What is TSA PreCheck? What it does, benefits, and more
In the United States, airport security usually isn't the most popular aspect of air travel. It's an important security measure, though, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) takes screenings very seriously.
Spending extra time at security can be troublesome, and that's where TSA PreCheck® can be beneficial for any traveler passing through majority of U.S. airports.
An overview of TSA PreCheck
Run by the TSA itself, TSA PreCheck is a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP). Members of a program like this can experience a high degree of convenience. In general, security screenings ahead of most domestic and select international flights for PreCheck members are often streamlined and more convenient. That's partly because members do not have to remove belts, shoes or lightweight jackets at TSA security screenings. Also, large electronics like laptops and tablets can stay in their cases or carry-on bags.
How TSA PreCheck works
TSA PreCheck membership begins with an application process that we'll outline later. Once approved, new members receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN). You would add this number to a travel reservation at the time you book or check-in for a flight. You might also be able to add it to a frequent flyer profile that you have with an airline.
Your experience with the TSA normally begins in the lines approaching the security checkpoint. If you have a membership, the TSA PreCheck symbol is printed on your boarding pass, even if it's a digital version. This provides access to lanes designated specifically for TSA PreCheck. As you approach the body and baggage scans, having TSA PreCheck means you don't have to remove shoes, belts, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops or light jackets.
What are the benefits of TSA PreCheck?
Some members might say the main benefit of TSA PreCheck is being able to access designated security lines at airport security. Not every passenger has TSA PreCheck. As a result, the designated lines tend to be shorter.
Other members might praise the convenience of not having to remove certain clothing and carry-on items to pass through airport security. Shoes can stay on and laptops can stay in your carry-on when you have TSA PreCheck.
Though the TSA cannot guarantee anyone an expedited screening process, the benefits of TSA PreCheck often make the security screening process smoother and faster. In fact, about 9 of 10 TSA PreCheck members spent under five minutes at security in March 2023, according to the TSA website.
How to apply for PreCheck
You can be on your way to smoother airport security experiences after you complete the PreCheck application, attend an in-person appointment, and pay the required fee.
Apply online at TSA.gov/PreCheck
You begin by creating an account and entering some information about yourself. As you finish the online application, you should see a list of documents needed for your in-person appointment.
Schedule an appointment
The appointment is a critical part of the application process. This is when you pay the nonrefundable fee, submit to a background check and have your fingerprints taken. These appointments are usually brief, but it's important you bring the required documents to avoid delays.
Receive your decision
The TSA will notify you whether your application is approved, denied or needs more information. An approval will come with your unique KTN. When you add this to travel reservations, your boarding pass receives the TSA PreCheck symbol. This allows you to access the TSA PreCheck lanes and benefits of being a member.
Can you get TSA PreCheck for free?
Strictly speaking, no, you can not get TSA PreCheck for free. However, there are ways to have the application fee reimbursed. Some travel credit cards may reimburse you for the TSA PreCheck fee, though cards with this benefit tend to have annual fees.
To be reimbursed for the TSA PreCheck fee, you'll first have to pay the fee with an eligible credit card. For your first TSA PreCheck application, the fee is due at your in-person appointment.
This is how the reimbursement benefit works with Chase Sapphire Reserve: if you have this credit card, you can receive up to a $100 statement credit every four years as reimbursement for the TSA PreCheck application fee. To be eligible, you'll have to pay the fee with your Sapphire Reserve card.
You can visit your credit card issuer's website or contact them to find out if and how they would reimburse the TSA PreCheck application fee.
What are the requirements for TSA PreCheck?
To enroll in TSA PreCheck, you'll have to meet the eligibility requirements, complete the entire application process and pay the required fee.
Barring any disqualifying factors, U.S. citizens, nationals and lawful permanent residents may qualify for TSA PreCheck.
- U.S. citizens: One way to obtain U.S. citizenship is at birth or at some point afterwards by having parents who have U.S. citizenship. Another option is called naturalization, a process which can grant U.S. citizenship to a lawful permanent resident after they meet certain requirements.
- U.S. nationals: All U.S. citizens are considered to be U.S. nationals, but the opposite is not true. Individuals born in an outlying possession of the United States, or of parents who meet certain requirements, are considered U.S. nationals.
- Lawful permanent residents: A lawful permanent resident is legally permitted to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis.
There are specific rules and requirements for children:
- Ages 12 and under: These children may use TSA PreCheck lanes when traveling with a parent or guardian who has the PreCheck symbol on their boarding pass.
- Ages 13 to 17: If a parent or legal guardian has TSA PreCheck, and they're traveling with their child in this age range, that child may receive TSA PreCheck on their boarding pass. However, there's a chance that children of this age could be randomly excluded from the TSA PreCheck line.
- Children traveling alone: Children 17 and younger will need their own TSA PreCheck membership when traveling alone or without a parent or legal guardian who has PreCheck.
The application process is almost identical for every individual who wants to enroll in the program. We detailed the application process above, which begins with an online application. Then you attend an in- person appointment where you submit to a background check and have your fingerprints taken. You could also walk in to a TSA PreCheck enrollment center to complete the entire application, but scheduled appointments are prioritized.
Certain documents are required during the in-person appointment portion of your enrollment process. You will have to provide original or certified copies of documents unless the TSA requirements state otherwise.
As of April 2023, the TSA requires either one document from List A or two documents from List B at your in-person appointment for TSA PreCheck:
- Unexpired U.S. Passport (book or card)
- Unexpired Enhanced Tribal Card (ETC)
- Unexpired Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Card Unexpired U.S. Enhanced Driver's License (EDL) or Unexpired Enhanced Identification Card (EID)
- Permanent Resident Card (I-551) often referred to as a “Green Card"
- Unexpired Foreign Passport AND immigrant visa with I-551 annotation of “Upon Endorsement Serves as Temporary I-551 Evidencing Permanent Residence of 1 Year"
- Unexpired Re-entry Permit (I-327)
At least two documents are required if you do not have a document from List A: a valid photo ID and a document that meets citizenship requirements.
For more information, please see the TSA webpage for required documentation.
At some point in your enrollment process, you'll have to pay the nonrefundable TSA PreCheck application fee. It's $78 as of April 2023. If you're applying for the first time, you cannot pay this fee online. Therefore, you won't be asked for payment information during the online application. You'll have to complete your application and pay the fee in person during your appointment at a TSA PreCheck enrollment center.
How long does TSA PreCheck last?
TSA PreCheck membership expires every five years. To see the exact date your membership expires, you can log in to the TSA PreCheck website using your KTN or other credentials. The dashboard there should show your membership's expiration date.
You can renew your TSA membership ahead of the expiration date. The length of the process can vary, but you may want to start approximately six months before your current membership expires. This should provide plenty of time to complete the renewal process without a lapse in membership.
If you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, you can receive one statement credit up to $100 every four years after the first program application fee is charged to your card. To be eligible for the statement credit, you must use your Chase Sapphire Reserve card to complete the TSA PreCheck application and pay the application fee.
All things considered, many travelers who use U.S. airports enjoy TSA PreCheck and its benefits. TSA PreCheck can make the airport security screening process smoother and faster. That's mainly because members can access lines that tend to be shorter and do not have to remove shoes, belts, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops or light jackets.
If you're interested in applying, confirm your eligibility and begin an application at the TSA website. Remember that some travel credit cards reimburse the TSA PreCheck application fee. Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of those credit cards, as it may provide a statement credit up to $100 every four years for the TSA PreCheck application fee.