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Travelers often dread going through TSA security lines, but by signing up for TSA PreCheck, you can save a lot of time and hassle at airport security.
Exactly how much time can you save? We'll put it this way: In June 2021, 97% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes at airport security.
Travelers with TSA PreCheck can use dedicated security lines, keep their shoes on and leave their 3-1-1 liquids and laptops in their bags. These benefits are available when flying on dozens of airlines at over 200 airports.
Here, we answer your questions: What is TSA PreCheck, how much does it cost and how can you get it for free?
About TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck is a membership program that offers dedicated airport security lines and streamlined screening at a few hundred airports across the U.S.
Upon approval, members receive a Known Traveler Number that lets the airlines know that you are eligible for TSA PreCheck benefits.
More than 80 airlines participate in TSA PreCheck to provide a smoother airport screening process. Simply add your Known Traveler Number to your flight reservations to receive a "TSA PreCheck" designation on your boarding pass and use the dedicated security lines. On some flights you may not receive TSA PreCheck benefits based on the airline you're flying, which airport you are flying from or TSA procedures.
Children 12 and under do not need their own TSA PreCheck membership. As long as they are traveling with an adult who is a member, they can use the TSA Security lanes too.
Differences between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry
While TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are both designed to streamline security checkpoints, each is targeted to a specific type of travel.
TSA PreCheck makes domestic travel simpler, offering dedicated airport security lanes, lower application fees and several locations where you can enroll.
Global Entry, on the other hand, is best for international travelers. This program includes TSA PreCheck benefits, but also simplifies the U.S. customs process when returning from outside the U.S.
This chart highlights some of the similarities and differences between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.
Length of membership
Access to TSA PreCheck security lanes
Can bring minor children with you (12 & under)
Children must have their own membership.
Access to expedited U.S. customs lanes
What is required to get TSA PreCheck?
The TSA PreCheck program is only open to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and lawful permanent residents.
Travelers interested in TSA PreCheck must apply online for pre-approval. Once your interview is booked, you are required to bring an unexpired U.S. government-issued photo identification, plus proof of citizenship. Accepted documents include your passport or a driver's license and birth certificate.
Immigrants can learn more about required documentation on the Homeland Security website.
How much does TSA PreCheck cost?
The benefits sound great, but what is the fee for TSA PreCheck? TSA PreCheck costs $85 for a five-year membership period. After the initial application fee, PreCheck renewal only costs $70 if completed online. As detailed below, some travel credit cards will help offset this cost.
How to get TSA PreCheck for free
While you can pay for TSA PreCheck with your credit card or debit card, you can actually get it for free instead of paying cash. Here are four ways to do just that:
Randomly issued. Some passengers may randomly receive TSA PreCheck as a way to introduce them to the benefits of being a member. Consider this a marketing effort by the Department of Homeland Security to encourage people to sign up for TSA PreCheck.
Military benefits. All active members of the U.S. Armed Forces can receive TSA PreCheck benefits by entering their Department of Defense identification number as their Known Traveler Number. This includes those serving as Reserves and National Guard, as well as cadets and midshipmen attending a military academy.
How to sign up for TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents.
Here's how to pre-enroll for TSA PreCheck online and get your interview set up in five simple steps:
Go to the TSA website and click on "Apply now."
Complete the brief questionnaire confirming your eligibility for the program.
Provide a list of the identifying documents you'll bring along to your interview.
Choose from one of the 380-plus enrollment centers and schedule your appointment.
Look for an email confirming your appointment.
What happens if your application is declined?
Getting approved for TSA PreCheck is not guaranteed. People can be declined based on security threat assessments, certain criminal convictions and similar reasons.
If you're declined for TSA PreCheck, it is possible to appeal the decision and request reconsideration.
What is the TSA PreCheck interview like?
The TSA PreCheck interview usually takes less than 10 minutes. It is primarily meant to verify your identification documents and process your fingerprints. For most people, you'll need to bring your driver's license and passport. However, it is best to use this interactive guide from the Department of Homeland Security to answer a few quick questions to know for sure which documents you should bring.
You will also be required to pay the nonrefundable $85 fee at your appointment. Payment can be made by credit card, company check, cashier's check or money order.
What to do after you're approved for TSA PreCheck
Once you are approved for TSA PreCheck, add your Known Traveler Number to your existing flight reservations and airline loyalty program profiles. This will allow you to use the dedicated TSA PreCheck lanes across the U.S.
Is TSA PreCheck worth it?
Yes. This valuable tool saves you time and frustration at airport security. If you've ever missed a flight due to long security screening lines, you know how critical it can be to get through airport security quickly.
The initial application fee is $85 for the first five years. It's $70 to renew online thereafter. Numerous credit cards will cover the cost for you. However, if you do pay for it yourself, the fee breaks down to less than $2 per month, which is surely worth it — even for the occasional traveler.
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 2021, 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