When you arrive at the airport, check in your bags, and receive your ticket, you might notice “TSA PreCheck” written on your boarding pass. Not all passengers get this; only a few select individuals. So what made you so special? Why did you get it instead of someone else?
In this article, we’ll explain what TSA PreCheck is, why you got TSA PreCheck without applying, what are the benefits of the TSA PreCheck program, is TSA PreCheck worth it, and more.
What Is TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is a frequent flyer program offered by the TSA (Transport Security Administration). In simple words, it speeds up the security process inside airports for passengers. So if normally, you’d spend 10-20 minutes going through the security, with TSA PreCheck you’d spend just five.
As the name suggests, the main idea behind TSA PreCheck is to pre-check their passengers. When applying for this program, TSA does an extensive background check on you to make sure you’re a reliable and safe passenger. By doing this, they’ll trust you more and do fewer security checks inside the airport.
Passengers who have TSA PreCheck have dedicated lines at the airport security checks. They’re usually much shorter, as each passenger is screened in a much quicker time. Usually, only frequent flyers enroll in this program, as it saves only a few minutes on every flight.
Why Did You Get TSA PreCheck Stamped on Your Ticket?
In a few words, you got TSA PreCheck Stamped on your ticket without applying because TSA decided to give you a “freebie”. Although TSA is a government agency, they also make some side money with the TSA PreCheck program. To increase their revenue, they must increase the number of passengers enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program. They occasionally hand out free TSA PreCheck benefits to random passengers, so they get a taste for it and hopefully, subscribe to the program in the future.
If you’re one of the lucky individuals who got TSA PreCheck stamped on your ticket, you can enjoy the same benefits as all the other people who have paid for this service. TSA has stated that they’ll use this marketing tactic only for the few first years, but the program was launched back in 2013 and they’re still using it today, so we guess it’s here to stay (at least for now).
How Do You Increase the Chances of Randomly Getting TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck isn’t handed out for free to anyone. It’s usually handed out to frequent flyers, who are most likely to subscribe to this program. It doesn’t make sense for them to hand out freebies to people who travel rarely or someone who would be denied enrollment in the program. Actually, they hand out “freebies” pretty commonly, and some passengers say that they usually get it once every few flights.
So if you want to increase the chances of randomly getting TSA PreCheck, you must travel more frequently, and you must appear as a “safe” passenger. This means no criminal records, links to terrorism, not appearing on any airline “blacklists”, and so on. Also, you must be a US Citizen, US National, or a lawful permanent resident in the US to enroll in this program.
Other factors that may increase your chances of getting TSA PreCheck are enrollment in individual airline frequent flyer programs, such as the AAdvantage program from American Airlines, and flying solo. Flying with someone else might decrease your chances because TSA doesn’t want to split up people flying together.
What Are the Benefits of TSA PreCheck?
While there are some benefits to the TSA PreCheck program, they aren’t really that significant. They may only save a few minutes of your time on every flight. According to the TSA, in October 2021, 95% of TSA PreCheck passengers had to wait under 5 minutes in the security lines. Usually, TSA PreCheck lines are much shorter than regular ones, which is one of the main reasons why people apply to the program.
Other benefits of TSA PreCheck include not needing to remove shoes, belts, jackets, and not needing to take your 3-1-1 bag of toiletries and laptop out of your hand luggage. However, TSA still reserves the right to do additional screenings, even for TSA PreCheck passengers. Usually, TSA PreCheck passengers are treated more lightly than regular passengers because they’ve already done additional security screenings when the person applied.
Again, if you randomly got stamped “TSA PreCheck” on your ticket, you can enjoy all of the benefits listed above, just like regular TSA PreCheck members.
How Much Does TSA PreCheck Cost and How Do You Apply?
TSA PreCheck costs 85$ every five years, and if you’re renewing it, you’ll have to pay only 70$ for an online application. It’s completely free for Active Duty Military and DOD civilians. Only US Citizens, US Nationals, and lawful permanent residents in the US are allowed in the TSA PreCheck Program.
There are other ways of enrolling into the TSA PreCheck program for free as well. Some credit cards allow you to spend bonus points on the TSA PreCheck program. Some frequent traveler programs do that as well, and you’ll be able to spend your points on the application or renewal fees.
You can apply to the TSA PreCheck program on their official website. You’ll have to fill in an application form online, which takes about five minutes to complete, and schedule an appointment in one of their 380+ enrollment centers. The in-person appointment should take about 10 minutes to complete and you’ll be required to do a fingerprint scan. If for some reason, they deny the application, unfortunately, the 85$ fee won’t be refunded, and they won’t specify why you’re denied.
If the application is successful, it will have to be renewed once every five years. You’ll be assigned a KTN (Known Traveler Number), which you will need to enter every time you book a flight. Active Military Personnel doesn’t need to apply and can just enter their DOD ID number from their Common Access Card. DOD Civilians, on the other hand, need to apply through the MilConnect website.
Do All Airports Have TSA PreCheck?
Nowadays, TSA PreCheck is pretty much in all major US airports. Current data says that it’s available in over 200 airports with 81 participating airlines. So if you’ll be traveling within the US domestically, let’s say on work-related trips, multiple times per year, you’ll most likely be able to use TSA PreCheck about 95% of the time.
Is TSA PreCheck Worth It?
I wouldn’t say that TSA PreCheck is worth it for everyone. Realistically, it saves only a few minutes of waiting in the airport security lines. TSA PreCheck passengers get to use the shorter, quicker PreCheck lines and won’t have to remove belts, jackets, shoes, and take out laptops and toiletries from their bags. If you’re traveling just for leisure only a few times per year, then TSA PreCheck probably isn’t worth it. Even though it isn’t that expensive (17$ per year), the application process is pretty complicated and requires an in-person appointment.
But if you’re traveling multiple times per year and usually within the US, then TSA PreCheck is definitely worth it. You have to go through the tedious application process only once, and the renewal interview after five years can be done remotely from your computer.
What’s the Difference Between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry?
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are both paid programs, meant to speed up the lines in airports. TSA PreCheck is there to speed up the security checks in airports. Global Entry, on the other hand, speeds up the lines in the Customs and Immigration for travelers who are arriving in the US from international flights.
TSA PreCheck costs 85$ for five years and Global Entry 100$. In reality, Global Entry costs just 15$ because TSA PreCheck is included with Global Entry and doesn’t require an additional application. Similar to TSA PreCheck, Global Entry also requires filling an online application form and an in-person interview in an airport. Passengers can also choose to do the interview upon first landing in the US when they’re going through Customs and Immigration anyway. However, the application for Global Entry is a bit stricter and not everyone is approved.
Passengers with Global Entry will get to stand in shorter lines in Customs and Immigration. When going through Customs and Immigration, they’ll have to scan their fingerprints and answer a few questions.
If you’re a frequent flyer and some of your flights are international ones, I’d say that Global Entry is worth applying to. It isn’t that expensive and you’ll be able to save some time in the security and in the customs.
TSA hands out TSA PreCheck to random passengers every now and then. They do this as a marketing trick to let their target audience know of the potential benefits, so hopefully, they enroll in the full program in the future. If you get this stamped on your ticket, you can enjoy all the TSA PreCheck benefits as any other passenger enrolled in the program would. Realistically though, it will save only a few minutes waiting in the security lines.