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Is TSA Precheck Worth It? Pros and Cons for Frequent Business Travelers

December 15th, 2016 /

Your luggage rolling behind you is the only sound you hear as you walk into a huge, brightly-lit airport. The desks ahead are manned by smiling employees waiting to check you in, and the kiosks are completely clear. You walk leisurely over to security and a TSA agent scans your carry-on. In less than five minutes, you’re on the plane.The sky is waiting for you.

As business travelers, haven’t we all had this dream at some point? I usually find myself imagining it while waiting in some sort of line—because at JFK, it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do. There’s always a line. And during peak seasons, it only gets worse.

If you’re not signed up for TSA Precheck, then this might be another subject you muse upon as you wait in the main security queue. Would it actually save you time? If it’s so great, why aren’t more people using it? I’ve found that, for the right group of people, Precheck is actually worth it. But your choice should depend very much on your priorities.

is tsa precheck worth it? that depends

Savvy business travelers may be more than curious about the TSA Precheck system. Image by Flickr user EasySentri Sentri (CC BY 2.0)

The Process

Because the Transportation Security Administration is a government agency, you can expect some bureaucratic hoops. If you want to sign up for TSA Precheck, you must first fill out an online application, pay a non-refundable $85 fee, and submit to a brief in-person interview. The security agent will take your picture and your fingerprints, and you’ll receive a letter in the mail some time later (anywhere between five and forty-five days) with your “Known Traveler Number”  or KTN—the golden key that lets you sneak past the long security lines.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the process. If you attempt to just bring your letter to the airport as proof of status, you’ll be directed back to the main line. There’s also no ID card for the TSA Precheck program (unlike its international equivalents, Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS). To benefit from Precheck, you must use your KTN when you make your initial airline reservation. There will be a space provided during the booking process, and your printed boarding pass will read “TSAPRE” or some variant, your barcode embedded with the info to send you through.

Your TSA Precheck membership lasts for five years, at which point it will need to be renewed.

That’s the process in a nutshell. Now let’s consider the pros and cons.

tsa precheck isn't without its downsides

As great as it sounds, there are a few downsides to the TSA Precheck system. Image by Flickr user EasySentri Sentri (CC BY 2.0)

The Cons: What’s Not Ideal About TSA Precheck

This is the government we’re working with, which means that the approval process can seem endless. And while there are many enrollment centers where you can schedule your initial interview, a lot of them are in international airports, requiring you to fight airport traffic unless you’re able to arrange for a day when you’re already traveling.

There’s also a slight chance that you’re ineligible. The service is only available to US citizens who are deemed “low risk” by the TSA. A long list of crimes will disqualify you from the program, including DUIs and outstanding traffic violations.

Human error is a potential drawback, as well. If you enter your name, birthdate, or KTN incorrectly on any reservation, your boarding pass will not be cleared for Precheck. This can easily occur when booking via a third party agency, so I usually suggest purchasing tickets directly through your airline of choice. It can be a hassle to try to correct your boarding pass at 7 am in the check-in line if you discover it’s incorrect. (American has taken initiative here, though: they send your details through the TSA database 72 hours before departure and will send you a notification email if things don’t match up.)

Further, you might not want to purchase TSA Precheck just yet. A very recent study found that the TSA could reduce their operating costs significantly if it were to offer Precheck for free to frequent travelers—which might make that $85 application fee less appealing. There’s no guarantee this will actually happen, of course, but I do know one or two hopeful holdouts.

Some people also grumble about unauthorized passengers being forwarded into the Precheck lane during peak times to ease security bottlenecks, but I wouldn’t put too much weight on this particular complaint. Even with the added volume of passengers I tend to get through security in about five minutes, which is still pretty impressive.

One of the majorly-advertised perks of signing up for TSA-Precheck. Image by Flickr user Dion Hinchcliffe (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Pros: Why You Should Really Consider Enrolling as a Known Traveler

Airports love to advertise the basic benefits of TSA Precheck. Keeping your shoes, belt, and jacket on are handy, yes, and so is not having to remove electronics or liquids from your bag. But is it really worth $85 to keep your boots on?

To me, the real value lies in skipping the line. I shaved at least half an hour off my pre-boarding time when I signed up, and I’ve never looked back. I’d much rather spend my time in a coffee shop, meditating, or getting a massage.

It sounds small, but I’d argue that those thirty minutes alone are worth it. As a business traveler, you’re probably wasting an hour or two per flight, and cutting that time in half significantly improves your quality of life. It’s one less thing to dread and gives you a little more breathing room, whether you want to spend it getting work done in the airport lounge or just sleeping in before you leave. So much of the travel experience feels like wasted time, and TSA Precheck offers a consistent way to reduce the wait.

If you’re a frequent international traveler, signing up for the other customs programs (like Global Entry, SENTRI, or NEXUS)  also gets you automatic access to TSA Precheck on all domestic flights, so there’s a chance you’re eligible without even realizing it. Some of the newer travel credit card options also include TSA Precheck deals as part of a sign-on bonus.

tsa precheck can be worth it for frequent business travelers

You may not ever be the only passenger in an airport, but TSA Precheck gets you closer to the dream. Image by Flickr user Jirka Matousek (CC BY 2.0)

TSA Precheck is a Definite Option for Business Travelers

In the end, if you’re willing to put up with the slight initial hassle of signing up for TSA Precheck, the service can actually be incredibly beneficial to you as a business traveler.

And if you’re looking for other ways to reduce the hassle of frequent travel, a membership with JetLux gives you significant discounts on luxury and boutique hotels, plus added upgrades and amenities. You’ll never want to go back to your old way of booking a room.

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