Five Useful Things I Learned About TSA Precheck

Government Regulation

At the end of a long Tuesday at IPW in June, I stopped off to visit with the TSA Precheck team. This was a friendly and happy group, and more importantly, I was filled with all kinds of information about Precheck that I didn’t know or hadn’t heard confirmed. This should be a useful post for anyone who has or is considering getting Precheck or one of the other services that provides it, like Global Entry.

It’s TSA Precheck

Do you hate the emoji check mark in the Precheck name above? You are not alone. It sounds like there are plenty of people even on the inside who wouldn’t mind getting rid of that as well, at least in print. (The logo is fine.) If you don’t want to use the check, what’s the proper name? Behold:

TSA Precheck

Precheck is one word with only the P capitalized. That’s the official way to write it. (And yes, I realize I’m leaving off the “TSA” in most mentions below. It just feels less clunky that way even if it’s not officially approved.)

$15 Isn’t the Only Reason to Apply for TSA Precheck

When I first applied for Global Entry — the service that gets you fast passage through customs and immigration as well as Precheck — there wasn’t another option. But for the last few years, you’ve been able choose either Global Entry for $100 for five years or TSA Precheck alone for $85 for five years.

I always thought it was silly to apply for Precheck alone, because for $15 you could sail through customs and immigration for five years as well. But the TSA team had plenty of reasons why you might want to consider Precheck instead of Global Entry.

  • Enrollment is much quicker. With Global Entry, you may have to wait months to do an interview. With Precheck, you are usually done with the entire process in less than a week.
  • There are more places to enroll. You have to do an interview with either service, but Global Entry has far fewer locations to actually conduct one. I looked for a friend in Indiana, for example, and there isn’t a single place to interview in the entire state. Precheck has at least 10.
  • It’s easier to get approved. Global Entry is much more strict with who is allowed into the program compared to Precheck. Someone may have minor offenses that would disqualify him or her from getting Global Entry but not from getting Precheck. If you’ve smuggled in cigars from Cuba or worked in the weed business in a state where it’s legal, you may want to think about that.

You Should Always Get It When You Fly

If you have Precheck (whether directly or through Global Entry, etc) you should pretty much always get it when you fly. Technically, it’s 99.9 percent of the time, but it’s not like the early days where you heard people say that it wasn’t guaranteed. You should get it.

What if you don’t? Well, chances are there’s a middle name mismatch or your birthday was typed wrong or something like that. You should always check in online early, because if you don’t get it, you’ll then have time to get the reservation fixed.

If you aren’t sure what the problem is, tweet @AskTSA. They’re around 5am to 7pm PT on weekdays and 6am to 4pm PT on weekends and holidays. If you provide your record locator, they can hunt down the problem and help you figure out how to fix it. I’m told they’re actually quite responsive, but I haven’t reached out.

You Probably Aren’t Getting It Unless You Apply

Many people remember the early days of the program where frequent fliers in some airline programs were automatically given Precheck status. The thing is, they weren’t actually enrolled in the program. It was just a way to populate those new lanes with people who were considered to be low risk. With 18 million people enrolled between Precheck and Global Entry alone, they don’t need that anymore. The frequent flier program option has been shut off entirely for awhile now.

Further, there used to be a broad program called “managed inclusion” where they could do a threat assessment and opt some people into the lines even if they hadn’t applied for the program. Congress didn’t like that, so while it’s still technically in place, it has been dialed down significantly. Only the squeakiest of the squeaky clean may get lucky, and even that isn’t likely to last much longer. The point is, if you want to get Precheck, then you need to apply for the program.

Even if Your Boarding Pass Says Precheck, You Might Not Have It

Did you still get Precheck on your boarding pass even though you don’t have it? You might not have actually gotten it. Even though managed inclusion is going away, TSA is testing out a new option that would create separate screening lanes for those who are deemed to be the lowest threats but aren’t in Precheck. In some of these tests, the boarding passes may still say Precheck on them today, but then you’ll be directed to a regular line by the document checkers. Eventually, that will stop showing up on the boarding pass and it will just be managed by the document checkers when they scan the boarding pass. But this is NOT Precheck.

Again, if you want Precheck, you have to apply.

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44 comments on “Five Useful Things I Learned About TSA Precheck

  1. This still feels like the government blackmailing people with the threat of intrusive, unnecessary searches.

    If enrollment is really as simple as they say, then the government should just systematically assess all citizens, for free, and enroll everybody who meets their criteria.

