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November 4, 2019

TSA PreCheck: Beginner's Guide

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TSA PreCheck can get you through airport security in about 5 minutes. See if you qualify and what to expect when you apply.

Started nearly a decade after 9/11, TSA PreCheck helps speed up the security process for low-risk travelers. The program runs through the Transportation Security Administration under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.

Keep reading to see how it works.

Benefits of PreCheck

With your TSA PreCheck membership, you'll gain access to a dedicated security lane. The TSA found that in 2018, 93% of pre-check members waited in security lines for less than five minutes.

TSA PreCheck holders don't have to remove:

  • Shoes
  • Belts
  • Light jackets
  • Laptop
  • Approved liquids

However, you still must follow the 3-1-1 rule for liquids, only bringing one quart-size clear bag with liquids, gels, and aerosols in containers less than 3.4 ounces.

TSA does not guarantee expedited screening. Sometimes situations occur beyond the agency's control. In these cases, the safety of the majority outweighs the convenience of PreCheck travelers.

How Much Does PreCheck Cost

A TSA PreCheck membership costs $85 for a five-year membership. Some credit cards and frequent flyer programs offer the program as a free feature (more on that below).

You can utilize your TSA PreCheck benefits when departing from a U.S. airport for another domestic city or foreign country. It's also good when returning from a foreign country and making a connecting domestic flight. PreCheck isn't available at all airports.

The TSA will require state-issued IDs to be REAL ID compliant in October 2020. Many states have already updated their ID. Check with yours before you travel to make sure you have the proper form of ID.

Who Is Eligible for PreCheck?

Any U.S. citizen, national, or lawful permanent resident can apply for TSA PreCheck. All applicants must pass a background check.

Children under the age of 12 traveling with a parent or guardian with TSA PreCheck do not need their own PreCheck membership.

Applicants can be disqualified based on information from Interpol, terrorist watch lists, and government databases. Certain criminal offenses can also lead to automatic and permanent disqualification (more on those below).

The TSA has the authority to deny pre-check membership based on other factors, including extensive foreign convictions, foreign imprisonment, or transportation security violations.

How TSA PreCheck Works

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Your boarding pass should have a TSA PreCheck indicator on it, like:

  • TSAPRECHK
  • TSA PRE
  • TSA Precheck✓

This will let the TSA agent know that you are eligible to access the PreCheck line. If you are part of another Trusted Traveler program that comes with TSA PreCheck benefits, be sure your KTN is included in your airline reservation.

Your Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI cards will not grant you access to the PreCheck line.

Getting Through Security With TSA PreCheck

Here's how to navigate security with your TSA PreCheck status:

  1. Head to the security area for your departure gate after you check in.

  2. You should see a designated TSA PreCheck line.

  3. Show the TSA agent your boarding pass printed with the words "pre-check."

  4. Present your ID.

When you go through security, the name you used on your TSA PreCheck application, ID, airline ticket, and frequent flyer account must all match. The PreCheck lines accept the same forms of the identification as standard security lines.

Children 12 and under can use the TSA PreCheck line with you. However, anyone 13 and over must have their own PreCheck membership to bypass the standard security lines.

Acceptable forms of ID for adult passengers over the age of 18 include:

  • Driver's licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by a Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent)
  • U.S. passport or card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border-crossing card
  • DHS-designated enhanced driver's license
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

Participating Airports and Airlines

Over 200 airports and 56 airlines offer TSA PreCheck.

The TSA PreCheck website has a Checkpoint Schedule page that shows when the pre-check lanes are open at each airport. Simply enter your airport and the day/time you'll arrive.

The website will show if your airport has a pre-check lane and whether it's open at that time. You can also use the map feature to see all pre-check airports in a given state.

If an airport does not have a dedicated pre-check lane, you can show your pre-check boarding pass at a standard line to receive expedited screening.

Credit Cards That Offer TSA PreCheck

Some credit cards will help reimburse the cost of the TSA PreCheck application fee, including a couple from American Express, a CreditDonkey partner. Terms apply.

