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Ever since the TSA opened up applications to their PreCheck expedited security screening to anyone, many travelers, both frequent and otherwise, have wondered whether or not it would be beneficial for them to sign up for the program.

The benefits of TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is a service administered by the TSA that allows travelers who have been pre-screened to go through a separate airport security line from the general population. TSA PreCheck passengers have previously undergone a background check, and they are therefore eligible for limited screening at the airport itself.

Typically, passengers who have been approved for the TSA PreCheck program do not have to remove light jackets, shoes, and large electronic devices when they go through security screening. They can also bypass the body scan machines and go through a metal detector instead. You can think of security screening when you have TSA PreCheck like it was in the days before the creation of the TSA an the post-9/11 airport security reforms. However, it’s important to remember that the TSA can select any passenger for additional screening measures at their discretion, even those who have been approved for TSA PreCheck.

In oder to apply for TSA PreCheck, passengers must pay a non-refundable $85 fee and visit a TSA PreCheck enrollment center. The agents will verify your identity and conduct a background check, and if you are approved your TSA PreCheck status will be valid for five years.

When you might be a good candidate for TSA PreCheck

Applying for TSA PreCheck may be a no-brainer for some travelers and an unnecessary expense for others. If you fly within the U.S. frequently—especially if you usually travel with a laptop or a tablet—it may be worth it for you to apply. Although the application fee is not inexpensive, it’s cost-per-trip is often within the justifiable range for people who go through airport security several times per year.

When you might want to pass on TSA PreCheck

First of all, the TSA PreCheck program is not active at every airport in the U.S., although it is now active at most large- and mid-sized city airports. But if you typically fly out of a small town airport, you might not get many benefits from the program. Also, if you are a very budget-conscious traveler, fly infrequently, or don’t often fly with large electronic devices, you may find that the cost of the fee outweighs the positives.

Clear membership and other expedited airport services

Clear is another service that aim to speed passengers through the typical airport security experience, but it differs from TSA PreCheck in several ways. First, Clear is not administered by the TSA and does not offer you expedited screening. When you check in at a Clear kiosk, your identity is verified through biometric measures and you are escorted to the front of the security screening line. Clear is offered at far fewer airports than TSA PreCheck, and its annual fee is $179.

If you frequently travel internationally, you may want to enroll in a federal “trusted traveler” program, such as Global Entry. Global Entry offers expedited immigration and customs services for international passengers, and Americans who are accepted into the Global Entry program are automatically granted TSA PreCheck status as well.

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