    1. It does seem like in the modern times of the NSA spying on us all the Precheck theater isn’t really necessary. If the TSA was still a private entity run by the airlines I could see it, but being part of the Dept. of Homeland Security I’m sure they know the good guys from the bad ones long before I give them $85 and have a 3 minute interview.

      Now for the important questions. When are they going to get rid of the ridiculous 3-1-1 liquids rule for Precheck people?

      1. One would hope, but it’s easy to overestimate the knowledge and competence of DHS. :-)

        > being part of the Dept. of Homeland Security I’m sure they know the good guys from the bad ones long before I give them $85 and have a 3 minute interview.

  2. Cranky,

    Your mentioning of Indiana not having a single Global Entry enrollment center is now incorrect. We just got one in South Bend inside the airport’s brand new Federal Inspection Station (that opened with a charter flight last week) and Global Entry interviews at our small airport start today.

  3. Great! I would love if you do a write up between the differences of Precheck and Clear. Which option is better?

    1. Seconded. My understanding or recollection was that Clear started with the claim that they add security. Today it seems to me they are a private paid-for skip-the-line service. Why the even do the biometric stuff I don’t understand…

      Based on this understanding I have always refused to even consider them.

      1. I have both…

        Precheck gets you expedited screening where you don’t have to take your liquids/laptop out or shoes off. In many cases, it is the old metal detectors vs. the longer processing ones where you stop and put your hands up.

        Clear verifies your identity using fingerprint or iris scan. It lets you bypass the line and the TDC (ticket document check). You then get screened according to your ticket — either regular or TSA Precheck. Clear also has benefits with Delta, Hertz, and a bunch of stadiums. It is only at certain airports and many are starting to put queues past the TDC, making the clear advantage a little less pronounced.

        Global Entry gives you expedited customs back into the US. You use a kiosk and don’t have to see a person. This can be incredibly valuable, but with growth of users, regular kiosks, and mobile passport application, the benefit is not as big as it once was. There are sister programs Nexus and Sentri. Trusted Traveler programs by DHS like this, include Precheck.

        Note – there are many premium credit cards that pay for either global entry or pre-check alone. And Delta offers CLEAR at a variable discount based on status (including regular member).

        1. Global Entry has just got better and better for me – if anything, the time taken has got even quicker. Crap airports (yes you, IAD) are now almost bearable as a consequence; after an 8 to 11h transatlantic flight, there is nothing like walking straight through and getting kerbside within 15 mins of wheels down.

    2. J – They are totally different. Precheck is about what happens after you get to the front of the line. Clear is what happens before you get to the front of the line.

  4. Global Entry – At MIA my life changed upon enrollment. From leaving the aircraft to starting the car in the parking garage I’m averaging 15 mins, however add AA checked luggage then it could be forever.

  5. Government blackmail also forcing us to use Twitter (another step in declining civilization IMO) just to “ask TSA”

  6. This DHS comparison chart is the most succinct explanation of the different programs I’ve seen:

    If you’re within a few hours of the Canadian border, or travel to Canada often, consider Nexus instead. It’s $50 for 5 years, includes both Precheck AND Global Entry (despite being substantially cheaper, oddly enough), and also gets you expedited entry into Canada from the Canadian authorities.

    The only downsides to Nexus are that you may have to wait another month or two for an interview slot to open up, and that you have to travel to the US/Canada border for your interview.

    Also, if you travel for work, even rarely, ask your manager if they will let you expense the fees for Precheck or a similar program. Many companies/managers will allow that, even informally, as it sucks when the whole team is in one rental car and has to arrive at the airport early on the tail end of a business trip because one person doesn’t have Precheck.

    1. For NEXUS, the wait is, in my experience, much longer than an extra month or two. It was the better part of a year-long wait for an interview for me.

      Still worth it for me, but I live in Canada and cross the border at least once a month (most often by car). I also already had Global Entry and was up for renewal, so I had Precheck while I was waiting. But since the interview is a one-time hassle (it’s rare that they require you to return for an interview for the every-five-years renewal), even a year delay isn’t worth choosing the inferior product if you have any use for the immigration benefits of Global Entry or NEXUS, in my opinion.

      And NEXUS is free for children. Drawback is that credit cards that reimburse the $85 or $100 for Precheck or Global Entry somehow don’t reimburse the $50 for NEXUS (at least, Chase Sapphire Reserve doesn’t, and I pushed them fairly hard).

