Is TSA Precheck Worth the Money? A Mom Gives Her Honest Opinion

We travel a lot. We fly as a family, I travel solo and my husband and I take trips together. My husband has a weird aversion to driving, so we fly to nearly every destination. We travel domestically and internationally but for the most part, our travel is in the states, through our local SeaTac airport just outside of Seattle. If I had to put an amount, I'd say one or more of us are flying at least every three weeks or so. Several years ago, after long lines for security screening just seemed to be getting longer and standing on a dirty floor in socks with our pants falling down since our belts had to be removed seemed degrading, our family decided to look into getting TSA Precheck. {We actually got NEXUS but more on that later.} So three years in and I'm telling you if I think TSA precheck is worth it. This {cheap} mom is giving you her honest opinion. 
travel on an airplane with your family

Is TSA Precheck Worth the Money?


walking through airport security
Short answer, yes.
Long answer, read on.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA Precheck allows eligible travelers the opportunity to go through an expedited security screening. Kind of like a fast pass at Disneyland. Because you have been prechecked, you don't have to remove your shoes or take out any liquids or your laptop from your carry on. Not only that, the lines are generally shorter. 
People that are screened for PreCheck are generally frequent travelers because there is a fee involved. I feel like this security line expertise helps the line go a little bit faster as well.
After doing some research, it looks like many credit card companies are waiving the fee for PreCheck and covering the cost as part of their cardmember benefits.
waiting area at airport

Fees for TSA PreCheck programs start at $50

What Programs Include TSA PreCheck?

There are several different programs out there that include TSA PreCheck. These are generally called Trusted Traveler programs.

As I mentioned, our family has NEXUS, a joint Canada and US border protection program. We live close enough to the Canadian border that there were offices in Seattle that allowed us to apply for the program. There are also trusted traveler programs called CLEAR, Global Entry, and SENTRI.
You can check the Department of Homeland Security to find out what program is right for you.

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How to get TSA PreCheck

The process is different for every program, so once you decide what Trusted Traveler program you want to be a part of, look at their website to find out what the process looks like. A general TSA Precheck process overview looks like this:
You go online, submit an application and then schedule a time for an in-person interview. 

There is an in-person interview that is required for every person applying for the program. The interview includes a background check, some personal questions {like have you been convicted of any crimes}, and fingerprinting. 
If there are any skeletons in the closet from college or your wild years you don't want to be dragged up in front of your kids, probably skip this process or request interviews at different times.
When you get your known traveler number, you just enter that in with the airline and it will be added to your reservation. If you don't see it on your boarding pass, make sure you check with a gate agent before security.

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Is it difficult to get a TSA PreCheck appointment?

Yep. 
Some people wait months for an interview slot. Some of this is dependant on your location. Busier metro areas can take longer. You can check to see if your enrollment office has walk-in appointment options available. 
Recent government shutdowns have created a backlog making the wait times long. 
We checked often for canceled appointments and were able to move our scheduled interview up several months. We actually found 2 available interview time slots months earlier and decided to try our luck. All five of us came fully prepared for that interview and hoped they would let us all in. 
They did. So instead of a six-month wait, it was more like two months, but lots of website checking for those canceled appointments and a wait all the same.

The Benefits of Family Travel

waiting area at airport

Is TSA Precheck Worth the Money?

Thousand times yes. Our trusted traveler program is good for five years and we've used it countless times. Seattle is a busy airport and while I notice a difference in the TSA Precheck line {it is shorter}, the TSA precheck line is shorter in other airports I've traveled to, making other airports TSA lines far more efficient than our local one, but still efficient enough to make it worth it.
It's not uncommon for me to be dropped off at the airport door and through security in under ten minutes. Flying internationally is when we notice the biggest difference. As part of our NEXUS program, we also have Global Entry.

Should I get Global Entry?

Global Entry allows you to pass through customs quickly since you are pre-approved. There is a separate line you go through allowing you to slip your passport into a kiosk, putting your fingerprints down for verification and allowing you to make any customs declarations there. No paperwork to fill out! You'll get a transaction receipt, show that to the customs agent, maybe answer a few questions depending on where you came from and you are on your way.
Even if you only travel internationally once during your five year period, I think that it would be worth it to have. We bypassed a three-hour customs line in Dallas after a return flight from Mexico and were in and out of customs with our whole family in under five minutes.

Here's a longer explanation of the difference between TSA precheck and Global Entry and the trusted traveler program our family uses

 

My Tips for Surviving Long Haul Flights

I'm a huge fan of the NEXUS program. It was only $50 for adults for five years and kids under 18 were free. My son was 17 at the time we got it {so he was free}, and as an out of state student who flies to and from school, it's been worth it for his frequent trips. NEXUS allowed our family of 5, TSA precheck and global entry for $100 total {the cost of one person applying for global entry} so it's been money well spent.
If you ask me if TSA Precheck is worth it, I'd have to say yes. Make sure you look into the Trusted Traveler program that is right for you and your family.

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2 comments

Unknown said...

I agree. Weirdly, mine is about to expire and I'm just about to use it for the first time on a flight. Skipping the Canadian border lines is amazing.

I did the same for the wait times. I ended up with a Sunday morning interview in Blaine. I'm not renewing it though. The shutdown made it too hard for an appointment before leaving for school.

clicker heroes said...

That's so great.

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