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The number of people enrolled in TSA PreCheck just set a record high — as did the number of people applying to join.
The Transportation Security Administration said in March that TSA PreCheck surpassed 15 million active members, marking an all-time high since the program launched in December 2013.
And the number of people applying seems to be growing. The TSA said that on Feb. 21, 2023, a record 19,200 people applied for TSA PreCheck membership on a single day.
TSA PreCheck is one of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler Programs, which includes others like Global Entry and Nexus. If approved for TSA PreCheck, travelers can pass through airport security without taking off their shoes or belts. They can also leave electronics and compliant liquids inside their bags.
And without all that fumbling around of clothes, shoes and laptops, TSA PreCheck tends to improve security wait times. Across airports that have separate PreCheck lanes, the TSA says, 92% of members wait less than five minutes for security screening.
Why more TSA PreCheck members could be good news for all
“If everyone had TSA PreCheck, overall wait times would be shorter because travelers wouldn't be required to take off shoes or remove electronics,” Scott Keyes, founder of travel deals site Going, said in an email.
TSA PreCheck enables more people to funnel through security in the same period of time.
“If there are 20 people in the regular line and even 30 in the PreCheck lane, those 30 are probably still getting through faster,” says Daniel Green, co-founder of Faye Travel Insurance.
It’s not unlike the express checkout at the grocery store, reserved for people with, say, 10 items or fewer. Thirty shoppers with just five items almost always check out faster than 20 customers each with a cart full of groceries.
But if more people end up with TSA PreCheck, will that just shift those long queues to the TSA PreCheck line?
Harriet Baskas, who runs a blog called Stuck at the Airport, has that exact worry.
“Now that more people have PreCheck … the PreCheck lines at many airports are getting longer,” she says. “Sometimes it feels as if — and in some cases it really is the case — that PreCheck lanes are longer than regular lines.”
But this concern assumes that airports will continue to maintain the same number of PreCheck lines as they have had, even as enrollment figures grow.
“My guess is, if more people had PreCheck, they would convert more lanes to PreCheck lanes,” Green says.
His theory is founded on one of the strongest motivations of them all: money.
“Let's not forget that there's an incentive for having more people in PreCheck, as travelers pay for this perk,” he says, in reference to the fee needed to apply for membership.
How to apply for TSA PreCheck (and skip paying the application fee)
Apply for TSA PreCheck by filling out an online application on the TSA website. It takes about five minutes to complete and requires you to enter personal information such as name, gender, email address and phone number. After that, you’ll schedule an in-person interview at an enrollment center where you’ll go through a background check and fingerprinting.
The application fee is $78. If approved, you’ll get TSA PreCheck membership for five years, upon which you must pay $70 to renew your membership online.
But you might not even need to pay the fee out of pocket. Many travel credit cards cover TSA PreCheck application and renewal fees. While some credit cards with TSA PreCheck perks charge annual fees, there are a few that have none.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card