With many states doing away with travel restrictions, many are starting to take much-awaited vacations. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), daily travel levels are now closer to pre-pandemic levels. But what the travellers dread is going through TSA security lines. For anyone who is looking to make it less dreadful, one of the best options is to sign up for TSA PreCheck. By applying for the programme, travellers can save a lot of hassle and time at airport security.
If you’re wondering as to exactly how much time you can save, let’s put it this way- in June 2021, almost 97% of TSA PreCheck Passengers had to wait less than five minutes at airport security. These travellers can use dedicated security lines, leave their laptops in their bags and keep their shoes on. And what’s more, these benefits can be availed when flying on dozens of airlines at more than 200 airports in the US.
If you travellers are considering applying for TSA PreCheck to avoid hassle at airports, this blog will help you. Here’s your guide to everything about TSA PreCheck- what it is, how much it costs, the interview process and tips for using your membership for the first time.
What is TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is a Trusted Traveller programme instigated in December of 2013, administered by the United States Transportation Security Administration, a US Department of Homeland Security agency. The programme, branded as TSA Pre✓, permits travellers considered low-risk by the TSA to pass through an expedited security screening process at a number of US airports. It permits selected members of certain frequent flyer programmes, members of NEXUS, Global Entry, and SENTRI, members of the nation’s military, and midshipmen and cadets of the US service academies to pass through an expedited screening for domestic and certain international itineraries. As of March 2019, TSA PreCheck has been made available at over 200 airports.
Unlike regular travellers, those qualifying for the programme have their own special lines at airport security checkpoints. They don’t need to take off their shoes, belts, or lightweight jackets. They can also leave their laptop in its case and a 3-1-1 compliant bag, which may contain items with small quantities of gels and liquids, like travel-sized bottles of mouthwash, in their carry-on luggage. On the other hand, regular travellers have to remove it.
Once they complete a background check, are fingerprinted and pay a fee of 85 USD, travellers are given a Known Traveler Number. Unlike Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI, TSA does not issue an ID card. If they have PreCheck, an indicator will be printed on the travellers’ boarding pass that may read “TSAPRECHK”, “TSA PRE”, or “TSA Pre✓®”. It depends on the airline and the type of boarding pass.
How TSA PreCheck works
As said earlier, the programme speeds up the passage of verified travellers through security checkpoints. The checkpoints, more often than not, become crowded as travellers gather to get on their flights. A typical passenger is made to remove articles of clothing and personal items that may be used to contain hazardous materials. For example, shoes have been previously used to attempt to smuggle explosives and detonate them on an aeroplane. Electronic equipment, including laptops, are also usually scrutinized at checkpoints due to attempts made to hide materials inside by removing components. What TSA PreCheck does is to verify the passengers who are considered the lowest risk to flight security. These passengers can pass through security without having to take off their shoes, jackets or belts, or take liquids and laptops from their bags. In short, passengers can breeze through security.
How to apply for TSA PreCheck
Presently, TSA PreCheck services are offered at more than 200 airports and 79 airlines. You can apply online through TSA’s website. However, enrolment requires visiting one of the more than 380 application centres in person. The in-person appointment takes around 20 minutes. At the centre, you will be fingerprinted, run for a background check and be required to present valid proof of identity and US citizenship documents. Travellers who are foreign citizens have to meet some residency requirements to qualify for the programme.
Here’s a guide on how to enrol for TSA PreCheck online and get your appointment set up.
- Go to the TSA website and click on ‘Apply Now.’
- Fill in the brief questionnaire to confirm your eligibility for the programme.
- Provide a list of identifying documents that you’ll bring along with you for the interview.
- There are around 380 application centres to choose from. Choose one and schedule your appointment (date and time)
- You’ll receive an email confirming your appointment.
What to know when completing your application
When you’re applying for the programme, remember it is very important to give your name exactly as it appears on your government identification. Other required information includes
- A method of contact (phone or email)
- Your citizenship information. Accepted documents for proof include passport, driver’s license and birth certificate.
- Your address (permanent and residential)
- A physical description
- Your mailing address
- Criminal history, if any
- An official photo ID
Remember that your enrollment has to be completed in 120 days from the moment you submit your application.
How much does TSA PreCheck cost?
The application fee for TSA PreCheck is $ 85. The fee is non-negotiable, but the membership lasts for five years, after which you’ll be required to renew it. It costs $70 to renew your membership. The renewal fee can be paid online. You’ll be required to pay your application fee at your appointment, which is when you’ll find out whether your application has been approved or not. The entire process takes around three weeks to be completed.
Once you’ve been approved, you will receive a Known Traveller Number (KTN). That number is to be used whenever you book a flight. You will have your TSA Pre status automatically applied to your boarding pass. It will look like this: TSA Pre✓, after which you can start using those faster lanes reserved for TSA pre-passengers at participating airports.
Eligibility to get TSA PreCheck
To be eligible for TSA PreCheck, you have to be a US citizen, a permanent or national resident and haven’t been convicted of certain crimes. There isn’t any age limit for applicants. But children below the age of 12 need not apply officially and can use their parents’ or guardians’ memberships.
