What You Should Know About TSA PreCheck

Photo to accompany story about what to know about TSA precheck. Getty Images
We want to help you make more informed decisions. Some links on this page — clearly marked — may take you to a partner website and may result in us earning a referral commission. For more information, see How We Make Money.

Many people are itching to start traveling again. If this is you, consider TSA PreCheck.

With a PreCheck boarding pass, “you don’t have to remove as many items from your carry-on bag,” says TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein. You get a dedicated line at airport security, and it tends to move faster. 

TSA PreCheck membership can save you time and hassle, but it comes at a cost: $85 for five years, or $17 a year.

Is it worth it? 

What Is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a program run by the TSA, or Transportation Security Administration, which is a component of the Department of Homeland Security. The PreCheck program aims to vet passengers before they get to the airport. As Farbstein explains, “it allows TSA to focus more on the passengers we know less about.”

Enrolling in PreCheck costs $85. Once approved, you get a known traveler number, or KTN, which is valid for five years. That means the annual cost for TSA PreCheck breaks down to $17. 

You then use your KTN whenever you book a flight, assuming you’re flying with one of the 73 participating airlines and into and out of one of the 200+ participating airports. In the vast majority of instances, using your KTN when booking means you get a boarding pass with “PreCheck” on it. 

That boarding pass is your ticket to the PreCheck line at the airport. It’s pretty much a fast pass at the airport. “You’re funneled into a totally separate security line, which typically cuts down on the wait for an ID check,” says Zach Griff, frequent flyer and travel analyst with The Points Guy. Passengers aren’t required to take out as many things from their bags, which speeds up the screening process, Griff says. 

“It makes travel a more pleasant experience.”

With your KTN, you get to head to the PreCheck line at airport security. In this line, you don’t need to remove:

  • Your shoes
  • Your electronics
  • Any light jackets (like a blazer or windbreaker)
  • Your belt
  • Your 3-1-1 bag (which most people use for toiletries)

Because you don’t need to do any of this, the airport PreCheck line moves faster than standard security lines. 

Think: much more quickly. “During the pandemic, TSA PreCheck passengers have typically waited four minutes or less. Standard lane waits are around ten minutes,” says Farbstein. Pre-pandemic, wait times averaged five or six minutes, she says.

It’s worth noting, though, you’re not guaranteed PreCheck status. To ensure the safety of all flyers, Farbstein explains, “there has to be a random nature to the system.” Every once in a while, you might book a flight and not get PreCheck status on your boarding pass. 

Is TSA Precheck Worth it?

Deciding if PreCheck is worth it comes down to analyzing the $17-a-year cost and process of enrolling in the program against the benefits. 

 Yes, It’s Worth it

Even if you’re only taking one round-trip flight a year, it might be worth $8.50 per airport visit to minimize your hassle and time spent in line. 

“Peace of mind is well worth the cost,” says Griff, a frequent flyer. “I don’t like to spend too much extra time in airports. With PreCheck, I can nearly guarantee that I’ll be cleared through security in minutes.” Security lines for regular boarding are more of a wildcard, he says. 

It’s not just about the time savings, though. You avoid the hassle of taking out liquids, electronics, and your shoes, says Griff.  

“On a recent flight from New York to Los Angeles, I was the only passenger in the PreCheck line, whereas the regular security checkpoint was backed up to the line’s entrance,” says Griff. 

If you’re a business traveler and you can expense TSA PreCheck, even better. 

What’s more, there are some travel cards with perks that include PreCheck membership reimbursement as a credit. The Platinum Card® from American Express and Chase Sapphire Reserve® are two cards with this benefit. Check the benefits of your existing cards to make sure. 

No, Not Worth It 

With vaccines and herd immunity on the horizon, travel is projected to ramp up in the next few months. But even so, not everybody has the desire, need, or ability to travel this year.  Wasting a year’s worth of TSA PreCheck membership would mean essentially tossing $17 in the trash. 

If you don’t plan to fly in the near future, you may want to wait to apply to avoid wasting time on your membership.

