Get Through Airport Security Faster Using TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is a program offered by the TSA that allows approved individuals (along with their children 12 and under), flying with select airlines, to go through expedited screening at select airports in the United States. This might sound like a limited opportunity, but in truth it is available at over 180 airports and all major and most minor airlines that fly through the United States. TSA PreCheck can be a nice perk that can even help you shave some stress off of flying low-cost airlines.

If you're enrolled in TSA PreCheck, you'll be able to go through security faster and with less hassle. This is especially a great opportunity for families with young children. Here's everything you need to know about TSA PreCheck!

Who Qualifies for TSA Precheck?

The TSA isn't 100% transparent about eligibility guidelines, but for the most part, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are eligible, though they may be denied for reasons like having a criminal record.

TSA PreCheck is a Must-Have for Families

You may have noticed we don't have kids. But from being in both TSA PreCheck and standard security lines with families, we can tell you that TSA PreCheck goes a long way to making air travel easier on families.

1. Don't Worry About What's In Everyone's Bags

We travel full-time for the time being, and we still encounter airports where no one seems to want to tell you in advance what to take out of your bags. In the U.S., the signage tends to be pretty clear, but when it isn't obvious TSA staff really do little to help, often giving contradictory directions. This can be a real stress on families who have kids carrying laptops or iPads and maybe their own liquid bags. With TSA PreCheck, you don't have to worry about taking those things out, just put your bag on the conveyor belt! TSA PreCheck simplifies the security process so that you can focus on corralling your kids and getting them quickly to the bathroom or to a place where they can just hang out and watch The Incredibles on the iPad.

Leave the gear in your bag when you go through the PreCheck lane.

Leave the gear in your bag when you go through the PreCheck lane.

2. Shorter Lines

This is the big selling point of TSA PreCheck. The longest we've waited in a TSA PreCheck line was about 15 minutes in New York, and that was a rarity. Other times, we've gotten through security in five minutes or less. Waiting in long security lines is a nightmare for kids who just want to get to Disney World (where, surprise, they'll have more security lines). 

3. The Price is Right for Many Families

Your kids twelve and under won't need to be enrolled in PreCheck, it's enough that you are. Kids thirteen and older, and adult travelers, each need to be individually enrolled in PreCheck. Just because people are traveling with you, including parents and spouses, does not mean they can do through TSA PreCheck just because you can! Except for children under 13, all travelers need to be individually enrolled in the program.

This makes the PreCheck option a more economical option for families with younger kids. As we discuss in a tip below, there are ways for adults to avoid the TSA PreCheck application fee, too.

Signing Up for TSA PreCheck

There are a few ways to get TSA PreCheck, let's go over them.

Signing Up for TSA PreCheck Directly

The most common way to get TSA PreCheck is to follow the standard three-step process from the TSA:

  1. Fill out an online application & schedule your in-person interview

  2. Go to your in-person interview and get fingerprinted

  3. Get approved and get your "Known Traveler Number."

There is a $85 application fee.

Mouse Hacking Tip: Several premium cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve will refund you for your application fee for TSA PreCheck! If your family has multiple premium cards, you can use them to pay for different applicants' fees!

TSA has a handy guide that tells you what documents to bring to your TSA PreCheck interview. Shortly after your interview, you'll receive a notice of the decision and (if approved) your Known Traveler Number. You can check your application status online. TSA PreCheck is good for five years. On most credit cards offering an application fee refund, the benefit is good once every four or five years.

Signing Up for Another DHS Trusted Traveler Program

This is the other way to get TSA PreCheck. There are three other programs similar to TSA PreCheck that the Department of Homeland Security offers:  Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI. All three include TSA PreCheck for eligible enrollees. We're going to focus on the most popular of the three, Global Entry.

In addition to TSA PreCheck benefits, Global Entry gets you expedited passage through passport / border control and customs at U.S. points of entry. This can save you hours on busy days, especially if you're at the back of a plane and everyone in front of you beats you to passport control.

The application process for Global Entry is similar to the process for TSA PreCheck, just a little more involved. First thing, you need a passport to apply for Global Entry. Beyond that, you'll:

  1. Apply online.

  2. Upon being provisionally approved, schedule an interview.

  3. Gather your documents for your interview.

  4. Attend your interview and (hopefully) be approved.

You can find more specifics about the process at the Trusted Traveler Program website.

The application fee is $100, and like TSA PreCheck, you can get it refunded by using certain premium credit cards.

You are actually told at the end of your interview whether you're approved, and you're given your Known Traveler Number then (you have to wait a few weeks to receive your Global Entry card, which isn't all that important). Like TSA Precheck, Global Entry is good for five years.

We highly recommend Global Entry for anyone considering international travel in the near future. For many travelers, arriving in the United States is the worst. The lines tend to be long and slow, and Customs and Border Patrol agents can be quite thorough. But with Global Entry, the United States is actually our favorite place to arrive, we just zip right through all the lines.

Using TSA PreCheck to Save Time and Stress

TSA PreCheck is not "automatic", nor can you just show up at the airport and expect to be able to use it! 

1. Give the Airline Your Known Traveler Number

When purchasing airline tickets through an airline or third party, you'll be given the option to enter your Known Traveler Number. This is what you are given when approved for TSA PreCheck and what you need to enter to actually use the TSA PreCheck lanes!

A United Airlines booking screen with Known Traveler Number circled (and Redress Number beneath it).

A United Airlines booking screen with Known Traveler Number circled (and Redress Number beneath it).

You'll usually find the field near the field for "Redress Number." Sometimes you'll see the "Redress Number" field described as something like "A number given to frequent fliers to avoid security scrutiny." That is not related to TSA PreCheck, even though it sounds like it is! Your TSA PreCheck number is your Known Traveler Number!

2. Confirm Your Boarding Pass Has TSA PreCheck

Your boarding pass should have some indicia of TSA PreCheck eligibility on it. Typically it will be in the form of either a logo or text that says something like "PreCheck." If your boarding pass does not have the required indicia, or if you cannot see it, speak with someone at the check-in desk about adding it.

Even digital boarding passes must carry TSA indicators!

Even digital boarding passes must carry TSA indicators!

TSA agents will not care if you tell them you are enrolled in TSA PreCheck or even bring proof that you are if your ticket does not have the TSA PreCheck information!

3. Go to the TSA PreCheck Lane

Signage is sometimes prevalently posted, but just say to the airport staff or TSA agents "TSA PreCheck?" and they'll direct you. Yes, that's short and maybe a little impolite, but if you start with "Where is..." they'll immediately jump into their standard routine of asking you "what airline?" or "what gate?" and directing you based on that information. Just go with "TSA Precheck?"

4. Follow the Special TSA PreCheck Security Rules

Keep everything in your bag. Keep your belts on. Keep your shoes on. Keep your light jackets on. But remember, TSA PreCheck does not mean you can bring prohibited items through security.

5. But Still Be Prepared

Hey, mom and dad, if one of you is in charge of all the tickets and IDs, be prepared with them! As in, have them in an organized pile in your hand when you get to the TSA Agent. And have the kids ready to show their faces to the agent as they're inspected! If the agents are saying "Please have everyone hold their own boarding pass," then anyone capable of holding a boarding pass and ID should be doing so. TSA PreCheck is convenient, but you still have to follow basic protocol to get us all through it efficiently.

Considering PreCheck? The Citi Prestige is a great card because of it's $100 Global Entry credit, but also because of how it helped us save over $2000 on a Disney vacation!