5 Things to Know Before Completing Your TSA PreCheck Application

By Amy Curtis

Tips to make your airport experience even faster

5 Things to Know Before Completing Your TSA PreCheck Application

The TSA PreCheck program gives travelers the option of a virtually hassle-free airport experience. Once you’re a member of the program, you won’t have to wait in long security lines, submit to body scans or put your laptop and 3-1-1 compliant bag on a conveyor belt, hoping to be reunited with them safely. What do you need to do to reach that kind of VIP status with the TSA? It’s a pretty simple process. Here are some facts about TSA PreCheck, and five “good to know” tips to make the whole thing a breeze.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is an agency under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security, and its purpose is simple. It exists to keep dangerous people and things out of the United States and keep the nation safe. Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 climate, that can mean significant delays for everyone at the airports, while the CBP carries out its duties alongside the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

PreCheck versus Global Entry

The TSA PreCheck program allows passengers to bypass long security lines, while Global Entry is more of a one-two punch. Not only does it sweep its members past the TSA security check, but it also allows them to bypass the CBP by simply entering some information at the Global Entry kiosk in the airport when they arrive in the United States. Many people choose Global Entry over PreCheck, simply because it gives a great deal more convenience for only a slightly higher cost. If you frequently travel out of the country, Global Entry may provide a greater benefit, for just $15 more, and an application process that's essentially the same.

Before deciding to apply for either program, consider these five points.

1)  The fees are non-refundable, and the application process is in-depth.

TSA PreCheck requires an $85 fee, while the fee for Global Entry is $100. The application process requires submission of fingerprints and pertinent information so that a background check can be conducted. For Global Entry, a valid passport is also required, as is an in-person interview. Approval is at the discretion of the TSA, and should you fail to be approved for the program, you will lose the application fee.

2)  Make sure you qualify.

If you’ve been convicted or are even under suspicion of a disqualifying offense, your application will be denied. The list of disqualifying offenses is rather lengthy, and it includes crimes like murder, arson and kidnapping, but also offenses such as possession of a firearm or identity fraud. If you have the slightest question about your record, visit the TSA website and check out the list for yourself.

3) Be patient.

TSA PreCheck is a very popular program, so the wait list is long. It can take up to five months just to get an appointment and then a few more months for the background check to be completed so that you can be approved.

4) Not every airport and airline participates.

Before you even apply, check to make sure your local airport and favorite airline are on the list. New participants are continually being added, but it doesn’t make sense to go through the process unless the program is going to work for you.

5) TSA PreCheck is not a guarantee that you’ll never have to go through security.

Most of the time, you’ll sail right through in the PreCheck line, but the TSA does employ what they call “unpredictable security measures, both seen and unseen,” which means they conduct random screenings, from which even PreCheck members are not exempt.

That said, PreCheck and Global Entry are a good value, particularly if you’re a frequent traveler. The risk of a random screening is far less trouble than the routine security process that ordinary passengers endure with every flight, and the ability to bypass Customs is important for those who travel internationally. Whether you choose TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, your membership will afford you those privileges for five years.