Chase Sapphire Reserve
Apply for Chase Sapphire Reserve
At Chase's Secure Site
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
Intro APR for PurchasesIntro APR for Balance TransferRegular APRAnnual Fee
N/AN/A
18.49% - 25.49% Variable
$450

The Platinum Card from American Express
Apply for The Platinum Card from American Express
At American Express' Secure Site
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Card TypeAnnual Fee
Personal Charge Card
$550

The Business Platinum Card from American Express
Apply for The Business Platinum Card from American Express
At American Express' Secure Site
  • Welcome Offer: Earn up to 75,000 Membership Rewards® points.
  • Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases made on your Business Platinum Card® within your first 3 months of Card Membership.†
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com.
  • Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points. That's an extra half point per dollar, on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more. You can get up to 1 million additional points per year.
  • 35% Airline Bonus: Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of a flight with your selected qualifying airline, and you can get 35% of the points back, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year when flight is booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enroll to get up to $200 in statement credits annually by getting up to $100 semi-annually for U.S. purchases with Dell. Terms apply.
  • Terms Apply
  • See Rates & Fees
Card TypeAnnual Fee
Business Charge Card
$595

Mastercard Black Card
Apply for Mastercard Black Card
At Issuer's Secure Site
  • Stainless Steel – Patented Black-PVD-Coated Metal Card
  • 2% Value for Airfare Redemptions
  • 1.5% Value for Cash Back Redemptions
  • 24/7 Luxury Card Concierge™ – Available by phone, email, and mobile chat
  • Exclusive Luxury Card Travel Benefits
  • $100 Annual Airline Credit Toward Qualifying Purchases
  • $100 Global Entry Application Fee Credit
  • Annual Fee: $495 ($195 for each Authorized User)
Intro APR for PurchasesIntro APR for Balance TransferRegular APRAnnual Fee
N/A
0% for first fifteen billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to your account within 45 days of account opening.
16.49% (Variable)
$495 ($195 for each Authorized User)

Applying for TSA PreCheck

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To start your application for TSA PreCheck, head to the TSA website and choose the "Apply Now" option.

Here's what you'll need to provide:
  • Full name (must match the name on all your identification documents)
  • Address
  • Height and weight
  • Eye and hair color
  • Gender
  • Date of birth
  • Preferred language
  • Email and/or phone number
  • The country, city, and state of your birth
  • Country of citizenship
  • Any previous names or aliases, including maiden names
Don't forget the email or phone number you provide. This is how the enrollment center will locate your information when you come in for your background check.

You'll be asked several questions during the application. Topics include:

  • Whether you've lived at your current residence for five years or more
  • Your legal residence status
  • Criminal history

Finally, you'll indicate the two forms of identification you'll bring to the enrollment center for the background check. You'll need a photo ID and a citizenship/immigration document.

Acceptable photo IDs include:
  • Commercial driver's license issued by a state or outlying possession of the U.S.
  • Driver's license issued by a state or outlying possession of the U.S.
  • Enhanced Driver's License (EDL)
  • Enhanced ID (EID)
  • Enhanced Tribal Card (ETC)
  • Federal ID card with seal or logo from a Federal agency
  • Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Card
  • Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC)
  • Military dependent's card
  • Military ID card
  • Military ID card (retired)
  • Native American Tribal Document
  • Passport book or card (current or expired within 12 months)
  • State ID card (or outlying possession of the U.S.) with a seal or logo from a state or state agency
  • Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card from DHS/TSA

Acceptable citizenship/immigration documents include:

  • Birth certificate bearing an official seal (or certified copy) issued by a state, county, municipal authority (or outlying possession of the U.S.)
  • Enhanced Driver's License (EDL)
  • Enhanced ID (EID)
  • Enhanced Tribal Card (ETC)
  • Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card
  • Passport book or card (current or expired within 12 months)

After you finish the application, the website will direct you to a page where you can schedule your background check, the next step in the application process.

Undergoing the Background Check

The second part of the application is an in-person interview at an enrollment center. It only takes about 10 minutes.

Here's what to expect:

  • Background check
  • Fingerprinting
  • Confirm the information from your application, such as your Social Security number, birth date, and full name
  • Have your picture taken, a new feature for new TSA PreCheck applicants

During this time, you'll also pay the $85 application fee. You can pay the fee with a credit card, money order, company check, certified check, or cashier's check.

If you own a credit card that offers free TSA PreCheck, pay for the application fee with that credit card. Depending on the credit card company, the application fee will automatically be reimbursed, or you may have to request the reimbursement.

Check your credit card's terms and conditions to find out how to take advantage of the free benefit. When using loyalty program points or miles, you'll exchange the points via the program's reward website and receive a voucher to pay for the PreCheck.

If you don't set up an appointment after finishing your online application, you can find an enrollment center by heading to the TSA website and entering your postal code, city, or airport code.

Appointments at enrollment centers are plentiful and easy to schedule. You can change and cancel your appointments on the TSA website by using the email or phone number you applied with.

You can also use this same website to locate a Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI enrollment center by state. With over 400 enrollment centers all around the United States, it's easy to find one close to where you live.

