Waiting in long security lines at airports has been a part of American lives for almost two decades now. We take off our shoes, limit our liquids, take out almost everything in our carry-ons and even go through a full-body scanner.
While intended to keep us more secure, it’s not terribly convenient. And it undoubtedly leaves even the most experienced travelers frazzled.
To save yourself time and a bit of frustration, consider streamlining your travel with a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) Pre-Check Membership.
What Is TSA Pre-Check?
TSA originated to protect travelers after the terrorist attacks in 2001. As a result, every passenger needs to go through a full screening process before boarding an airplane. That screening process has lead to long security lines and even longer wait times.
Fast forward ten years, and TSA Pre-Check was invented for frequent fliers, and in 2013 the program was opened up to the general population.
TSA Pre-Check is a government program that allows low-risk travelers (and their children 12 years and under) to pass through an expedited screening process at airports. The program is open to U.S. citizens and foreigners that are lawful permanent residents (LPR).
Be aware that Pre-Check is only available with participating airlines and at participating airports. It applies to domestic flights within the United States and some international flights departing from the U.S. At present, it includes 73 carriers at over 200 U.S. airports.
For a full list of participating airlines, you can view them on the official TSA website.
TSA Pre-Check costs $85 and last for five years.
What Are the Benefits of the TSA Pre-Check?
The biggest advantage TSA Pre-Check is that you can bypass slow-moving security lines in favor of an accelerated one. Approved travelers do not have to remove their shoes, outerwear or belts. They are also not required to take out their liquids or laptops.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
There are exceptions, however. TSA Pre-Check passengers are still subject to random searches, so it is safe to be mentally prepared for this every time you travel. And if your belt or shoes contain metal, you may still be required to remove them.
How Do I Apply for the TSA Pre-Check?
To apply for TSA Pre-Check, you'll need to fill out an online application and then visit an enrollment center for an in-person screening. This section will walk through everything you need to know about the TSA Pre-Check application process.
TSA Pre-Check Requirements
Most U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents without a serious criminal record should be eligible for TSA Pre-Check. Criminal offenses that may disqualify you include:
Permanently Disqualifying Criminal Offenses
- Espionage or conspiracy to commit espionage.
- Sedition or conspiracy to commit sedition.
- Treason or conspiracy to commit treason.
- You get the picture...
Temporarily Disqualifying Criminal Offenses
- Immigration violations
- Distribution, possession w/ intent to distribute, or importation of a controlled substance
- Kidnapping or hostage taking
- Rape or aggravated sexual abuse
- Assault with intent to kill
The Online Application
The online application for TSA Pre-Check is very straightforward. It starts by asking for your basic information (name, DOB, etc.) before moving on to your country of birth (including the city and state) and your country of citizenship.
Next, the application will ask about your history for the background check:
The next round of questions ask for your height, weight, hair color and eye color. After that, you have to enter your address and then answer some questions about your eligibility (which we covered above).
Don't worry, you're almost there! On the next screen you just need to enter the documents that you will bring to the in-person screening to prove your identity. Most government issued forms of ID (including your drivers license and Passport are accepted).
Once you're through there, it's time to make an appointment at a nearby enrollment center. The online portal makes it really easy to find a center and to schedule an appointment.
The In-Person Interview
Many people are hesitant to apply for TSA Pre-Check or other programs because of the in-person interview. But don't worry, the process is quick and easy.
Before you go, make sure you bring the documents that you specific in the online portion of the application process.
The interview itself generally lasts about ten minutes or so. You will be asked a few standard questions about your travel and employment status, etc. Don't be nervous and answer the questions truthfully. As long as you were honest in the online application, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.
After answering a few basic questions, the interviewing officer will take your fingerprints and you're free to go. Easy peasy!
If you're approved, you’ll receive a card in the mail with information on how you can find your Known Traveler Number (KTN).
Using Your Known Traveler Number
Once you’ve been assigned your KTN, you will include it in the “Known Traveler Field” on every reservation you make with a participating airline. You will also want to save it on your frequent flyer profiles and any travel websites you use.
It is a nine-digit number and might be hard to memorize, so make sure to keep it in a safe place.
Your KTN is valid for a period of five years, after which it must be renewed.
Should You Apply for Global Entry, Nexus or Sentri Instead?
Together with TSA Pre-Check, Global Entry, Nexus and Sentri make up the Trusted Traveler Programs of Homeland Security. Where you travel and how frequently you travel will help you determine which program is best for you. All of these programs range in price, qualifications and location entries.
