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Should You Get TSA Pre-check?

TSA pre-check does alleviate some of the biggest headaches in travel.  The line! Taking off your shoes! Cramming your toiletries into a teeny baggie! Fishing out your laptop and emptying your pockets and chugging every last sip of that bottle of water before you send your stuff through the little luggage carwash. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

For someone who travels as much as me, TSA Pre-check is a game changer. This pre-approved status means you don’t have quite as many rules during the security process.

  • You get your own line!
  • You can keep your shoes on! (no more sock embarrassment)
  • The laptop and liquids can stay in your bag
  • Light jacket and belt stays on! NICE!

TSA Pre-Check: Do or Don’t?

With all these perks you think I would tell EVERYONE to get TSA Pre-check. Well, I don’t. If you don’t travel often, I believe getting TSA Pre-check isn’t worth the effort. The fact is, you’re not guaranteed to get it every time (the TSA likes to switch it up so no one can game the system and do harm). For example, I always get it when traveling on one airline and never get it on another, even though I’ve entered my known traveler number. My co-host Chris Grundy has TSA Pre-check, but somehow NEVER gets it printed on his boarding pass. I know because I was always with him and of course would make fun of him as I breezed through security!

My advice? If you don’t travel often, it’s not important. Consider this: so many people have signed up for the TSA Pre-check that the OTHER line is getting shorter. So whether you have it or not, you are benefitting.

A better idea (if you are planning to travel abroad) is to do Global Entry. It’s $15 more, you apply, sign up for an interview and now you have both TSA pre-check privileges as well as Global Entry which allows you to pass by long immigration lines EVERY TIME you come home.


How Do I Apply for TSA Pre-check & Global Entry?

If you’re a United States resident, it’s so easy. You basically fill out an application, make an appointment with the TSA or Global Entry folks (most of their offices are housed at the airport). When you arrive, you’ll be expected to bring your current passport (or for TSA Pre-check, two approved forms of ID). If all goes as planned, you should receive your Known Traveler Number (KTN) and/or Global Entry card within within 2-3 weeks.

More information on applying for Global Entry.
More information on applying for TSA Pre-Check.

My Pro Travel Tips:

  • Though most cities have offices outside of major airports, my advice is to schedule an appoint with the TSA a few hours before an upcoming flight (so long as your flight falls on a weekday between 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.). They do take walk-ins, but if you’re going to be there anyway, why risk it?
  • What’s the point of getting pre-checked if you don’t use it? Be sure to enter your KTN number when booking flights. To make it extra-easy, your KTN can be added to your frequent flyer profile, so it’s automatically stored for future future reservations.

Should You Get TSA Pre-check? The answer may surprise you!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like these, too:

How to travel with your smart phone.
6 Things to Consider When Buying Luggage
My Airport Survival Guide

This Post Has 21 Comments
  1. I agree with you Samantha! Precheck is often not the advantage that you think it is! More often than not it is a longer process than the regular screening,

  2. I agree. I fly every week out of MCO and with all the tourist traffic it is great to zip through the line. My only slight disagreement is if you recreation travel with your spouse who may only travel once a quarter it is nice to not have to wait for them. So I say a spouse should sign up too.

  3. Love my TSA PreCheck and I travel quite a bit, not nearly as much as Sam and Chris, however (though I wish!). In my experience, if they haven’t printed PreCheck on my boarding pass, I’ve returned to the airline desk agent and had them reprint a boarding pass. As long as I have my Known Travelers Number with me, I’ve haven’t had an issue. They’ve claimed it was a glitch in the system.

  4. Intl Doc has the TSA Pre-Check card AND, as a GOES card member too (for international flights), that makes me a “known traveler.” Tell your co-host that he can add this information on his frequent flyer airline website the next time he books a flight – and it will show up on his ticket. The number required is on the card.

  5. When I travel my tickets usually show with a TSA Pre-Approved status for which I am quite thankful, although I’ve never applied for this status. However, since I now have bilateral knee replacements, I still have to go thru the pat down when in our small home one airline airport or the glass “chamber” check when departing from a larger airport. We will be traveling out of the country in Spring 2016 & I’m wondering how this will change the pre-approved status at that time – especially going thru customs upon return to US.
    I also usually obtain gate to gate assistance & am wondering if this would get us thru customs any quicker as I can’t stand for long lengths of time. Applying for Global Entry may be the solution but will I then have to actually apply for the TSA Pre-Check (which I now seem to receive automatically) as well as apply for the Global Entry. I believe I would also have to go to a major airport to go thru the interview process as our small airport I don’t believe has this service.

    1. Samantha, thanks for your excellent article. Your points are quite valid based on my experience. As others have noted, Global Entry might require a few more dance steps, but is well worth it. Having your status as a Known Traveler will often result in having PreCheck on your boarding pass. And for those without Global Entry, Customs lines at major U.S. airports can be as much as two hours long. Global Entry can dramatically cut that time.

