TSA PreCheck is smart within the busy journey season if you may get it
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According to experts, the 2023 summer travel season is expected to be a busy season, which is why federal programs like TSA PreCheck are particularly helpful for air travelers.
Such programs, while chargeable, generally save travelers time at the airport. However, due to relatively long processing times – as with recent passport applications – it may be difficult for some new applicants to reap the benefits before traveling this summer.
“There are so many people now who want to travel, especially after the pandemic,” said Sofia Markovich, travel consultant and founder of Sofia’s Travel. “It’s like passport renewal where there were these huge delays.”
However, frequent flyer programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are “definitely worthwhile,” she added.
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“They’re useful year-round, but especially during peak season,” Markovich said.
TSA PreCheck aims to reduce check times at airports. Travelers wait in a different – and often shorter – queue than the standard security checkpoint. According to the Transportation Security Administration, in April 94% of PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes at security.
The agency is targeting wait times of 10 minutes or less for PreCheck and 30 minutes for typical lanes.
TSA PreCheck—available for departures from select US airports—costs $78 for new enrollments. Membership lasts five years and renewal costs $70.
The upfront fee for new members is $15.60 per year. Several credit cards cover the fee as a customer benefit.
Aside from a possibly shorter safety line, there’s also a comfort factor, according to experts.
Because the application includes a passenger vulnerability assessment – including fingerprinting for background checks – members are not required to remove their shoes, belts or light jackets at airport security. You can also store electronic devices and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags. (The 3-1-1 rule allows each passenger to carry a quarter-sized bag of bottled liquids weighing no more than 3.4 ounces each in their carry-on baggage.)
“It’s pretty hard for most people to argue against that,” said Sally French, travel expert at NerdWallet, of the fee. “It’ll relieve so much stress later.”
PreCheck is one of the few “trusted traveler” programs offered by the US Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with other federal agencies.
Other programs include Global Entry, which provides expedited US Customs inspection upon return from a trip abroad. A five-year membership comes with a $100 non-refundable fee and includes TSA PreCheck.
When the programs might not make sense
There are some instances where the programs — and their fees — may not make sense for travelers, experts said.
For example, the programs are most cost-effective for people who travel frequently. The TSA recommends Global Entry for people who travel internationally four or more times a year.
According to experts, TSA PreCheck also does not guarantee that travelers will save time. The standard security check can be shorter depending on the airport and departure time.
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry applications for first-time visitors could also be a little cumbersome, according to experts. This is primarily due to the need for personal judgement. Appointments – especially those for global entry – are not always easy to come by and may require an off-road visit (e.g. an airport).
There are so many people now who want to travel, especially after the pandemic.
Founder of Sofia’s Travel
According to DHS, Global Entry applications can also take four to six months to process. In 2022, the average time to enroll for Global Entry was 93 days, the department said.
Longer wait times are due to a record number of applications for membership in the Trusted Traveler programs, according to DHS. Google search traffic for “TSA Precheck” is at about its highest level in five years.
Most TSA PreCheck applicants must complete an online application and receive approval, on average, within three to five days of their in-person filing appointment. However, according to the TSA, it can take 60 days or more. (As of Feb. 1, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began releasing interview appointments for enrollment centers on the first Monday of every month until 9 a.m. local time, according to DHS.)
TSA PreCheck is also not available at all airports or airlines. According to TSA, it is currently available at more than 200 airports and on more than 85 participating airlines.
If a traveler’s home airport doesn’t have such a facility — which most likely a small regional facility does — it may not be worth the time and expense, French said.
Travelers have another program option called “Clear” if they are concerned about not getting TSA PreCheck approval in time for travel, French said.
Operated by a private company and not a government-affiliated program, Clear expedites the identity verification portion of security verification using a retina or fingerprint scan. (This differs from TSA PreCheck. Clear members must still remove shoes, belts, and electronic devices during the physical verification process.), unless they also have TSA PreCheck.)
Membership is more expensive – $189 per year, but certain travelers get discounts. Travelers can register at the airport, usually within minutes.