TSA PreCheck: 10 Things You Need To Know

For frequent flyers, TSA PreCheck can take the sting out of waiting around at airports. If you’re considering signing up, here are 10 things to know about TSA PreCheck, including what’s the difference between this and Global Entry.

1. What’s The Difference Between TSA PreCheck And Global Entry?

The first thing to know is what you get with PreCheck…and how it differs from some of the other programs out there. PreCheck gives you fast passage through airport security when you fly domestically. What’s more, you won’t need to take off your belt, remove toiletries or a laptop from your bag, or slip off your shoes. According to the TSA, travelers who have PreCheck spend no more than five minutes getting through security.

If you fly internationally, then you’ll be more interested in Global Entry than PreCheck. Global Entry covers all the PreCheck benefits, plus gives you expedited customs processing.

2. How Do I Apply For TSA PreCheck?

The first step in the process is getting pre-approved by completing an online application and getting a US passport. Once you get pre-approval, you’ll need to get fingerprinted and complete a 10-minute interview. The interview is in person and can be scheduled at over 380 locations nationwide.

After the TSA processes your application, they will give you a known traveler number. This serves as proof that you are part of PreCheck, so you’ll need to include that number whenever you are booking airfare. If you forget to do so, then you won’t be able to go through the PreCheck lane. TSA PreCheck is good for five years and costs $85 at present.

3. Can My Kids Come Through PreCheck With Me?

This depends on the age of your kids. Children 12 and under can accompany a parent through the PreCheck line, but children 13 and over are not allowed to go through the PreCheck line with a parent.

Depending on your personal preference and frequency of family travel, you may want to get everyone their own PreCheck membership or you’ll need to suck it up and go through the slow line when the gang’s traveling together. There is no age limit for the PreCheck program, so you can always purchase PreCheck membership for young kids if you want.

4. Which Airports Support PreCheck?

PreCheck is a domestic program, but it’s not rolled out at all airports within the U.S. Only 56 airlines and 200 airports support the PreCheck program, as of this writing. Before you enroll, check the TSA’s website to see whether your local airport and the airlines you tend to fly, take part in PreCheck. If you don’t check, you could find out that it’s all been a waste when your local airport does not have a line for PreCheck participants.

5. Is There A Discount On The Cost Of PreCheck?

You may be able to get the cost of PreCheck covered by your credit card company. Some credit card providers, including certain cards from Bank of America, Citi, and Chase, will cover the PreCheck cost. Airline and hotel reward credit card providers, like the United MileagePlus card and Marriott Rewards card, will also cover PreCheck costs. Depending on your card, you can either apply for free or get reimbursed for the cost. Since credit card company offerings vary, always check with your travel credit card company before you apply.

6. Can I Use PreCheck For International Travel With A Domestic Airline?

This is another one of those cases where it depends on the scenario. Many domestic carriers that participate in PreCheck for domestic flights also fly internationally. You may be able to get in the PreCheck line if, say, you’re flying Delta to Paris. However, you won’t have access to a PreCheck line on the return trip, since your flight is not leaving from the U.S. If you’re interested in shorter lines for international travel, or faster customs screenings, then you will need to choose Global Entry instead.

7. How Will I Know If I Can Use PreCheck On An Upcoming Flight?

So you’ve joined the program. How do you know if an upcoming flight is eligible for PreCheck? Anyone who is in the PreCheck program will have a little indicator on their boarding pass — usually some variation of the PreCheck” program name. When agents scan that pass as you pass airport security checkpoints, they will direct you toward the PreCheck line for faster service.

Where it gets confusing is that this code will show up on your boarding pass even if you are flying through an airport that does not have a PreCheck lane. So the best way to confirm whether you will, indeed, be able to go through a PreCheck lane is to look up the particular airport on the TSA’s website.

8. Am I Guaranteed Expedited Security Passage As A PreCheck Member?

Unfortunately, no. You will usually receive expedited security as a PreCheck member, but there are important exceptions to consider. TSA officers can randomly select PreCheck participants to exclude from the line on any given day—so, even if you pay for PreCheck, you might not get to use it. TSA officials can also allow regular passengers into the PreCheck line during rush times. If you end up with people who aren’t familiar with PreCheck in your line, things could take longer.

9. Is Clear the Same Thing As PreCheck?

A new program called Clear offers some similarities to PreCheck, but these are not the same thing. Clear lets you confirm your identity using a fingerprint or eye scanner, so you don’t need to show your license or passport. Once you have confirmed your identity, you can basically cut the security line.

That’s all Clear does for you; it won’t help you get through the screening faster. To do that, you’ll also need to be a PreCheck member. So, if you want to expedite your airport as fast as possible, you could join both programs.

At present, Clear is offered at fewer airports than PreCheck. Clear costs $179 a year and covers the individual, plus any children under age 18. Additional family members can join for $50 per year.

10. When Is PreCheck A Good Fit?

If you’ve made it this far and you still aren’t sure whether or not PreCheck is good for you, here’s how to think about it.

If your credit card provider subsidizes the cost of PreCheck, then there’s no reason not to take part unless you happen to like waiting in lines at the airport. If you’re looking at paying for PreCheck yourself, then it really depends on how frequently you fly, who you fly with (and if they take part in the program), your budget, and your location.

If you don’t fly often and are on a tight budget, then this isn’t a necessity for you right now. If you always fly with your family and they are not enrolled, then it doesn’t make sense to be the only one who participates in PreCheck.

If you fly regularly, for business or pleasure, and you can swing it, why not apply if you aren’t chartering a private jet? The $85 price tag breaks down to $17 per year—not a bad return on investment when you think about it.

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