      I should note that the TSA is ending a program in which travelers who don’t have PreCheck were still being allowed into the PreCheck express line. Hopefully, this will alleviate some of the slowness experienced by air travelers with PreCheck status.

      I also recommend that travelers who want to get through TSA security more quickly should check a website such as WhatsBusy (http://www.whatsbusy.com/airport/) to see which TSA security line is the quickest before arriving at the airport. Choosing the right TSA security zone can often save a lot of time. Also, if you see two TSA agents at an X-ray machine, go to another line. Two people doing the X-Ray screening means that one of them is being trained, and they do so at a slower pace.

      Kathleen, as you have a disability, I recommend that you learn about TSA Cares, a special program for travelers with special needs. You can call the TSA Cares helpline toll-free at (855) 787-2227 or visit the TSA Cares website (http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions); they can offer you assistance that might make getting through security less of a headache.

      Very soon, I will publish a book, “300 Healthy Travel Tips.” I spent a lot of time researching and writing about airport security, and hope that this will help make your travels more healthy, productive and fun. It will be available on Amazon Kindle and the Apple iBooks store by January 2016.

      Safe and healthy travels to you!

  6. After several trips of watching folks go throught the short cut line (the lines for the global pass folks and such) my husband and I decided to apply for a global pass. It was relatively painless and the cost was $100 a piece. On our last trip to Germany, we had a chance to see how it worked. On the way to Germany, the global pass had no affect on our travel there. On the way back, it was awesome. It took us about 10 minutes to get through customs. We by passed the long line, went to the kiosk, entered our info, and off we went, easy peasy. I have mixed feeling about whether it was worth it, but in retrospect, even with the limited usefulness of it, I was glad we had it. I agree with Samantha that, in essence, it’s usefulness is limited and it is important to know that when one considers applying for a pre-screen pass so each person can decide if it’s worth it for them.

  7. Thanks for this great post, Samantha! I especially loved your tips and reminders on how to get the most out of these programs.
    My husband and I travel a ton (one trip per month on average) and we recently both got PreCheck and Global Entry. Game changer! The separate lines and rules make our flights a breeze and let us focus more time on the journey, rather than finding my liquids bag…
    If you are a frequent traveler, definitely consider it!

  8. I always get stopped because I have 2 total knee replacements, steel, but only travel a couple times a year so I just go the normal route. Getting on and off crouse ships I do the same. Just an extra few moments.

  9. I had no luck getting PRECHECK printed on my boarding passes until a friendly TSA officer in Charlotte suggested I check to make sure my name on the reservation (and boarding pass) PRECISELY matched my name on my Global Entry card. It did not – one had my middle name; the other, simply my middle initial. Once I fixed that via an update to my travel agency profile, it’s worked for me ever since.

  10. Make sure you add your Known Traveler Number (KTN) to the airline’s frequent flier account BEFORE booking your ticket. Even if you’re only flying once, the frequent flier account is what airlines reference when generating your pass, and the KTN will enable the pre-check logo. If you fail to sign up for an account, or book your ticket before you do, the logo will not appear on your ticket.

    I made the mistake of not doing this the first time after I received my card, and I had to call the airline to have them add my KTN manually. Once that was done, my mobile pass refreshed and had the needed logo.

    As to whether it was worth it? HECK YES! In 2015 I took many business trips to major airports, including Boston, Pittsburgh, and Portland, and getting through the return line easily saved me 30 minutes to an hour. But traveling back from MCO at the end of a vacation at the beginning of Christmas week was the best advantage of all. I’d never seen lines that long before, and it was quite obvious we saved ourselves at least two hours by having the pre-check. I’m surprised a lot more people don’t have it.

  11. I applied for GOES and am conditionally approved. Be aware appointments for the in person interview and photo is booked out not weeks, but MONTHS in advance, The three airports serving my area are booked 6-7 months out. And once you get the interview, it takes 6-8 weeks to get your final approval for KTN.

  12. I appreciate the article and have to admit I’ve had a little crush on Samantha for a long time. However, I must disagree TSA PreCheck is not worth it for less frequent travelers. Both my wife and I got it and consider it a bargain. I’ve used it three times on two different airlines, and it saved a lot of time. All airports are different, but I highly recommend it.

  13. Check out getting the APAC add-on to the global traveler, there is no waiting in any lines when you travel overseas to Asian countries.

  14. I’ve noticed that on early morning flights, the line for TSA precheck is longer than the “regular” line. Also, my shoes ( plastic sandals) set off the metal detector on the TSA line. Go figure! ?

  15. If you have a high end credit card take a look at the perks. I have a chase sapphire card that automatically credits you the cost of your registration for global entry. If you’re paying those membership fees you might as well use the benefits.

  16. While it does nothing for going through the TSA lines, my wife and I have found that the Mobile Pass App is great for going through immigration when we return to the US. The lines are always empty for using this at ORD. Unfortunately, we usually have to wait for our luggage to appear so we can go through customs.

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Should You Get TSA Pre-check?

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