PreCheck access is also available for those enrolled in a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveller program, including Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS.
What is the TSA PreCheck interview like?
While TSA PreCheck does allow walk-ins for interviews, applicants with appointments will be given priority. This is why the best way to get an early TSA PreCheck appointment is to schedule it while you’re completing your application itself.
The interview usually lasts less than twenty minutes, but if the application centre is busy, it may take a while longer. It is mainly for verifying your identification documents, processing your fingerprints and having your photo taken. In the interview, you may be asked about your employment history and details, and travel habits. If you have any criminal history, be prepared to give the details.
As mentioned above, bring documents as proof of your citizenship. The application fee of $85 can be made by credit card, cashier’s check, company check or money order.
What happens if your application is declined?
It is not guaranteed that you’ll get approved for TSA PreCheck. People can be declined due to certain criminal convictions, security threat assessments, and similar reasons. If your application is declined, you can appeal the decision and request reconsideration.
How to get TSA PreCheck for free
While applicants can pay for TSA PreCheck with their credit or debit card, there’s actually a way you can get it for free. Here are a few ways to do that.
Randomly issued: Some travellers may randomly receive TSA PreCheck so that they are introduced to the various benefits of being a member. This is a marketing effort by the Department of Homeland Security so that people are encouraged to sign up for the programme.
Military benefits: Those serving in the US Armed Forces can avail of TSA PreCheck benefits. This includes cadets and midshipmen attending a military academy, as well as those serving as Reserves and National Guards. They need to enter their Department of Defence identification number in place of their Known Traveller Number.
Credit card benefits: Several travel cards reimburse TSA PreCheck application fees every four or five years. Examples include The Platinum Card® from American Express, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
Redeem rewards: Several airlines and hotel loyalty programmes like United MileagePlus and Marriott Bonvoy let you redeem miles and points so that you can pay for your TSA PreCheck application fees.
Tips for using TSA PreCheck for the first time
Making the most use of the programme actually begins even before you make use of the service. You can start by paying your application fees at your appointment with a rewards credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Although this card does have many travel card benefits, the one applied here is up to a $100 statement credit towards TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Once you’re approved for membership, here are a few tips that can help you in getting the most out of it.
- Whenever you book a flight, ensure that you make use of your KTN so that ‘TSA Pre’ shows up on you boarding pass.
- Add your KTN to your profile if you’re a frequent flier.
- To make sure your TSA PreCheck status has showed up, do an online check-in for your flight at least 24 hours ahead of time. If it hasn’t, contact the airline.
- If you’re unable to confirm your TSA PreCheck status online or by phone, arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to your flight.
- Be sure to travel through an airport that offers TSA PreCheck services.
Family travel: Does one TSA PreCheck suffice?
Many of you might be wondering if one TSA PreCheck is enough for all the members of your family to travel. Unfortunately, the answer to this question is no. TSA PreCheck membership doesn’t transfer to your family members either. The only exception is that children of the age of twelve and under can pass through the TSA PreCheck line with their parents or guardian who has a membership. Over the age of 12, children will require their own membership to avail TSA services.
How to update personal information within the TSA PreCheck program
Once your application is approved, your membership is good for at least 5 years. However, if your personal information changes during that time, you have to update it as soon as possible.
The most direct way to go about it is to simply call. The line for personal information changes is (855) 347- 8371. The line is available from 8 am to 10 pm EST, Monday through Friday. Another way to do so is to send an inquiry online to obtain information on how to change your personal information. However, this way, it might take a little bit longer as you will have to wait for a response.
How to update your U.S. passport information
The TSA PreCheck programme is a Trusted Traveller Program (TTP). If you have a Trusted Traveller account, then it is possible for you to update your information online through your account dashboard. This option is available to those who have TSA PreCheck through Global Entry, NEXUS, FAST or SENTRI.
Is TSA PreCheck worth it?
Yes! TSA PreCheck is a valuable tool indeed to save you time and frustration at airport security. If you have had the experience of missing a flight because of the long security screening lines, then you know how critical it is to pass through airport security as quickly as possible. Even if you’re only an occasional traveller, it is definitely worth getting a membership.
While the programme has its advantages, there have been complaints too, such as longer waiting lines and unfairness. According to TSA, PreCheck isn’t available and isn’t guaranteed on each and every flight, since travellers are subject to random exclusions. Moreover, travellers can be suspended or disqualified or suspended from PreCheck if they violate federal transportation security regulations.
How to maximize your rewards
You want to get a travel credit card that will prioritize what’s important to you. Some of the best travel credit cards of 2021 include
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus)
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card (No annual fee)
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (Flat-rate travel rewards)
- Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (Business travellers)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks)
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (Luxury perks)
Other traveller programs
TSA PreCheck covers only air travel. There are other federal programmes operated by the Department of Homeland Security, such as Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI. Just like TSA PreCheck, these programmes verify the identities of trusted travellers and speed their passage through security.