Is TSA PreCheck Worth It?

Quick Answer

TSA PreCheck is a time-saving benefit that offers a smoother and sometimes faster way to get through security screenings. Considering the fee and how often you fly can help you determine if TSA PreCheck is worth the added benefits.

Unrecognizable people, a view from the back, a queue at the airport for check-in.

Even for the most seasoned traveler, delayed flights, expensive airport prices and long lines can make it a chore to fly anywhere. While you can't do much about some delays or upcharges, you may be able to go through security screenings much more smoothly with TSA PreCheck.

TSA PreCheck is a valuable benefit that can save members time in line for airport security. It does come at a cost, however, and it may not be worth it for everyone. Here's how to decide if it's worth it for you.

What Is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a Trusted Traveler Program operated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This program prescreens you to ensure you meet its qualifications and, if approved, you may enjoy valuable benefits, such as:

  • Fast security screening: The TSA claims most travelers pass through security in under five minutes.
  • Flexible screening process: As a prescreened and vetted traveler, you don't have to remove your shoes, belts, light jackets, laptops or liquids at the checkpoint.
  • Availability: You can use TSA PreCheck at over 290 airports and more than 90 airlines.
  • Access for minors: Children 17 and under can join an adult with TSA PreCheck if it's listed on their boarding pass. Also, children aged 12 and younger can use the TSA PreCheck lanes when they're traveling with an adult with TSA PreCheck listed on their boarding pass.

How to Get TSA PreCheck

Getting TSA PreCheck is a simple process that involves the following steps:

  1. Sign up online. You can apply on the TSA site by submitting some personal information, including your contact information and driver's license number. This process generally takes less than five minutes.
  2. Attend an enrollment appointment. Towards the end of your online application, you'll be asked to book a 10-minute appointment at an enrollment location near you. During your appointment, you'll get fingerprinted, have your picture taken and pay the TSA PreCheck fee.
  3. Receive Your TSA PreCheck number. If approved, you'll receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN), typically in three to five days. TSA notes that some applications can take up to 60 days to process and receive your KTN. You'll add this KTN to your future airline reservations to enjoy the privileges of TSA PreCheck, which are good for five years.

Frequent fliers and those who fly several times a year can benefit the most from having TSA PreCheck simply due to the shorter wait times you'll encounter at security checkpoints. The majority of travelers experience wait times under five minutes, and 99% wait less than 10 minutes, according to the TSA. As experienced travelers know, time can be valuable when flying, especially if your boarding gate is far from security.

Even if you don't fly often, TSA PreCheck can come in handy if you know you're going to travel through a notoriously busy airport or during peak times during the holidays.

CLEAR and Global Entry also offer valuable benefits that differ from TSA PreCheck. CLEAR, which gets its name from the biometrics company behind it, allows you to bypass security lines altogether and verify your identity using an eye scan or fingerprint instead of a government-issued ID. Once verified, you'll go to the front of the security line and put your bags through screening as usual. However, CLEAR's cost ($189 per year) is substantially higher than PreCheck and it is currently only available in over 50 airports in the United States.

Like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry is another trusted traveler program—this one provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP). Once prescreened and approved, members entering the United States through a participating airport can take advantage of Global Entry lanes for a smoother and potentially faster security screening process. The cost of Global Entry is $100 for five years.

How Much Does TSA PreCheck Cost?

You'll conclude your enrollment appointment by submitting your payment for TSA PreCheck.The price to enroll varies depending on the payment partner the enrollment location partners with, Idemia or Telos.

  • Idemia has over 600 enrollment locations at a cost of $78 for five years. The company offers online renewals at $70 and in-person renewals for $78.
  • Telos offers 21 active locations to enroll in TSA PreCheck at $85 for five years. Online and in-person renewals are both $70.

At $78 or $85 for five years, the annual cost for PreCheck breaks down to between $15 and $17. You don't have to purchase a membership for your children age 12 and younger—they can join you in line at no extra cost and without restrictions. Similarly, teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 can accompany parents or guardians on the same reservation, but the TSA PreCheck designation must be indicated on their boarding pass.

Keep in mind, however, you may be able to cover some or all of your TSA PreCheck fee through your credit card or other means, such as:

  • Credit card benefits: Roughly 50 travel rewards credit cards provide a statement credit reimbursement of up to $100 for trusted traveler programs like TSA PreCheck. Generally, this benefit is available every four years, so you can continue to renew your membership without interruption. Refer to your benefits guide or contact your card's customer service department to find out if your card provides this credit.
  • Rewards programs: Some rewards programs allow you to redeem your points to cover membership fees, although the exchange value may be less than other options.
  • Coverage through trusted traveler programs: If you already have Global Entry, TSA PreCheck membership is automatically included. Other trusted traveler programs like NEXUS and Sentri may also include access to PreCheck.
  • Military benefits: Active military members can enjoy PreCheck benefits at no cost and without submitting an application. Enter your 10-digit Department of Defense ID number as your Known Traveler Number when making reservations for TSA PreCheck.

How to Decide if TSA Precheck Is Worth It

If you travel often or shiver at the thought of waiting in line at busy airports, TSA PreCheck can be a worthwhile option, especially if you can offset or negate its cost through your credit card. However, if you rarely fly and must pay out of pocket for membership, the benefit may not be worth the cost. Weigh the following pros and cons to help you decide.

Pros of TSA PreCheck

  • Availability: Since TSA PreCheck is available at nearly 300 airports nationwide and with over 90 airlines, you're almost certain to access PreCheck benefits at domestic airports. Incidentally, the TSA advises enrolling in Global Entry rather than TSA PreCheck if you travel out of the country more than four times a year.
  • Affordability: The five-year cost of PreCheck is $78 to $85, which is effectively $15.60 to $17 per year. That's roughly the same as you might pay for a single lunch at the airport. Getting TSA PreCheck is certainly a no-brainer if your credit card reimburses you for the fee.
  • Less time and hassle: Usually—but not always—the TSA PreCheck line is shorter, and you don't have to remove your shoes and other clothing items. If you travel often, you could potentially save hours at security over several trips, leaving you more time to get to your gate or relax in the airport lounge before your flight.

Cons of TSA PreCheck

  • Not always available: The TSA does not guarantee access to the TSA PreCheck line every time. Be aware that security randomly selects travelers for more scrutinized scans.
  • Longer lines: TSA PreCheck is becoming more widely used, and you could experience a longer line than in years past. In some cases, the PreCheck line could even be longer than for regular security.
  • Lengthy wait time for enrollment appointment: Depending on your location, your next available appointment at your local enrollment center could take a while. Many enrollment centers, particularly those at major hub airports, are booked for the year. That means you may need to visit a center farther away for a faster appointment.

The Bottom Line

TSA PreCheck can provide welcome relief when traveling, as it typically offers a shorter security line and a smoother screening process. If you rarely travel, paying the fee may not make sense for the occasional benefit. However, if your credit card reimburses you for the cost, there's little reason not to get TSA PreCheck.

If your card doesn't already cover the TSA PreCheck fee, consider applying for one of the best travel rewards cards. Experian's CreditMatch™ can show you a personalized list of credit card offers based on your credit score, so you can apply with confidence.