Let's take a quick look at each one.
If you frequently travel internationally, you may want to consider Global Entry.
Global Entry allows approved travelers to go through an expedited process when returning to the U.S. from a foreign country. But the best part about Global Entry is that it comes with TSA Pre-Check for only an additional $15. That's right - if you get Global Entry, you can also get TSA Pre-Check for just a small additional fee.
It costs $100 to apply for Global Entry. Like the TSA Pre-Check program, you must submit an application, pass a background check and have an in-person interview. Don't worry; Global Entry is also good for 5 years just like TSA Pre-Check.
You can apply for the Global Entry program on the Trusted Traveler website.
Nexus is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program developed for people who frequently travel between the U.S. and Canada. It allows expedited entrance when entering Canada or the U.S. by land, air or sea.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. or Canadian citizen, a Lawful Permanent Resident in the U.S., or a Landed Immigrant in Canada.
You can apply on the Trusted Traveler website and pay a fee of $50. An in-person interview is also required. Once again, if approved, your membership is valid for 5 years.
Sentri is meant for people who frequently travel between the U.S. and Mexico by land and air. It allows expedited processing with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol when entering the U.S. at the borders.
You can apply for Sentri on the Trusted Traveler website. The application fee is $122.25, requires an in-person interview and is valid for 5 years.
How to Get Your Fee Waived for TSA Pre-Check
While the government provides no assistance or discounts for the fees, there is some good news. Various credit cards companies offer a fee credit for TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry as a member benefit. With most cards, it is offered as a benefit once every 4 or 5 years.
All you have to do is charge the fee to your card and it will be automatically reimbursed. Check with your credit card for the company for details.
There are also various loyalty programs that allow you to use points to cover the fee.
Check out the list of participating credit cards and loyalty programs; you might already have a credit card that qualifies.
Q: Does the name on my airline reservation have to match the name on my TSA application?
A: Yes. The names must match exactly. Make sure your name is saved correctly on any travel websites or frequent flyer accounts.
Q: I’m traveling with my family. Can they use the TSA Pre-Check lane with me?
A: Children that are 12 or younger can use the TSA pre-check lane when traveling with you. But, if your children are 13 or older and do not have a TSA Pre-Check, they will have to use the standard security lanes.
Q: Will I receive an ID card that allows me to access the TSA Pre-Check Lanes?
A: No. A TSA Pre-Check indicator will be printed on your boarding pass and embedded in a barcode. When they scan your boarding pass at the checkpoint, you may be referred to a TSA Pre-Check lane.
Q: Are TSA Pre-Check lanes always in operation?
A: No. If there is no TSA Pre-Check lane in operation at the time you are passing through security, you’ll be required to pass through one of the standard lanes. Check with the airport you are flying from for information on hours of operation.
Q: Can I access the TSA Pre-Check lane with my Global Entry, Nexus or Sentri card?
A: No. Although these services may provide a card when you are approved for the program, you cannot use the card for access to the TSA Pre-Check lane. To receive a TSA Pre-Check, you’ll need to provide your known traveler number on your airline reservation. Then if you are eligible for TSA Pre-Check on your flight, an indicator will be printed on your boarding pass and embedded in a barcode.
Q: If I am TSA Pre-Check eligible, am I guaranteed expedited screening?
A: No. According to the TSA, they use unpredictable security measures, “both seen and unseen” throughout the airport. All travelers must be screened, and no passenger is guaranteed expedited screening.
Q: What documents will I have to provide for my TSA Pre-Check application?
A: You will have to provide an original or certified copy of a document that proves your identity/citizenship status. Here is the list of accepted documents by TSA. Please note that if you have legally changed your name, you will have to provide an original or certified copy of the name change document as well (such as marriage certificate or divorce decree).
Q: Does the TSA protect my privacy with the information I provide?
A: Yes. According to the TSA, your data is encrypted, stored and transmitted securely to prevent the information from unauthorized use.
Q: How much does TSA Pre-Check renewal cost?
A: The fee is the same as the initial enrollment: $85 for five years.
Now Go For It!
If you’re a frequent or even semi-frequent traveler, applying for TSA Pre-Check or one of the other Trusted Traveler Programs could save you a lot of time and extra hassle.
Make sure you determine which program would be best for you before you sign up. Again, many people that travel abroad even once a year opt for Global Entry as it includes TSA Pre-Check for just a small additional fee.
Whatever you decide is best for you, these programs should help you streamline your travel and make your trip more pleasant.