PreCheck might also be worth skipping if your local airport isn’t a PreCheck participant. Use the TSA’s map to find out. 

Another thing to consider: kids. If your children are 12 or under, they can breeze through PreCheck with you. But if they’re 13 or older, they’ll need to get their own PreCheck status to join you in the expedited line. 

Finally, if you travel internationally, you’re better off getting Global Entry. This program costs $100, and it helps you get back through customs more easily when returning from traveling anywhere abroad. And it includes PreCheck, so you won’t need to get it separately. To learn more about Global Entry, visit the U.S Customs and Border Protection website to start an online application. Once your application is approved, you will need to visit an enrollment center. 

One more caveat: as we mentioned before, enrolling in PreCheck doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a PreCheck boarding pass, either. You may get a standard boarding pass to ensure the TSA can properly randomize their screening processes.  

Pro Tip

If you plan to fly, consider TSA PreCheck. For $17 a year, it helps you save a lot of time at airport security.

Eligibility for TSA PreCheck

If you fall into any of the camps that can benefit from TSA PreCheck, you need to make sure you’re eligible. 

To become a TSA PreCheck member, you need to be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident. Foreign citizens can participate in TSA PreCheck if they meet specific citizenship/residency requirements. 

Past violations of transportation security regulations, false application information, or some criminal offenses might disqualify you.

There’s no age restriction for applying for TSA PreCheck. However, children 12 and under can benefit from expedited screening as long as they’re traveling with an eligible parent or guardian with TSA PreCheck, so they might not need to have TSA PreCheck themselves.

How Do You Get TSA PreCheck?  

Assuming you’re eligible for TSA PreCheck, you can start the process online. Here’s a step-by-step guide. 

  1. Fill out the initial application
  2. At the end of the online application, you’ll be prompted to make an appointment at one of the 380+ TSA PreCheck enrollment centers
  3. Head to your appointment. You’ll need to bring certain documents with you. Those requirements vary depending on your citizenship status. Use this tool from the TSA to find out what to bring. Your appointment should take about 10 minutes, during which time you’ll be fingerprinted. 
  4. Wait for approval. You should get your KTN in writing within two to three weeks. 

Next up, it’s time to use your KTN to get airport PreCheck benefits. 

If you have a frequent traveler profile with an airline, you can give them your KTN, so they have it on file to make booking easier in the future. 

Each time you book a flight, make sure your KTN is entered along with your other information (like your name and gender). You won’t be guaranteed PreCheck status because, as we’ve mentioned before, the TSA has to randomize the process for security reasons. But more often than not, booking with your KTN will score you a PreCheck boarding pass.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Bring Family Through TSA PreCheck?

Children 12 and under can benefit from expedited screening if they’re traveling with an eligible adult with TSA PreCheck. Adults and children 13 and older must have TSA PreCheck themselves to benefit from expedited screening.

How Often Do I Need to Renew TSA PreCheck?

You will need to renew your TSA PreCheck membership every five years.

Do All Airports and Airlines Participate in TSA PreCheck?

Currently, more than 200 airports and 79 airlines nationwide offer TSA PreCheck, but not every airport or airline participates in the program. You can check whether TSA PreCheck is offered by your intended airport or airline by going to the official TSA PreCheck website.

Does My Loyalty Program or Credit Card Cover the Cost of TSA PreCheck?

Many travel cards offer a credit towards the cost of TSA PreCheck (or its sister program, Global Entry) when you pay the membership fee with that card. Cards that offer this benefit include:
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Does TSA PreCheck Cover International Travel?

TSA PreCheck does not cover international travel. If you frequently travel internationally, TSA PreCheck’s sister program Global Entry might be a better option. Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck and offers expedited screening for both domestic and international travel for a membership fee of $100 for five years.

Does TSA PreCheck Guarantee Expedited Passage Through Security?

No. Although you’ll get PreCheck status on your boarding pass most of the time, the TSA uses unpredictable screening methods throughout the airport for security reasons. Because of this, no one is guaranteed expedited screening every time.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for some American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.