Is TSA Pre-check Worth It?

Packing light and TSA Pre-check can make traveling easier.
Packing light and TSA Pre-check can make traveling easier.

Many travelers stuck on long airport security lines have longingly stared at the shorter, faster moving TSA Pre-check lines and wondered, is TSA Pre-check really worth it? Some travelers may have even gotten lucky with a randomized pre-check designation on their boarding passes. They hesitate before leaving their laptops and liquids securely packed, feeling a sense of freedom, or as free as one can feel in a security line. 

But is it worth it?

As a frequent traveler, I’ve been flying at least quarterly for the past 10 years from both small and large airports. I’ve taken advantage of the TSA Pre-check program as an Active Duty Air Force member and now as a civilian currently enrolled in the program. I’ve had good days and bad days with TSA Pre-check: two minute wait times, twenty minute wait times, but always shorter than the normal security lines. I’ve dealt with the frustration of thinking I inputted my information accurately only to find my boarding pass without the promising checkmark. I can say from experience, I enjoy TSA Pre-check and will likely continue paying for it. That may or may not be the case for you.

Cost

The TSA Pre-check program costs $85 for 5 years, that comes out to $17 a year. The Global Program is $100, and includes fast lanes border crossing into Canada and Mexico, a perk if you live in a border state.

It’s a relatively painless application process with an in-person interview. Locations are conveniently located around larger airports and big cities. Surprisingly there was one in the rural area I currently live. Check the website for locations.

Kids

Children under 12 can pass through the line with a TSA Pre-check adult, but once they turn 12, they’ll need their own Known Traveler Numbers (KTN). This holds true; I’ve seen agents turn away families where the parents had KTN, one child was older than 12, and one younger. The parents could’ve opted to send that one 12 year old through the long regular line alone, each parent take a child through each security line, or they move as a group through the regular security line.

What You Get

One of the reasons the Pre-check line is always shorter is because it moves faster. Travelers don’t have to remove shoes, light coats, laptops, belts, or those quart-sized baggies with liquids. Pretty much all the special steps taken in the normal security line.

Right now the TSA recommends arriving to the airport two hours prior to domestic flights and three hours prior to international flights. Those wait times are significantly shorter for pre-check. This means you can sleep in for thirty extra minutes or squeeze in last minute sight-seeing.

You can add the KTN to existing flights. Once you do the interview, they say to allow 4-6 weeks to receive your KTN in the mail. I received mine via email within a week and the letter arrived a couple of weeks later.

Frustrations with Pre-check

You really need to make sure you type your name* and KTN correctly when purchasing a plane ticket. You won’t know you made an error until printing your boarding pass, by then it’s too late to add the Pre-check number.

If you think you may have mistyped your KTN, TSA customer service representatives in the ticketing area of the airport can help you (not the ones on the security line, there should be a window or booth). Be sure to ask for help before checking into your flight, they can’t make changes after you’ve checked-in.

As of today, 16 airlines accept Pre-check in 180 airports nationwide. Check the TSA website for the latest carriers, especially if you’re flying with a smaller airline.

When I lived in Biloxi, MS, I flew out of the small Gulfport airport. There was never more than two people in front of me in the security line and using my Pre-check option just was easier in a sense of not taking my shoes off. This tends to be the case in a lot of smaller airports and even during off-peak times in larger airports. However, the Pre-check always came in handy on the return flights.

When It’s Worth It

Do the math for your flight frequency, the airlines you fly most often, and consider the airports you fly out of most often.

If you travel at least every four months, or four times a year, that equates to eight times through the security check points, coming out to just over $2 to avoid long lines.

Even just twice a year, four total visits through security comes out to $4.25. Plenty of people happily spend that much on a cup of coffee while waiting for their flights. Worth it!

If you’re one of those people that enjoys arriving early to take it easy in the airport, and thinks you have the time to shuffle through a long security line, then you’re asking for unnecessary stress. I like taking it easy with a coffee and watching the planes. It’s even more enjoyable when I have plenty of time to stroll around the terminal because I got through security so quickly.

Bottom line: I enjoy TSA Pre-check and think it’s worth the money for anyone that flies at least twice a year.

*I was already married when I paid for Pre-check, so I can’t speak as to how easy or difficult it was to change my last name for the KTN. However I did travel on my honeymoon with my maiden name even though I already changed it to my husband’s last name. It was within the month of my wedding and I simply showed my old identification.