Reasons You May Be Rejected for TSA PreCheck

Applicants can be disqualified based on information from terrorist watch lists, government databases, Interpol, and certain criminal offenses. These include:

  • Espionage or conspiracy to commit espionage

  • Sedition or conspiracy to commit sedition

  • Treason or conspiracy to commit treason

  • A federal crime of terrorism as defined in 18 U.S.C. 2332b(g), or comparable state law, or conspiracy to commit such crime

  • A crime involving a TSI (Transportation Security Incident)

  • Improper transportation of a hazardous material under 49 U.S.C. 5124 or a comparable state law

  • Unlawful possession, use, sale, distribution, manufacture, purchase, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, import, export, storage of, or dealing in an explosive or explosive device

  • Murder

  • Threat or maliciously conveying false information knowing the same to be false, concerning the deliverance, placement, or detonation of an explosive or other lethal device in or against a place of public use, a state or government facility, a public transportations system, or an infrastructure facility

  • Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961, et seq., or a comparable state law, where one of the predicate acts found by a jury or admitted by the defendant consists of one of the permanently disqualifying crimes

In addition, if you're convicted, pled guilty, or found not guilty by reason of insanity for any of the following offenses, you cannot apply for TSA PreCheck for seven years.

  • Unlawful possession, use, sale, manufacture, purchase, distribution, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, delivery, import, export of, or dealing in a firearm or other weapon

  • Extortion

  • Dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation, including identity fraud and money laundering, where the money laundering is related to a crime listed in Parts A or B (except welfare fraud and passing bad checks)

  • Bribery

  • Smuggling

  • Immigration violations

  • Distribution, possession w/ intent to distribute, or importation of a controlled substance

  • Arson

  • Kidnapping or hostage taking

  • Rape or aggravated sexual abuse

  • Assault with intent to kill

  • Robbery

  • Fraudulent entry into a seaport as described in 18 U.S.C. 1036, or a comparable state law

  • Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act under 18 U.S.C. 1961, et seq., or a comparable state law, other than any permanently disqualifying offenses

  • Voluntary manslaughter

  • Conspiracy or attempt to commit crimes in this section

You must also wait for five years after leaving incarceration for these crimes before applying for TSA PreCheck.

Your existing membership will be suspended if you are tried and/or convicted of any of the above crimes. The duration of your suspension varies depending on the severity of the crime, and is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Your Known Traveler Number

About two to three weeks after your in-person background check appointment, you'll receive written notification from TSA as to whether you are approved for the program or not.

TSA PreCheck members receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN). You can always find your KTN online via the TSA website by entering your full name, date of birth, and contact email or phone number.

The approval process can take as few as a few days, so be sure to check your status online via the TSA PreCheck website.

Using Your Known Traveler Number
When you purchase a plane ticket, you'll be asked to enter your KTN. This number will be printed on your boarding pass and embedded in the barcode.

You can enter your KTN in the appropriate field when booking online or provide the phone agent with your number when booking over the phone.

If you travel frequently for work, make sure your employer's travel agent has your KTN on file so it can be added to any work-related travel reservations.

Most airlines that participate in PreCheck also allow you to add your KTN to your frequent flyer profile with that airline. This generally requires logging into your account, adding the KTN into your profile, and saving your information. From that point forward, that information should auto-populate every time you make a reservation with that airline.

You can also go back and add your KTN to existing reservations as well. This can often be done online, although sometimes you might have to call that airline's customer service to make the addition.

If you book via a third-party website or travel agency, contact the airline to make sure your KTN correctly transferred to your reservation. At times, your name, date of birth, and KTN don't properly transfer from the third-party system to the airline's system.

Some people have more than one KTN. As long as they're active, you can use any of your KTNs. But be sure the one you use is connected to the same name and date of birth you use in your reservation.

Renewing and Updating Your TSA PreCheck

© CreditDonkey

You'll have to renew your TSA PreCheck membership every five years. As long as you have a valid phone number or email on file, TSA will send renewal notifications several months before expiration. TSA allows walk-in and online renewal options for your convenience.

You can always check your membership status and find your expiration date through your online account or by calling TSA customer service.

To renew, you must be a current U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and complete a background check. If you've had any criminal convictions since the original application, you'll be disqualified for renewal.

Here's how to renew your PreCheck:

  • Click the Renewal link on the TSA website.

  • Enter your KTN, date of birth, and legal last name.

  • Pay the $85 renewal fee, which is same as the original membership—just $17 a year

Expect to receive approval for your renewal within 2-3 weeks. You can even check the status of your renewal online via the TSA website.

As long as you renew within one year of expiration, you'll keep your same KTN. You can find your KTN online by entering your full name, date of birth, and email or phone number on the TSA website.

Updating Your TSA PreCheck
To make changes to your TSA PreCheck membership, you can call customer service or email them through the website.

A customer service agent will let you know what documentation you'll have to provide to make changes to your name, address, etc. Some changes can take up to three months to process.

