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What is TSA PreCheck and how do I apply?

You could spend less than five minutes in airport security.

While eliminating your wait in the airport security line entirely is impossible, you can curb it significantly with TSA PreCheck. This five-year membership will help you zoom through security lines across the US. It’s also possible to get a TSA PreCheck statement credit with certain travel credit cards.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a government-issued program that helps you get through airport security faster.

It’s available only for flights that depart from US airports. This is a contrast to Global Entry, which includes TSA PreCheck benefits and gets you through customs faster as you arrive in the US. Neither Global Entry nor TSA PreCheck assists with travel documentation.

What are the benefits of TSA PreCheck?

  • Get through airport security faster.
    According to the Transportation Security Administration, 94% of TSA PreCheck passengers traveling in January 2019 waited no more than five minutes in the security line.
  • You don’t have to remove items you normally would.
    You can keep your shoes on, as well as your belt or light jacket. Also, you can leave your laptop or eligible liquids in your bag. There are exceptions, and you might still be randomly searched.
  • Available across the country.
    Access TSA PreCheck at more than 200 airports across the country. Over 50 airlines participate in the program, including Delta, United and American.
  • Your membership lasts five years.
    Paying the application fee could give you TSA PreCheck benefits for quite a while.

How much time will TSA PreCheck save me?

The exact time you save depends on the airport, the day of the week and the time of the year. In general, TSA PreCheck lines can save you between 20 and 45 minutes that you would otherwise spend on the standard security check.

Because of that, TSA PreCheck is typically more useful in large airports and at peak times.

Does coronavirus impact TSA PreCheck?

The current coronavirus pandemic impacts TSA PreCheck screening in several ways.

  • Sometimes, the TSA PreCheck lane may be closed and you could be directed to pass the standard security screening.
  • You must practice social distancing and keep six feet apart from TSA personnel or other passengers.
  • You can now carry one liquid hand sanitizer container — up to 12 ounces per passenger — in carry-on bags until further notice.

How much does TSA PreCheck cost?

A TSA PreCheck application costs $85. This fee is non-refundable, even if you’re not approved.

Don’t want to pay? Look for a credit card that offers a statement credit for your TSA PreCheck application.

Compare credit cards with TSA PreCheck fee credits

If you want to use this feature but don’t want to pay for it — consider a travel credit card with a TSA PreCheck statement credit.

The way this works is you apply for TSA PreCheck, pay the application fee and then you get a statement credit from your eligible credit card as a reimbursement. Most of these cards offer the perk once every four or five years, so you can keep getting TSA PreCheck without paying for it.

Typically this is a feature offered by more premium travel credit cards. But you can also find “cheaper” cards with this perk, like the Venture® Rewards from Capital One® or the UnitedSM Explorer Card.

1 - 3 of 8
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

2x miles on every purchase, every day, 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 5x miles when you book on Turo, the world’s largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months ​from account opening.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months of account opening
2x miles on every purchase, every day, 10x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 10x miles when you book on Turo, the world’s largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023, 5x miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
Capital One's premium luxury travel card, featuring airport lounge access at Capital One Lounge and 1,300+ Priority Pass lounges.
Luxury Card Mastercard® Black Card™
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1.5% for cash back
Receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.

Compare up to 4 providers

TSA PreCheck and Global Entry credit cards

Other ways of paying for TSA PreCheck membership

If you don’t want to pay with cash or use one of the credit cards that offer TSA PreCheck application fee credit, you have other options.

  • United miles. If you’re a United MileagePlus member, you can use 11,000 miles to cover your $85 application fee.
  • IHG reward points. IHG reward program members can redeem 30,000 points for the $85 TSA PreCheck application fee.
  • Marriott points. Marriott reward program members can redeem 25,000 points for the TSA PreCheck application fee.
  • Radisson points. This is another program that allows you to redeem 65,000 points for TSA PreCheck.

Who is eligible for TSA PreCheck?

You can apply for TSA PreCheck if you’re a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Children under the age of 12 can use expedited screening if they are traveling with a parent who has TSA PreCheck.

If you’re a Canadian citizen or resident, apply for the NEXUS program. It gives you expedited passage through customs when you enter the United States or Canada.

You’re not eligible if you’ve…

  • Provided false or incomplete information on your TSA PreCheck application.
  • Violated transportation security regulations.
  • Had disqualifying criminal offenses, as defined by the TSA.
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How do I apply for TSA PreCheck?

With a quick online application and in-person interview, you could be on your way to a TSA PreCheck membership. Follow these steps to apply:

  1. Go to the TSA website and submit an online application. Required information includes contact details, citizenship, date of birth and, if necessary, immigration documents.
  2. Schedule an in-person appointment for a background check and fingerprinting.
  3. Attend your 10-minute appointment at your chosen location.

According to many travelers, you’ll typically hear back about approval within one to two weeks. If you’re approved, you’ll receive your Known Traveler Number (KTN) online or via mail.

