TSA PreCheck: What it does, what it costs and how to get it

Businesswoman waiting for her flight at the airportImage: Businesswoman waiting for her flight at the airport

In a Nutshell

With a TSA PreCheck membership and your boarding pass in hand, you can cut your airport security waiting times for a period of five years. If you have the right credit cards or are part of certain frequent flyer programs, you can cover the usual $85 cost of PreCheck with card credits or by redeeming miles and points.
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No one likes to wait at the airport. Not for a delayed flight, not for a long check-in line, and certainly not in a security screening line that stretches farther than you can see.

Enter TSA PreCheck, a system from the U.S. government’s Trusted Traveler Programs that allows prescreened passengers of most major airports and airlines to bypass the standard security line and get in an expedited lane.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck allows U.S. passengers who have undergone a background check to go through a dedicated security line separate from that of the general public. In fact, according to the TSA, a vast majority of those holding TSA PreCheck wait less than five minutes in the security line.

Travelers in the TSA PreCheck line also don’t have to remove shoes, belts, or light outerwear like sweaters and jackets. Laptops and liquids or gels of 3.4 ounces or less can also stay put during screening. If you travel with only carry-on luggage, the airport experience can be much faster and simpler.

Passengers who are approved for TSA PreCheck are issued a Known Traveler Number good for five years. That number should then be included in any airline reservations to ensure inclusion on the passenger’s boarding pass and admittance to the expedited security lanes. Kids 12 and younger can travel with a parent who has TSA PreCheck without having their own Known Traveler Number, but children 13 and older will need to be issued their own.

How to apply and pay for TSA PreCheck

If you’ve decided that TSA PreCheck would be a good addition to your travel plans, you’ll need to go through a series of steps before you’re issued a Known Traveler Number.

First, you’ll need to complete an online application with some basic information. Then, you’ll need to schedule an appointment at a local enrollment center.

At your in-person appointment, which takes about 10 minutes, you’ll have to present some identification documents; get fingerprinted; and pay your $85 fee with a credit card, money order, company check or certified/cashier’s check.

The government will send you a written notification of your approval within two to three weeks after your appointment. But you can also check on your status online — a good idea since many people are approved within days, according to the TSA.


Global Entry: An alternative to TSA PreCheck

Frequent international travelers may also want to consider purchasing Global Entry as an alternative to TSA PreCheck. Global Entry is a program by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that gives travelers both the expedited security clearance of PreCheck and speedier processing through customs when arriving in the United States.

Global Entry costs $100 and requires an online application and in-person interview. Travelers who hold Global Entry get a membership number, which they can enter into the Known Traveler Number field of their airline reservation to participate in the TSA PreCheck program at no additional cost.

How to cover the TSA PreCheck cost

The TSA PreCheck cost is $85 per individual and is good for five years. But you may already have the ability to cover the cost with your existing credit cards and rewards memberships.

Several premium travel credit cards provide a credit for TSA PreCheck for cardholders.

Paying for TSA PreCheck with credit card statement credits

Here are four popular travel credit cards that offer a TSA PreCheck credit, plus some information on how to take advantage of the credit.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • During enrollment, charge the $85 fee to your Chase Sapphire Reserve® card.
  • A statement credit for $85 will be automatically posted to your account within one to two billing cycles, so you’ll see both the charge and the credit.
  • You can earn only one Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit once every four years.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • Use your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to pay the $85 TSA PreCheck fee during enrollment.
  • The credit will appear on your statement within two billing cycles.
  • You can only earn the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit once every four years, and your account must be in good standing.

Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Pay your $85 TSA PreCheck enrollment fee with your Platinum Card® from American Express.
  • You’ll receive a credit for the charge within eight weeks.
  • You can receive one statement credit every four years for Global Entry or every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck (depending on which you charge to your account first).

IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card

  • Pay your $85 TSA PreCheck enrollment fee with your IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card.
  • A statement credit in the amount of the enrollment fee will be posted to your account within one to two billing cycles.
  • You may earn one TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or Nexus statement credit every four years.

The official TSA website includes a complete list of travel credit cards that offer a TSA PreCheck statement credit.

Paying for TSA PreCheck with rewards program points

Additionally, if you’re a member of various travel loyalty programs for hotels and airlines, you may be able to use your rewards points to purchase TSA PreCheck.

Here’s one sample loyalty program with guidance on how to redeem your points for TSA PreCheck.

United MileagePlus

  • Log in to your MileagePlus account at United.com.
  • Navigate to the Security Fees section of the site.
  • United MileagePlus members can get TSA PreCheck for 11,000 miles.
  • Purchase TSA PreCheck with your miles to receive a payment code.
  • Pay with your code at the TSA PreCheck enrollment center.
  • You can buy up to 10 codes a year for friends and family.

Bottom line

If a quicker path through the airport would make your travel experience better, consider getting TSA PreCheck for yourself and your loved ones. Before you do, though, see if you can cover the purchase with a rewards credit card or by using miles and points from your favorite travel loyalty program.

About the author: Lyn Mettler is an Indianapolis-based writer specializing in finance, food and travel. She is the author of “The Step-by-Step Guide to Flying Free on Southwest Airlines” and enjoys showing people how they can use miles… Read more.