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How To Get TSA Precheck (And Is It Worth It?)

If you’ve traveled through an airport over the past few years, chances are, you’ve longingly glanced at the TSA Precheck line as you’ve waited in the longer, regular line. I was pretty hesitant to apply for TSA Precheck, because I remembered watching the private service Clear open, close, and then reopen at my local airport. So, I wanted to wait a bit to see how TSA Precheck would work.

Earlier this year, I finally decided to apply, and have definitely found TSA Precheck to be worth it. Here’s how to get TSA Precheck and find out if it’s worth it for you.

A seating area in the airport

How To Get TSA Precheck (And Is It Worth It?)

What is TSA Precheck?

TSA Precheck is an expedited security program run by the TSA where low-risk travelers can apply for an expedited security process at the airport. Those with TSA Precheck do not need to take off shoes, belts, and light coats, and don’t need to remove laptops or their liquids (note that the 3-1-1 liquid rule still applies).

The whole security process is generally more pleasant, and shorter, although it’s important to know that the TSA still can make you go through regular security if necessary.

It’s currently available in 120 airports, with the following participating airlines: Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, OneJet, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country, United Airlines, Virgin America, and WestJet. You must be departing from a United States destination to use TSA Precheck.

It’s important to know that you aren’t always guaranteed to get TSA PreCheck. If it’s not printed on your boarding pass, you won’t have it. When I flew through Sarasota a few years ago, it wasn’t printed on my boarding pass even though the airline had my information, and I wasn’t able to go through the TSA PreCheck line. I even had it on the way there, but just didn’t have it on the way back.

In addition, some airports simply don’t offer it. When I was in Denver last year for my Vail trip, the TSA PreCheck line was closed because it was later at night (I was flying a red-eye back home).

In Asheville, NC, they don’t offer TSA PreCheck. It’s good to know this in advance so you pack appropriately.

How to Get TSA Precheck

Getting TSA Precheck was easier than I expected. I thought that I would need to go to my local airport (which isn’t very convenient), but there are lots of suburban locations that you can visit.

First, I applied online and selected an appointment time. I didn’t have to wait long – I think I was able to get an appointment a week later.

At the appointment, I was fingerprinted and interviewed over just a few minutes. You’ll also need to bring specific documentation. Once a decision is made, a letter will be mailed to your home.

I was also provided with a website where I could check on the progress. I received my decision letter with my known traveler number shortly after applying. Note that those with global entry and other trusted traveler programs do not need to apply because you can use your global entry number as your known traveler number.

The exterior of Orlando International Airport

How does TSA Precheck Work?

Once you are approved, you’ll be provided with a Known Traveler Number. You can add the number to your frequent flyer profiles on any of the participating airlines, or you can add it when you check-in.

Your boarding pass will print with the TSA Pre✓® logo. As you head to the security checkpoint, find the TSA Pre✓® sign, and show the security agent your boarding pass. I’ve found the whole process to be easy.

Kids 12 and under traveling with an eligible parent will be able to go through the TSA Precheck line with their parent. Kids over 13 need to apply to always be able to go through the line. Once my daughter turned 13, she applied for her own Known Traveler Number.

How to Get TSA Precheck for Free

Currently, TSA Precheck costs $85 for a five-year membership. But, there are some ways that you can get TSA precheck for free. Some credit cards will reimburse your fee if you apply.

I was able to get my fee reimbursed, so it made the decision to get it even easier. Check with your credit card to see if that is a benefit to your card.

Is TSA Precheck Worth it?

With all of the traveling that I do, TSA Precheck is definitely worth it. It really does depend on how much traveling you do. If you frequently travel internationally, it may be better to apply for global entry. And, if you only fly once or twice a year, it may not be worth the time and money to get TSA Precheck.

Is Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Better?

Global Entry allows travelers to go through an expedited line when returning to the US by air. It’s required for every traveler going through the line, even children. If you have it, you’ll also be able to use TSA PreCheck.

However, TSA Precheck doesn’t give you global entry. It currently costs $100 for global entry for five years. In my opinion, if you are planning to travel internationally, it may be a better idea to get global entry since you can use it for both programs.

Can a 13 year old get TSA Precheck?

Yes, they can, and they’ll need it when traveling if you want to go through the TSA Precheck line.

Can family go through TSA Precheck?

Your family can only go through the line with you if they have TSA Precheck designated on their boarding passes. In general, if you have it, your children 12 and under will also have it.

Can you use TSA Precheck in Europe?

No, it can only be used in participating US airports.

Can you take a child through TSA Precheck?

Children 12 and under traveling with a parent with TSA Precheck should be able to go through with their parent.

To learn more and apply, visit the official TSA website.

Updated in 2019

How to Get TSA Precheck (and is it worth it)? Tips for applying and using this service.
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Thursday 12th of November 2015

Thanks Jodi for this post. Will try to consider it on my next trip.

John Smith

Monday 9th of November 2015

A Known Traveler Number DOES NOT guarantee Precheck.

Jodi Grundig

Monday 9th of November 2015

Thanks! I do mention that the airport can still make you go through regular security, but I'll make it more clear.

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