3 reasons TSA PreCheck isn't worth your money

tsa precheckJoe Raedle/Getty

  • TSA PreCheck was designed to speed up and simplify the security process for passengers who undergo a background check and pay an $85 fee for five years of coverage.
  • The TSA has said that most PreCheck passengers wait less than five minutes in security lines, but a survey of multiple domestic airports found the average wait time to be only about ten minutes long for non-PreCheck travelers.
  • For $15 more, the TSA's Global Entry program provides the same benefits as the PreCheck program plus expedited processing back into America following international travel.

The TSA ranks near the top of few popularity lists these days, with the airport security process universally bemoaned by passengers weary of taking off shoes, dumping out liquids, submitting to pat downs, and generally forfeiting time and dignity just to get onto a flight.

While this blue-shirted wing of the Department of Homeland Security performs a critical service that helps protect domestic and foreign travelers alike, the laborious screening process is hardly a model of efficiency. For this reason, more than seven million travelers have so far signed up for the TSA PreCheck program.

The PreCheck program is meant to save travellers time and minimize hassle, allowing them to skip such steps as removing shoes and light jackets, pulling liquids and laptops from their bags, and even providing a much shorter security line. All one needs to do to join the TSA PreCheck program is complete a form, pay an $85 fee, submit to a background check, go to an in-person meeting, and give his or her fingerprints.

But, is TSA PreCheck worth it? Not really. Here's why:

1. At most airports in America, PreCheck will not save you a significant amount of time

In conducting some research for this article, I checked the average wait time at several times of day at about a dozen US airports, including international airports in Honolulu, Austin, and Newark, as well as a number of domestic airports, like those in Burbank, CA and Providence, RI.

While the TSA states that most PreCheck customers will spend five minutes or less waiting in the security line, my informal survey found that in the average US airport, the average wait in a security line is only around ten minutes. Unless you travel with great frequency (or have poor time management skills and are perennially running late) the time saved is likely to be almost negligible.

2. The Global Entry program affords more benefits than PreCheck for only $15 more

The $85 PreCheck program may help slightly expedite your airport security process and will likely remove some of the more invasive elements of the screening, but it does nothing for you when you travel internationally.

Returning from overseas, PreCheck members go through the same lines and screenings as everyone else. Global Entry members, on the other hand, can enjoy an expedited return back into the US, and also get all the benefits of PreCheck while flying domestically. And the program costs only $15 more than PreCheck.

Read more: TSA Precheck isn't worth your money - and there's a better alternative few people consider

3. TSA PreCheck doesn't necessarily shield you from additional screening

Just because you joined the TSA PreCheck program doesn't mean your airport security process will never be nightmarish again. Even PreCheck members can still be pulled out of line for random heightened screening, which may include swabs used to detect explosive residue, a total unpacking of your bags, and more.

If you thought signing up for the PreCheck program was your ticket out of those more involved and completely undignified enhanced screening processes, you thought wrong; you're still at the mercy of the DHS.

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