    2. I have NEXUS and recommend it to friends who live near the Canadian Border. When I signed up for NEXUS 7 years ago it explicitly stated that Global Entry and TSA Precheck were included with NEXUS (as does the DHS comparison chart you reference). It is interesting that the Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) website listing for NEXUS states “may include TSA Precheck” and doesn’t mention that Global Entry is included. I’m not sure if this an effort to discourage new NEXUS enrollees or a typo (it should say “includes TSA Precheck”) and an omission of information (“includes Global Entry”). compares the Trusted Traveler Programs and is at the top of the list in a Google search.

  7. Both my girlfriend and I are both happy Precheck users here. It is a huge time saver for both of us, it makes travel much easier. Used it at about 10 airports (MCO, IAH and ORD included) and it has really been worth the small investment. She also went for Global Entry, which got her Precheck as well as she travels internationally far more than I do. For what it is, it has saved both of us time and was pretty simple.

  8. Nexus is the winner here. $50/5 yrs;
    gets you everything Precheck does + expedited Canadian CATSA checks, + expedited entry into USA & Canada.

    1. Only if you go to Canada often/live near enough to the Canadian border to make the trip worthwhile, though. I drive up to Montreal fairly frequently because my sister lives up there, and unless you are crossing at one of the terrible ground crossings (like I87 in New York), it hardly matters if you have NEXUS. I certainly wouldn’t have driven up to the border to save $50 to get NEXUS. It’s a phenomenal, but niche, product (note, GE members get access to NEXUS and SENTRI lanes inbound to the USA anyway).

    2. Well, I just learned something. I live in the Detroit area and did NOT get NEXUS because it didn’t say GE was included (and TSA PC).

      Well, when my GE is up for renewal, I will be looking at changing to NEXUS.

      1. When I got NEXUS a couple years ago, it took me ~2-3 months to get an appointment at the CBP office at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit (not sure what the wait is now). Once I got there, however, they took me with almost no wait (despite arriving almost an hour early for my appointment), and the interview lasted all of 5 minutes… Seemed like they could have offered more appointment slots than what they post online. As with most government offices, being well prepared, well informed, and polite went a long way with the CBP, and made the process super easy.

        Long story short, if you’re having a hard time getting a NEXUS interview appointment, I’d suggest calling the local CBP office that does them and asking when the best time to drop in would be, or even just “dropping in” at a time that is convenient for you… I wouldn’t be surprised if they could “fit you in” on short notice, provided you were polite and well prepared.

  9. I have had Precheck for about 7 years, and I get frustrated when I see people getting pushed into the precheck lane carrying foreign passports and have very little command of the English language,   they also clog up the lane as they do not understand what they are being told.    I hope the random diversion or the elite status of the passengers no longer allow the precheck.
    John Bratichak

    John Michael Bratichak Architect 718 252 6980

    1. Completely agree. Precheck should be highly selective for US Citizens and valid Green Card holders. If you are going out of JFK you know what I mean

  10. It’s all still a bit confusing. I have Global Entry which I was to understand, included TSA Precheck. However, recently traveling on AA my boarding pass did not say Precheck and despite showing my Global Entry card I was denied Precheck. The screener said that Precheck is NOT included with Global Entry.  Is this just more of the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing?

    1. @peter what they told you might technically be correct about globel entry and TSAPRE not being automatic but you generally can’t just show your card and get TSA Precheck anyway. You have to have your known traveler number on your airline account or reservation number and it has to be an airline that is a TSA Precheck airline (most US carriers like AA are). I believe it only counts if it’s printed on your boarding pass. Also, any changes in name from a 3rd party reservation system can mess it up as well. An example is your airline account is “John Public” but you book a reservation under “John Q Public” etc.

      1. The way the name is issued on the ticket shouldn’t be a problem, there’s now a separate field for the full name (first middle last) which needs to match what is sent to DHS. Birthdate also needs to match, one time when PreCheck didn’t appear on my boarding pass an airline gate agent checked for me and discovered my birth date had been entered incorrectly; after fixing it they printed a new boarding pass and PreCheck appeared.

    2. Peter – As others mentioned, the card has nothing to do with it. You can only get Precheck if you have the number in the reservation and the reservation name is the same as what’s on the Precheck/GE account.

