TSA Pre✓® – The FastPass+ for Airport Security

by on August 15, 2016 19 Comments

Filed under: Transportation

KeepYourShoesOn

(Image copyright Transportation Security Administration)

You are all excited about your trip to a Disney Resort, but you have one last hurdle in your way – getting there. For many of us this means flying, and the only thing worse than being crammed into a plane filled with overexcited, hyperactive children and stressed-out parents is standing in a seemingly endless airport security line with those same people. However, there is a way to avoid these lines – TSA Pre✓®.

OK, so what is TSA Pre®?

This is a program set up by the Transportation Security Administration to do advance background checks on passengers to make the security checks go faster. Once you have your TSA Pre✓® approval, you get to go through a faster security line (in June 2016, 95% of members waited 5 minutes or less), and you don’t have to remove your shoes, laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, belts and light jackets. TSA Pre✓® is available at over 180 airports for passengers of 16 airlines, so you can use it pretty much anywhere you are flying. 

Sounds great! So, what’s the catch?

In a word, cost – a 5-year TSA Pre✓® membership will cost you $85. However, to put this into perspective, if you fly just once a year, you are only paying $8.50 per flight to avoid a potentially long wait in the airport security line. Also, there are certain availability restrictions:

I’m in! How do I get it?

First, submit an online application – this should take about 5 minutes. You are just filling out basic information and scheduling an appointment at any of 380+ enrollment centers.

Second, complete the 10 minute, in person appointment that includes a background check and fingerprinting. Note that you will need to present identity/citizenship status documentation during the interview – a list of qualifying documentation can be found here. The easiest document for this is a passport – what, you don’t have a passport? Besides the fact that it is the best proof of identity/citizenship/age, here are 9 reasons why you should have one.

OK, I got it! How do I use it?

TSA-Expedited-Screening-2

I don’t know about you, but I’m taking the line on the right! (Image copyright www.loungebuddy.com)

Once your application is approved, you will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN). You just enter this number when booking TSA Pre✓® eligible flights and you will have a TSA Pre✓® indicator printed on your boarding pass. Most frequent flyer programs and travel portals allow you to enter your KTN in your account details, so once you have done that it will be automatically added when booking flights. At the airport, look for the TSA Pre✓® line at the security checkpoint – it is usually clearly marked, and sometimes there is a TSA agent at the line entrance so be ready to show your boarding pass to enter.

Wait a minute? Do I need to get TSA Pre® for my whole family? That can get expensive!

Anyone 13 and over must have their own KTN in order to use the TSA Pre✓® lines; those 12 and under do not need one when travelling with a parent or guardian with a KTN. However, airlines have the ability to designate certain passengers as eligible for the TSA Pre✓® line, and in my experience my family members have gotten the TSA Pre✓® indicator printed on their boarding passes when travelling with me. In order to maximize the chances of this happening:

  • Sign up all of your family members for the airline’s frequent flyer program (include their KTNs if they have them).
  • Include their frequent flyer numbers when making the booking.
  • Make sure that the lead traveler (the one who makes the reservation) has a KTN.

Have any experiences with TSA Pre✓® that you want to share, or have any additional questions about the whole process? Let us know in the comments section below.

Posted on August 15, 2016

19 Responses to “TSA Pre✓® – The FastPass+ for Airport Security”

  • Here is a handy chart to compare all the “trusted traveler” programs the US has: https://www.dhs.gov/trusted-traveler-comparison-chart. These are TSA Precheck, Nexus, Sentri, and Global Entry. The others all include TSA Precheck plus additional features. Nexus is only $50, for instance, but isn’t as easy to find an enrollment center.

    • by Bryan Klinck on August 15, 2016, at 8:27 am EDT

      Melissa – Thanks for posting this! I was considering discussing the other options that give you TSA Pre✓®, but decided to just focus on it as it is the easiest to get. If you are going to do any international travel then Global Entry is definitely worth the extra time and $15, and if you want to save some money and are close to an enrollment center, then Nexus is the way to to.

    • I was about to post this. Global Entry is a much better value if you travel internationally- even for cruises. $15 more over 5 years and you get to go through immigration faster.

  • Great article! I’ve been wondering about this for the past couple of years, but I always forget to check it out by the time I’ve returned home from my vacation. The cost is still pretty high for the amount of traveling I do, but I will have to give this some consideration.

  • I fly with Southwest whenever possible, and they have spontaneously designated me as Pre✓ on 2 occasions, and I just noticed it on my boarding pass. Both times I was traveling with my DH and 2 DS, and none of them had it. But I was allowed to take the kids through the Pre✓ line with me, and then we could relax out of the way while we waited for Dad to get wanded, LOL!

  • Has anyone gotten Pre✓ after they bought their tickets? If so, how easy is it to have the KTN added? Also, how long was it from your 10 minute interview till you got your KTN? Thanks!!

    • I received TSA Pre✓® after I bought tickets on American Airlines – all I had to do was add my KTN to my AAdvantage account (which was linked to the tickets) and the TSA Pre✓® was automatically added when I checked in and received my boarding passes. It was less than a week from interview to receiving the KTN.

  • by Aaron Morrow on August 15, 2016, at 9:52 am EDT

    If you’re going to Shades of Green, members of the U.S. Armed Forces, including those serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard, may use Pre✓ for free. (DoD and U.S. Coast Guard civilian employees need to “opt-in” first.) https://www.tsa.gov/precheck/faq

  • My wife and I have nexus cards, the trusted traveler number is entered when I buy them and every time I print out my boarding pass we have the pre check.

  • It was easy to get the ktn added. The first flight I had them add it at the counter. On the return it was already added.

    Now stop telling everyone about tsa precheck, or it will no longer be a fast option 🙂

  • by Roxie Mashburn on August 15, 2016, at 5:43 pm EDT

    Absolutely worth the money. However, if airlines would let the first bag free, I think the lines would be significantly smaller.

  • We have Nexus cards and have them registered on the Southwest website but it still seems to be hit and miss whether TSA – PRE automatically prints on out boarding passes or not. I now call the airline each time I book flights to ensure TSA-PRE will be on our boarding passes. Nexus was the best $50 I’ve spent in a long time!!

    • by Bryan Klinck on August 16, 2016, at 9:37 am EDT

      Interesting – I have read that getting TSA Pre✓® on your boarding pass is not guaranteed even if you have a KTN, as supposedly you sometimes are put in the regular line anyway. However, I have done about 60 flights on American since getting TSA Pre✓®, and it has always appeared on my boarding pass. Maybe check with Southwest to see if there is a problem with your account setup.

      • I have a KTN and still had to go through regular security screening on my last flight. Flew Delta outbound and WestJet back. Delta had the KTN, WestJet didn’t. WestJet’s a Delta affiliate, I think, so either Delta didn’t pass the KTN or WestJet didn’t see it (or it was something else entirely).

        • One additional thought I have about this is that not all airlines/airports participate in TSA Pre✓® – https://www.tsa.gov/precheck/map has the most up-to-date participation list. Perhaps WestJet did not participate at the airport in question (and the same for Catherine on SouthWest).

  • I have heard that frontier does not do pre-check at least in Orlando airport. Is this true?