TSA PreCheck for Military Personnel

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Department of Defense federal civilians can also sign up for TSA PreCheck. DoD federal civilians must go through the milConnect website to opt-in to PreCheck.

Simply look for the CIV menu tab under My Profile, which will provide step-by-step instructions for activating the PreCheck membership.

Military members don't have to opt-in—just enter your DoD ID number from the back of your common access card as your KTN when making flight reservations. Here's how it works:

  • When booking a flight through a travel company, provide your Secure Flight personal information: full name, birth date, and gender.
  • Use your DoD ID number as your KTN. You can also use your KTN along with your DoD ID number.

TSA PreCheck for military members is also valid for personal travel—just enter your DoD ID number or KTN when making the reservation.

Just like with civilians, military members must have the TSA PreCheck indicator printed on their boarding pass to access the PreCheck lanes. They cannot access the lines by using their common access card or other military documentation.

TSA Cares

People with disabilities do not get access to expedited security process due to their disability. They must be enrolled in the program and have the PreCheck indicator on their boarding pass for that service.

However, those with disabilities can contact TSA Cares to arrange for assistance during travel. Representatives will meet you upon your arrival at the airport and set up additional help during screening (either through regular security or TSA PreCheck lanes).

If you can walk without the support of a person or device, you'll be asked to walk through the metal detector or advanced imaging technology machine.

If you cannot walk or stand, a TSA agent will swab your hands with explosive trace detection technology. They'll also physically inspect your wheelchair or scooter, including seat cushions and non-removable pouches and packs. Any removable packs or bags must go through the X-ray machine for screening.

Contact TSA Cares via email, through the customer service phone line, or via social media.

Programs for International Travel

The TSA PreCheck membership is perfect for domestic travel. But there are also programs that can help international travelers and foreign citizens save time at security checkpoints.

Keep reading to learn more.

  • TSA PreCheck for Foreign Citizens
    If they meet the citizenship/residency requirements outlined above, foreign citizens can become part of the TSA PreCheck program. However, the TSA offers other Trusted Traveler programs that might be a better fit.

  • Global Entry
    This program is ideal for frequent travel from other international countries into the United States. Global Entry provides expedited entry into the U.S., including speeding up the customs process.

    The program also includes TSA PreCheck privileges, so you get benefits for both international and domestic travel. See our article on Global Entry for more information on this program.

  • SENTRI
    The SENTRI program offers quicker vehicle and pedestrian entrance at any United States and Mexico borders. Additional benefits include expedited processing for U.S. citizens and LPRs coming into the U.S. on an international flight.

    SENTRI members also have access to all TSA PreCheck expedited security lines at airports in the U.S. and U.S. territories. The membership costs $122.50 and is good for five years. Any nationality can apply for the SENTRI membership—applicants need proof of citizenship and any applicable documentation or visas needed to enter the U.S.

  • NEXUS
    Created for U.S. and Canadian citizens who frequently cross the U.S.-Canada border, the NEXUS program reduces the time spent in processing. The program allows for self-reporting customs when entering the U.S. or Canada on a flight. It also includes expedited processing when crossing the border by vehicle and access to all TSA PreCheck benefits.

    The program costs $50 and is good for five years. When applying for NEXUS, U.S. and Canadian citizens need proof of citizenship and any applicable documentation or visas necessary for entry into the U.S.

Similar to the TSA PreCheck program, all the above programs require an initial application and background check and interview. Each of these programs grant members a membership card and include TSA PreCheck privileges.

Bottom Line

Having a TSA PreCheck membership allows you access to a designated airport security lane and streamlined process. Most members make it through security in under five minutes.

If you're a frequent traveler, the $17 per year cost can easily be worth it in time savings. Visit the TSA website to apply.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.

For rates and fees of the American Express Platinum card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express Business Platinum card, please click here.

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Apply for Chase Sapphire Reserve
At Chase's Secure Site
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Go to issuer's official application, terms, and details
Intro APR for PurchasesIntro APR for Balance TransferRegular APRAnnual Fee
N/AN/A
18.49% - 25.49% Variable
$450

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About CreditDonkey®
CreditDonkey is a credit card comparison website. We publish data-driven analysis to help you save money & make savvy decisions.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed on this page are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

†Advertiser Disclosure: Many of the card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which CreditDonkey receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CreditDonkey does not include all companies or all offers that may be available in the marketplace.

*See the card issuer's online application for details about terms and conditions. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. However, all information is presented without warranty. When you click on the "Apply Now" button you can review the terms and conditions on the card issuer's website.

CreditDonkey does not know your individual circumstances and provides information for general educational purposes only. CreditDonkey is not a substitute for, and should not be used as, professional legal, credit or financial advice. You should consult your own professional advisors for such advice.