    3. I have had Global Entry for 4 years now. As a flight attendant (now retired) I was required to apply by my airline. However, they paid for it; so, no complaint. The problem I have is that like you the Precheck logo sometimes appears on my personal travel boarding pass, and sometimes does not. I tried showing my Global Entry ID to more than 1 TSA employee. Not one recognized Global Entry as a valid entry to the Precheck line. This scenario occurred before and after retirement; so, I’ve ruled out that possible explanation. I have never found anyone with a TSA badge who would give me some idea of why this is happening or direct me to someone who might be able to investigate and possibly fix. I just learned of Ask TSA by reading this article. Problem: I’m one of the 3 people in the U.S. that does not belong to Facebook or Twitter.

      I have checked with GOES and my Global Entry is still valid until next year

  11. I’ve had Precheck for several years now and it’s a lifesaver. I got it through enrolling in NEXUS in Washington state and pay $50 for 5 years (I believe).

  12. How does the last point you mentioned — where the boarding pass says Precheck but you’re supposed to get directed to the regular lane — work? In many airports, there is no regular lane at the Precheck checkpoint. In MSN, for example, they’re on opposite sides of the terminal, a good 400 yards apart. Do you follow the signs to Precheck, and then they say no, never mind, walk to the other side of the airport (which is probably where you came from in the first place)? This is also the case at large airports like SEA.

    1. Alex – This is something they’re testing now in only some airports. It’ll be like a third option. So it’s not widespread yet.

  13. When I have Precheck, everyone else on my PNR always has it too, including my spouse who refuses to enrol. (This is on principle: the government should not force you to pay a fee to provide decent service. I agree, but suck it up because I’m not as principled as her. And I travel a fair bit more.) This is also true when my kid — who has NEXUS because it’s free for kids — is on the PNR with my spouse but not me: all get Precheck.

    This has been the case every time except when one of us has SSSS. (We have enough SSSS experience to say pretty definitively that if the NEXUS member gets SSSS, no one gets Precheck. If a non-NEXUS member gets SSSS, the NEXUS member and every non-SSSS person on the PNR gets Precheck.)

    Is that official policy? Any idea if it’s likely to change?

    1. Perhaps they do that to not separate travelers – sending the kids off to the regular line while dad or mom take the Precheck line. Of course, that just would make it obvious that the whole thing is security theater. If you are traveling with someone who has PreCheck, a metal detector is good enough and the liquids don’t have to come out. Otherwise, it’s time for the nudeoscope…

      1. Kids can use Precheck whether or not their boarding pass says Precheck if they’re with an adult with Precheck anyway. What’s striking to me is that adults on the same PNR always get Precheck too (except in SSSS situations).

    2. I believe it is official policy that if a child under 13 is on the same PNR as a GE or Precheck member, then the child also receives Precheck. I can confirm that works; my wife and I both have GE, and when we fly with our 2-year old son, he gets one on his boarding pass every time.

      Not sure whether it’s official policy for adult non-Precheck members on the same reservation, though, or if you’re just getting lucky.

  14. I have pre check and my husband does not, if I booked our tickets together, he gets pre check also. Pro tip!

  15. Hi Cranky,

    I actually appreciate the green check in the Pre? because it’s a visual (shape and color) I can easily recognize. Also helpful for travelers who aren’t familiar with the English alphabet.

    1. My mother has had Global Entry or been getting Precheck for 5 or 6 years and still calls it TSA Pre. I think it must be a generational, pre-texting thing.

  16. I have PreCheck as part of Global Entry and use it a lot.

    Form my travels, the sense I get is that the bigger the airport, the more benefit to having PreCheck as the non-PreCheck security lines at the larger airports seem to be longer.

    I find the siting of GE enrollment centers somewhat baffling. Take Virginia for example. Outside the DC area there is only one center – in Richmond. However, if you compare the number of travelers out of RIC – it’s half than say the number of travelers in say RDU or JAX and yet neither of those two have nearby enrollment centers. Also, the Hampton Roads, VA metro area is larger than Richmond but it doesn’t have an enrollment center (even though there is a Customs House in downtown Norfolk and there are plenty of CBP personnel there thanks to the port).

    The reason there are a lot more enrollment points for PreCheck than GE is that I believe PreCheck interviews can be performed by third party credentialing companies while GE interviews can only be done by CBP personnel.

  17. I agree that the green check mark logo isn’t exactly elegant branding.

    But I think the check mark serves a useful purpose, if perhaps an unintended one.

    When using a boarding pass on your iPhone, the logo is really small. The green check mark visually “pops.” This makes it easier for the ticket checker guarding the Precheck security line, and quicker for every one

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