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Is TSA PreCheck Right for You?

The price recently dropped for enrollment, so should you go for it?

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) PreCheck sign is displayed as travelers carry baggage through a security checkpoint
Bloomberg/Getty Images

This fall, air travelers saw an event that’s been rare in recent years: a price drop.

The cost for the Transportation Security Agency’s (TSA) PreCheck program — a.k.a. the shorter security line at the airport where everyone keeps their shoes on — decreased from $85 to $78. Membership lasts for five years, bringing the cost to less than $16 a year. 

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Though PreCheck is popular with frequent fliers, travel experts say the new price is prompting others to consider the program — even those who fly just a few times a year. 

If you’re not familiar with PreCheck, the program is designed to allow low-risk travelers to move through airport security checkpoints with ease via faster screening and less physical contact. The PreCheck benefits include: 

  • Designated security lines. 
  • Shoes, belts and light jackets stay on during screening.
  • Laptops and other electronics stay in carry-on bags. 
  • Liquids and toiletries (up to 3.4 ounces) stay in carry-on bags.

“Basically, you can travel like it's pre-9/11,” says Christopher Elliott, editor of the travel newsletter Elliott Confidential

According to the TSA, 91 percent of PreCheck passengers spent less than five minutes waiting in security lines in October 2022. “TSA makes a pretty compelling pitch,” Elliott says.

Signing up is easier than getting a passport. Travelers apply online and provide basic information for a background check (name, birthdate, etc.), then schedule a 10-minute in-person appointment at one of 500 locations, including many AAA offices and even some Staples stores.

“You don’t need to go to the airport — they have rolled out application centers across the country,” says Zach Griff, senior aviation reporter for The Points Guy, a travel website.

Applicants with no disqualifying factors (a criminal history, for example) can be approved within a week and are issued a Known Traveler Number to share with airlines when purchasing tickets. When travelers receive their boarding pass, it should indicate they are eligible for PreCheck.

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The TSA hasn’t said why it lowered the price, but Griff says it’s likely to encourage more sign-ups before the busy holiday travel period. It’s a win-win for both the TSA and travelers, reducing wait times and airport stress. “If they can get more people pre-vetted, it can help get people through the airport faster,” he says. “For so many people, this provides peace of mind.” 

Some credit cards will rebate the TSA fee. “If you are thinking about it, it’s a no-brainer in many cases,” Griff says.

But before signing up, travelers planning a trip outside the country might consider applying for Global Entry. That program, which offers quick passage through U.S. Customs and Border Protection when returning from abroad, automatically includes PreCheck membership. Global Entry costs $100 for five years, and applying is a lengthier process because there are fewer interview centers and it takes longer to get an appointment.

Despite the benefits, these programs don’t make sense for everyone. Elliott says it might not be worth the money if you are not a frequent flier. “If you fly only a few times a year, not having PreCheck might mean you have to stand in one or two longer lines,” he says.

TSA for the Holidays

Quick tips for getting through security this holiday season: 

  • Arrive at the airport early. The worst that happens is that you might be surprised and zoom straight through security. But if lines are backed up, you won’t have to worry about missing your flight. 
  • Know where things are packed in your bags, Griff says. That way if you’re asked at security to take out items for inspection, you won’t have to sort through your luggage. “Fumbling around at the last minute is stressful and a recipe for forgetting things,” he says. 
  • Check on security line wait times, which are often listed in real-time on airport websites. It’s as easy as Googling the phrase “Security wait times” for your airport, Griff says. Large airports have several lines spread out over their property, and some may be much shorter than others. “It’s important to know you can go through security at different lanes.”
  • Double-check what you can — and cannot — bring through security. If you’re not sure, the TSA has a list covering hundreds of items from ammo (no) to yogurt (only if it’s less than 3.4 ounces).
  • Check in 24 hours before your flight. Sometimes you may get PreCheck even if you don’t participate, Elliott says. 

He notes that TSA already makes accommodations for older travelers. If you’re 75 or older, you can leave shoes and light jackets or sweaters on during screening, one of PreCheck’s popular benefits.

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