Alex Wong/Getty Images
Maya Kachroo-Levine
December 03, 2018

Struggling through an hour-long security line is so easy to forget about when you’re fondly looking back on your latest trip to Japan or wine tour through Northern California. But in the moment, when you’re lugging your bag through a painstakingly slow security line, it’s pretty brutal. It is in that dreaded security line, listening to a crying baby and biting my tongue as someone cuts the line, that I vow to finally, finally sign up for TSA PreCheck. Because when I’m in the security line thinking that there simply has to be a better way, it then dawns on me that there is. All it takes is actually applying for TSA PreCheck, and once you’re approved, you could be sailing through a virtually non-existent line, keeping your shoes on and your laptop in its case.

If you’re someone who has heard murmurs about TSA PreCheck but put off actually learning more about it, here’s your quick-and-easy guide to everything you need to know about game-changing program.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is essentially a way to expedite the airport security process. A government program that started in 2011, it provides a separate security screening lane for TSA-approved passengers. With TSA PreCheck, you don’t have to take off your shoes, belts or your sweater for the plane. You’re also spared having to put your laptop in a separate bin and removing your liquids from carry-on baggage.

As of June 2017, 5 million travelers had signed up for the program. However, this is actually well below TSA’s goal of signing up 25 million travelers.

How to Get TSA PreCheck

Your first step is to apply online. Then you’ll schedule an in-person appointment at one of the nearly 400 enrollment centers in the U.S. Your appointment will include a 10-minute background check, and they’ll take your fingerprints. You might be approved just a few days after your appointment, but it will take two to three weeks to receive your written approval in the mail.

How Much Does TSA PreCheck Cost?

To secure five years of TSA PreCheck, it costs $85. Before paying, find out whether your credit card will reimburse you for the the program cost. Some credit cards — especially ones that offer travel rewards, like Chase Sapphire Reserve — may pick up the cost of your application fee.

What if the Person I’m Traveling with Doesn’t Have PreCheck?

Unfortunately, they won’t be able to enter the PreCheck line with you. Because every PreCheck recipient had to go through an application and screening process, any traveling companions that don't have PreCheck can’t enjoy the same perks. That means your spouse or relative traveling with you will not be able to go through the PreCheck security lane. The only exception to this is if you’re traveling with young children. If your child is 12 or under, and you’re TSA-approved, they can join you in the PreCheck security lane.

Where is TSA PreCheck accepted?

Some airports don’t permit TSA PreCheck, but 56 major airlines and more than 200 airports do. It’s typically safe to assume that your airline will accept TSA PreCheck (if you’re flying Delta, American Airlines, JetBlue, Lufthansa, United, Alaska Airlines, Air Canada, or British Airways, for example, you’re in the clear). However, there are still a few airlines that haven’t started offering PreCheck, including Aer Lingus, Ryanair, EasyJet, and Qatar Airways.

Will it Say Whether I’m PreCheck on My Boarding Pass?

If you have TSA PreCheck, your boarding pass should reflect that. Those who have TSA PreCheck will often have “TSAPRECHK,” “TSA PRE,” or “TSA Pre✓” on their boarding pass. And when your boarding pass is scanned, the barcode should also signify that you are TSA PreCheck, and the airport staff will point you toward the PreCheck line accordingly.

Is TSA PreCheck Worth It?

Predictably, it depends how often you travel and who you travel with. If you travel once a week for business by yourself, then yes, TSA PreCheck can end up saving you quite a bit of time each week. If you and your partner or favorite travel buddy like to plan a few trips together each year, it could still be very worthwhile, as long as you both have PreCheck. If you take only a few trips a year with the whole family or a big group of friends, it may not be as worth it. It’ll still make things more convenient for you, but you’ll end up having to wait around for your PreCheck-less companions. So the time you save will, unfortunately, be spent waiting for anyone in your party who got stuck in the non-PreCheck security line.

How is TSA PreCheck different from Global Entry

Similar to PreCheck, Global Entry is a program that allows travelers to move through customs lines much quicker when re-entering the United States. For people who fly outside of the United States regularly, it's worth considering applying for Global Entry instead of PreCheck, as Global Entry includes PreCheck. Additionally, the price of Global Entry is $100, only $15 more than PreCheck alone. Even if you're not flying out of the country often, the small up-charge may be a smart investment for five years of Global Entry and PreCheck in the chance you go on a foreign trip in that window. If not, you still get to skip the lines at security. 

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