate travel programs that I will list below. Check these out, as I just researched them to make sure I knew all my options:
I mentioned CLEAR above. CLEAR is a private company, so CLEAR is not a TSA or Dept. of Homeland Security program. CLEAR is specifically an identity program, meaning you’d use CLEAR to have your face scanned to have your identity verified. You still have to go through security, and this is where having TSA PreCheck comes in handy, so it would be ideal to have both in a perfect world.
SENTRI is a TSA government program that stands for Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI). SENTRI is specifically a program for your entry into the US, not departure from the US. It’s for pre-screened low-risk travelers, and it’s only for entering the US from Canada or Mexico. You’d want to consider that before applying.
NEXUS is another TSA government-run travel program that benefits travelers who frequent the US-Canada border. It is a joint program between the two countries, and it allows low-risk pre-screened travelers to use expedited entry lanes at border crossings only between the US and Canada.
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