What to expect in your TSA PreCheck interview

Don’t go all the way to an appointment center only to be turned away. Have the following documentation on hand:

  • A valid photo ID. A government-issued driver’s license, military ID card, passport book or card, etc.
  • Citizenship or immigration document. A passport book or card, Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL), eligible birth certificate, etc.
  • If necessary: immigration documents. You may be asked to bring these if you aren’t a US citizen.

On the Universal Enroll website, you can use the “What to Bring” tool to determine documents you’ll need at your interview.

What happens in a TSA PreCheck interview?

Interviews are usually under 10 minutes long. You’ll give details about yourself: your travel habits, why you want a PreCheck membership, your criminal record and more.

You’ll also have your fingerprints and photo taken.

TSA PreCheck interview locations

On the Universal Enroll website, you can use the Enrollment Center Locator to find a TSA PreCheck interview location near you.

How do I get TSA PreCheck without applying?

If you’re approved for Global Entry, you can access TSA PreCheck benefits at no additional cost.

You can also qualify for TSA PreCheck if you’re approved for NEXUS or SENTRI.
What is Global Entry?

How to use TSA PreCheck

  1. Before your flight, add your Known Traveler Number (KTN) to your reservation.
    Do this while booking your flight. You can likely do so after booking if you wish.

    If you’re part of a frequent flyer program, add your KTN to your account. When you book your flight through the account, your KTN will automatically be added to your reservation.

  2. When you print your boarding pass, check that “TSA PreCheck” is written on it.
    If this designation is missing, you won’t be admitted through the TSA PreCheck line.
  1. When you approach the security checkpoint, look for a TSA PreCheck line.
    This line is usually designated with a sign, and it may have relatively few passengers in it.
  • Keep your belt, shoes and light jacket on. Don’t take out items from your luggage.
    Put your bag through the X-ray machine. If your bag needs additional screening or you’re subject to an additional search, a TSA agent will let you know.
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Which airlines have TSA PreCheck?

These are all of the airlines that participate in TSA PreCheck, according to the TSA.

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Air France
  • Air Serbia
  • Alaska Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Allegiant Air
  • American Airlines
  • Aruba Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Boutique Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Cape Air
  • Cathay Pacific Airways
  • Condor Airlines
  • Contour Aviation
  • Copa Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Finnair
  • Flycana
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Icelandair
  • InterCaribbean Airways
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Key Lime Air
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Miami Air International
  • Norwegian Air
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Porter Airlines
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • Silver Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Southern Airways Express
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • Sunwing Airlines
  • Swift Air
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • Thomas Cook Airlines (Scan.)
  • Thomas Cook Airlines (UK)
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • ViaAir
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • WestJet
  • World Atlantic
  • Xtra Airways

TSA PreCheck vs other programs

Enrolment feeWhat is it?Does it include TSA PreCheck?Does it apply to travel by land, air and sea?
TSA PreCheck$85 five year membershipExpedited airport security screeningYesOnly at airports
Global Entry$100 five year membershipExpedited US customs screening on arrival from foreign soilYesAirports, land and seaports
CLEAR®$189 annuallySpeed through travel document check on departing flightsNoAirports and statiums
NEXUS$50 five year membershipExpedited border control between the US and CanadaIt may includeAirports, land and seaports
SENTRI$122.50 five year membershipExpedited border crossing from Mexico to the USIt may includeAirports and land
FAST$50 five year membershipExpedited entry and exit for truck drivers from Canada and Mexico to the USNoOnly at land borders

Can I upgrade my TSA PreCheck to Global Entry?

No, there’s no option to upgrade from TSA PreCheck to Global Entry. But you can apply for Global Entry and get TSA PreCheck with the same application.

Bottom line

By investing a bit of time and money upfront, you can save a lot of time in the airport security line with TSA PreCheck.

For more products that can help you travel more easily, check out a few airline credit cards.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the difference between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry?
TSA PreCheck costs $85 and Global Entry costs $100.

TSA PreCheck is only for flights that depart from US airports. Meanwhile, Global Entry gets you through customs faster when you enter the US. It also gives you TSA PreCheck benefits.

Both offer five-year memberships.

Should I apply Global Entry or TSA PreCheck?

Can my family go through TSA PreCheck with me?
Children 12 and under can go through the line with you if you have the TSA PreCheck designation on your boarding pass.

Unfortunately, children 13 and older can’t piggyback off your TSA PreCheck membership. They need to go through normal security lanes.

Do all airports participate in TSA PreCheck?
According to the TSA, over 200 airports participate in TSA PreCheck. Meanwhile, there are over 19,000 US airports according to the Federal Aviation Administration — around 5,000 of which are public.

This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s hard to find a TSA PreCheck-compliant airport. If it’s a major airport, chances are you can use your TSA PreCheck membership.

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Images: Shutterstock

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