What is TSA Precheck? A complete guide

4 min read

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If you’re tired of waiting in increasingly long lines at the airport — or if you’d simply like to go through security without having to take off your shoes — it might be time to consider TSA Precheck. This TSA-approved program expedites your airport security process and removes many of the hassles of modern-day airport security lines, giving you more time to relax before your flight.

TSA Precheck membership isn’t free, but there are plenty of credit cards and loyalty programs ready to help you cover the cost. Use this guide to decide whether TSA Precheck is right for you and learn how to successfully complete the TSA application process.

What is TSA Precheck?

The TSA Precheck program allows trusted passengers to bypass long security lines at the airport. Passengers with Precheck get to enter a separate security line and are often exempt from some of the more time-consuming airport security processes such as shoe and laptop removal.

The TSA Precheck website notes that in September of 2018, 94% of Precheck passengers spent less than 5 minutes waiting in an airport security line.

Which airports offer TSA Precheck?

Over 200 airports offer TSA Precheck, with 56 participating airlines. Use the TSA Precheck Map to learn whether your local airport offers TSA Precheck.

How do you get access to TSA Precheck?

There are two ways to become a TSA Precheck member. You can purchase a TSA Precheck membership directly from the Transportation Security Administration; currently, memberships cost $85 and last for five years.

You can also earn TSA Precheck status by enrolling in one of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler programs. The Global Entry program, for example, costs $100 for a five-year membership. These programs are designed for U.S. citizens who make frequent trips to Canada or Mexico and want to save time during the border and customs process. By becoming a Trusted Traveler, you’ll save time on your domestic trips as well.

Which credit cards help you become a TSA Precheck member?

Currently, twenty credit cards and loyalty programs help you become a TSA Precheck member. These cards and loyalty programs either cover the full cost of your TSA Precheck membership or let you put rewards or statement credits towards your membership fee.

Many of the best travel credit cards include this benefit, and here are a few of our top recommendations:

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

If you’ve never had a travel credit card before, start with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Card. This card is one of our best intro travel credit cards thanks to its simple rewards structure — 2 miles per dollar on all purchases with no limit, plus an additional 10 miles per dollar for all purchases made through Hotels.com/venture — and you’ll get up to $100 credit on your TSA Precheck or Global Entry membership.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is one of the highest-reward travel credit cards on the market. You get 3 points per dollar on travel (after earning your initial $300 travel credit) plus 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, and your point value increases by 50% when you redeem points for travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. If you take advantage of the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s sign-up bonus and earn your 50,000 bonus points (after spending $4000 in the first three months), for example, your point value jumps from $500 to $750 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Those aren’t the only perks you’ll get with this card. The Chase Sapphire Reserve also comes with a $300 travel statement credit, complimentary airport lounge access through the Priority Pass system, and a credit of up to $100 towards your TSA Precheck or Global Entry membership.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® is designed for frequent American Airlines travelers who don’t mind spending a little money to get a lot of rewards. In addition to getting a credit of up to $100 for your TSA Precheck or Global Entry membership, you’ll also get Admirals Club membership, the opportunity to earn American Airlines Elite Qualifying Miles, free checked bags, priority check-in and more. Plus, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

What is the TSA Precheck application like?

The first part of the TSA Precheck application is completed online. Visit the TSA Precheck website to complete the five-minute application, which asks for basic biographical information including citizenship, city of birth, and any maiden names or former aliases. You’ll also need to provide contact information: address, phone, email.

Once you complete your online application, you’ll need to schedule an in-person interview and background check at one of over 380 enrollment centers. Use the TSA enrollment center locator to locate the facility closest to you.

What should you bring to your TSA Precheck interview?

The TSA in-person interview and background check takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you will need to bring a photo identification document such as a driver’s license or passport. You’ll also need to bring proof of citizenship status such as a passport or birth certificate.

During your interview, be prepared to answer questions about your citizenship status, employment, and any criminal history. You may be asked why you want to join TSA Precheck and how often you travel. You will be fingerprinted, and your photo will be taken.

What else do you need to know about TSA Precheck?

Once you earn TSA Precheck status, you’ll need to enter your Known Traveler Number number every time you purchase an airline ticket — that way, your ticket will identify you as a TSA Precheck member and you’ll be able to access the Precheck security line.

TSA Precheck is a great way to save time at the airport and avoid waiting in long security lines. The fact that several credit cards subsidize the cost of the Precheck membership is an bonus — and if you’re thinking about adding a travel credit card to your wallet, consider getting one that comes with this extra perk. That way, you’ll save both time and money!