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Average wait times for travelers in security lines at some of the nation's busiest airports, including Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta, can take more than 30 minutes, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The average security line wait time for travelers with TSA Precheck, though, was under five minutes.
To qualify for TSA Precheck, you have to apply and pay an $85 fee. But you might have a credit card that provides a statement credit to cover the cost of the application fee. Even if you do not, paying might well be worth it for the time you save when traveling. Here's what you need to know about TSA Precheck and how to apply.
- What is TSA Precheck? Launched in 2013, TSA Precheck is a government program for travelers who are deemed low security risks by the TSA, the agency that handles security screening at U.S. airports. Precheck uses designated security lanes at airports where the screening process is much more streamlined compared with lanes used by regular travelers. Precheck passengers usually do not have to remove their shoes or belts and can leave laptops and liquids of approved sizes in their bags. They are also typically screened with X-ray machines rather than the full body scanners that most other passengers must enter.
- Who is eligible for TSA Precheck? Precheck is open to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. There are no age limits or requirements, but children 12 years and under can use the Precheck lanes when traveling with a parent or guardian who is a member. TSA Precheck currently counts over 10 million members.
- Where is TSA Precheck available? TSA Precheck is available at more than 200 major airports across the U.S. for travelers on 73 airlines. So if you join the program and travel through those airports on participating airlines, you should be able to use the Precheck security lanes, even if you are traveling to destinations outside the U.S.
How Do You Apply for TSA Precheck?
Here are the steps to apply for TSA Precheck and a few other things to keep in mind:
- Apply online. First, you must submit an online application that will allow the TSA to perform a background check based on the information you provide, including the location and date of your birth, your current address, your physical characteristics and any criminal history. The whole process should only take a matter of minutes. Once the TSA reviews your application and decides to approve you, it will be conditional until you complete the other steps in this process. It may take several days to get an answer, but you can check the status of your application online.
- Schedule an enrollment center interview. Once you are conditionally approved, you will need to schedule an appointment at an enrollment center. There are over 380 enrollment centers around the country. You can find the ones closest to you by entering your city, ZIP code or closest airport. This will also pull up available interview time slots in the next 45 days. Pick a location and time that work for you.
- Prepare your identification documents. Before your interview, you will need to gather some forms of TSA-approved identification. These can include a valid U.S. passport, a permanent resident card or a valid driver's license from a U.S. state among other documents. If you show up to your interview without the necessary paperwork, you may not be approved.
- Interview in person. Bring your documents and arrive early to your interview. A TSA agent will ask you questions to verify your identity and application details. The interview should only take around 10 minutes. You will also have to pay the $85 application fee at this point. To do so, you can use a credit card, debit card, money order, certified or cashier's check, or company check.
- Wait for approval. Most applicants are notified of their status shortly after their interview, but it can take up to several weeks to receive written notification. You can check your status online and, if approved, find your Known Traveler Number at that point.
- Register with airlines. Even if you are approved for TSA Precheck and receive a Known Traveler Number, you do not immediately get access to TSA Precheck lanes when traveling. You need to log in to your frequent-flier accounts with various airlines and add your Known Traveler Number to your profile for it to register when you travel and for the TSA Precheck logo to appear on your boarding passes. If you forget to do so, you can always ask a check-in agent at the airport to add your Known Traveler Number to your reservation while traveling.
- Renew every five years: TSA Precheck membership lasts five years, but you can renew your membership online up to six months before your current TSA Precheck status expires so your eligibility isn't interrupted. Usually, all you need is your Known Traveler Number, name and date of birth; you'll also need to pay the $85 application fee. Some members may be required to conduct another in-person interview at an enrollment center.
Some Credit Cards Refund the Precheck Application Fee
TSA Precheck costs $85 each time you apply, whether or not you are approved. The good news: There are plenty of ways to avoid paying full price for the program.
Many travel rewards credit cards now offer statement credits toward the cost of TSA Precheck applications once every four or five years. When you use your eligible card to pay for your application, you will usually see the charge deducted from your statement in the form of an $85 credit. This can take up to a few billing cycles to occur, but it tends to appear almost immediately after you make the initial charge.
Global Entry May Be the Better Option
Before settling on TSA Precheck, however, think about whether you might be better off with Global Entry. Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that enables travelers who have been deemed low security risks to use faster customs and immigrations lines to enter the country. Although not guaranteed, travelers who have Global Entry and receive a Known Traveler Number usually get TSA Precheck access when traveling within the U.S. Global Entry costs $100 to apply, and many of the same credit cards that offer TSA Precheck application fee statement credits do the same for Global Entry.
TSA Precheck is a useful program that allows travelers to access expedited security screening lines when traveling within the U.S. Joining it can save you a lot of time at the airport and make the whole flying experience much less stressful. While it costs $85 to apply and you will need to complete an online application and an in-person interview, both steps are relatively quick. You might even already have a credit card that gives you a statement credit equal to the application fee, which makes applying even more worthwhile.