Is TSA PreCheck Worth It? A Comprehensive Analysis

Every traveler knows that time is valuable. But how valuable is it? Well, that might depend on what you’re doing. Time slips by quite unnoticed when you’re sitting at home, spending hours crafting the perfect itinerary. But when you’re rushing through security to make it to your gate, you might wish you had just a little extra time. Enter TSA PreCheck. If you’ve never understood just what all the fuss is about over a different security lane at the airport, allow us to take you on a journey of the highs and higher highs of TSA PreCheck and why it just might be time to buy into the hype—and worth every penny.

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What Is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a Trusted Traveler program operated by the Transportation Security Administration that gives travelers access to a dedicated security lane at more than 200 U.S. airports. The program is membership-based and requires an application and screening process prior to approval. But, once approved, members can save time at the airport with shorter wait times and expedited screening processes to make getting through security hassle-free. 

How Much Does TSA PreCheck Cost?

A big part of deciding whether TSA PreCheck is worth it comes down to the cost. Enrollment for TSA PreCheck is available through two partners at two different costs. Travelers can apply through Telos for $85 and renew for $70 or through Idemia for $78 and renew for $70 ($78 if renewed in person).

While the upfront cost of TSA PreCheck might seem a bit steep to the average traveler, there’s more to this number than meets the eye. TSA PreCheck membership lasts five years, meaning you only pay $15.60 to $17 per year. And if you travel just four times a year, that’s around $4.25 per trip that you’re spending to spend less time in security.

But the real kicker for covering the cost of TSA PreCheck is that some travelers don’t have to pay a dime.

How to Get TSA PreCheck for Free?

You don’t need much to score TSA PreCheck for free. Savvy travelers know that the right card, program, or even occupation can get you sailing through security without it costing a single cent.

Credit Cards

With a travel credit card that includes a TSA PreCheck credit, travelers can get the application fee covered at no cost or included in their premium card travel benefits. TSA PreCheck benefits are offered with cards that have no annual fee, an annual fee below $100, and premium credit cards with a higher annual fee. Whichever card you have, the credit works the same. When paying the application fee, all you have to do is use the credit card to pay the cost upfront; your card issuer will then reimburse the application cost.

Loyalty Programs

Travelers who are part of a hotel or airline loyalty program can also use their points/miles to cover the cost of the TSA PreCheck application fee. Point aficionados will likely notice that the value of redeeming your points/miles to cover the cost of TSA PreCheck is relatively poor, as you’re giving up $100+ to cover the $85/$78 application fee. But, if the circumstances call for it, a handful of loyalty programs offer this redemption option:

Military Benefits

The final way to get TSA PreCheck for free is to use your military benefits. Military members with a DoD ID card can enjoy TSA PreCheck benefits for free:

  • Active duty service members
  • National Guard members
  • Students of the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, and U.S. Coast Guard Academy
  • Department of Defense civilians

TSA PreCheck Benefits

To truly determine if TSA PreCheck is worth your hard-earned money, you need to know how, or even if, it will benefit you on your next trip to the airport. There’s no point in throwing good money at a problem only for the problem to stick around. But as anyone with “TSA PreCheck” printed on their boarding pass will tell you, the service definitely has its perks.

Save Time with Shorter Security Lines

Everyone who has traveled on a plane has gone through security, a notoriously time-consuming and inconvenient obstacle between them and their gate—unless they have TSA PreCheck. With TSA PreCheck, the time spent in the security line is cut drastically short.

According to the TSA, 99% of TSA PreCheck travelers get through security in under 10 minutes. 

Considering that some waits can have you sitting in the security line for over half an hour, that might be enough to convince you that TSA PreCheck is worth it. And if you’re chronically late getting to the airport or chronically stressed about navigating the airport, then this is one less stress you have to suffer.

Keep Your Shoes On

It might seem like a small thing to be able to keep your shoes on as you go through security, but anyone who has done it knows how much of a hassle such a small thing can be. In fact, having to take off your shoes, belts, jackets, and other accessories is what often ends up holding up the line in regular security. 

That’s not the case for TSA PreCheck travelers. These chosen few get to keep their shoes on as they pass through security. So, no more forgetting your socks and having to bare your feet to the elements or the judgment of your fellow man. With TSA PreCheck, you can keep your feet covered and your dignity intact.

Leave Your Bag Packed

No one likes packing their bags, never mind packing twice. Yet that’s exactly what some have to do after forgetting that one liquid or electronic they left in their bag. However, the story goes a bit differently for TSA PreCheck travelers. Those with TSA PreCheck get to keep their 3-1-1 liquids and devices safely ensconced in their bag as they go through security. So you can kiss those pesky bins goodbye and rest easy knowing your Tetris skills won’t be called upon at the airport. 

BONUS: Use It When Traveling with Kids

The final benefit of signing up for TSA PreCheck is that you can use it when traveling with your kids. Unlike other Trusted Traveler programs that require all family members to sign up, TSA PreCheck allows kids under 17 to accompany their parents through the TSA PreCheck lane. Children 12 and under can accompany their parents without restriction. Children 13-17 can also do so if they’re included on their parent’s reservation and their boarding pass displays the TSA PreCheck indicator.

How to Get TSA PreCheck

Convinced yet? If not, you might just be when you learn how easy it is to get TSA PreCheck. In fact, getting TSA PreCheck is so simple, the first part only takes five minutes. Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility for the program, you can fill out your online application. The application is broken down into four painless steps:

  1. Entering your personal and biographic information 
  2. Confirming your eligibility status
  3. Selecting your verifying documents for your enrollment appointment
  4. Choosing your enrollment center and scheduling your appointment

After you submit your application, the next step will be to attend your scheduled appointment. If you’re worried about a lengthy, in-depth interview, don’t be. The appointment takes roughly 10 minutes to complete—you hand over your documents, go through a background check, and get your fingerprints taken. You pay the TSA PreCheck application fee, and that’s it! Most travelers get an email with their Known Traveler Number (KTN) within a few days, though some report waiting for up to 60 days. So, if you have an upcoming trip and want to use TSA PreCheck, get started with your application now rather than later.

What Are the Alternatives to TSA PreCheck?

If you’re trying to decide whether signing up for TSA PreCheck is worth it, comparing it to the competition is essential. After all, TSA PreCheck is just one of several Trusted Traveler Programs offered by the Transportation Security Administration:

Despite the abundance of traveler programs at your fingertips, only a few compare directly to TSA PreCheck: Global Entry and CLEAR.

For domestic travelers, TSA PreCheck is the clear choice for reducing your wait time at security, with hundreds of locations nationwide. In comparison, Global Entry is best for travelers interested in spending less time in the airport altogether, with access to expedited security and customs lanes. In contrast to both, CLEAR allows travelers to skip the security line entirely but has limited access and doesn’t come with added benefits, like leaving your shoes on (you’ll need TSA PreCheck for that). But while they come with a higher price tag, it’s worth noting that Global Entry and CLEAR are also free with certain travel cards.

Conclusion: Is TSA PreCheck Worth It?

It’s hard to argue that TSA PreCheck isn’t worth the cost. For less than $17 a year, or even free in some cases, TSA PreCheck costs less than the airport meal you begrudgingly buy on a long layover. And its benefits speak for themselves. After all, who doesn’t enjoy spending less time at the airport? TSA PreCheck will save you time and a headache, whether you fly three times in a year or thirty times in a year.

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