How to Pay for TSA PreCheck with Airline Miles

Here’s how to use airline miles to skip long lines at airport security.

Kicking off the 2016 summer travel season, the TSA has received some negative backlash from longer-than-average airport security lines. Videos of “mile long” security lines have gone viral and the airline industry has even encouraged travelers to share photos of the lines on social media using the hashtag #IHateTheWait. There is nothing I hate more than waiting in line - luckily, my Nexus and Global Entry memberships allow me to take advantage of TSA PreCheck.

With PreCheck, I can move to a fastpass-style lane  – think jumping the line for a roller coaster at Disneyland  – and don’t have to take off my shoes or jacket, or remove my laptop from my carry on. This option is convenient for me because I get to avoid the frustrations of waiting in a long line and can pass through security quickly, giving me time to catch up on work emails at the gate, or on occasion, unwind in the airport lounge.  

While PreCheck has a fairly reasonable fee  – $85 for a five-year membership  – you also have the option to save even more. Here are several tips to pay for PreCheck using your airline loyalty program.

Exchange airline miles

Rather than paying the $85 fee directly, some airline loyalty programs allow members to exchange their miles to cover the PreCheck application cost. If you’re a loyalty program member, keep an eye out for PreCheck promotions, as they are typically available for a limited time only.

For example, in March and April 2016, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members had the option to exchange 10,000 miles to cover the cost of PreCheck. While that’s a great value, make sure it aligns with your larger points strategies. For instance, if you’re a few hundred miles away from a longtime goal such as a free flight, you might want to consider paying for PreCheck out of pocket and saving your miles for that flight.

Pay with your travel rewards credit card

A handful of travel rewards credit cards either reimburse members directly for their PreCheck or Global Entry fee, or offer an annual travel credit, which can be used to pay the fee. However, keep in mind several of the credit cards that reimburse for PreCheck or Global Entry fees tend to have higher annual fees, so take stock of the perks and benefits to make sure you’re ultimately saving money. For example, the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard has a $450 fee, but in addition to PreCheck reimbursement, it offers such benefits as first checked bag free  – for you and up to eight travel companions  – Admirals Club membership, waived foreign transaction fees and 25 percent savings on in-flight purchases. If you’re traveling with your family, the $450 annual fee will likely pay for itself with the free checked bags alone.

Other cards that offer either PreCheck reimbursement or general travel credit include, the Citi Prestige Card, American Express Platinum Card and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card.  

Move to the faster lane with Clear

Many travelers (including myself!) aren’t yet members of an even faster airport security option than PreCheck, a members-only service called Clear.

As a member of both PreCheck and Clear, in addition to moving to the faster security lane, you can also bypass the often time consuming step of getting your ID checked. Clear works using biometric authentication  – your fingerprint or eye scan  – so you don’t have to stop at the security kiosk and wait for the TSA agent to be ready to inspect your ID and scribble clearance on your boarding pass. Once your identity is verified, you can skip pass everyone else waiting in line with their IDs and go straight to the security line. Using a combination of Clear and PreCheck, some passengers get through the entire security process in less than five minutes.

Clear is available for a higher cost than PreCheck  – $179 per year  – so you might only want to sign up if you’re a frequent traveler. If you’re looking for a free or discounted membership, Delta recently bought a five percent stake in Clear.

As a part owner, Delta plans on offering discounted signup fees to its loyalty members, and complimentary memberships to Diamond-level elite loyalty members.

Whether you choose to pay for PreCheck out of pocket, exchange your loyalty miles or redeem the travel credit from a travel rewards credit card, make sure to have your known traveler number (KTN) from the TSA handy each time you book a flight. This ensures the airline prints a PreCheck indicator on your boarding pass, so you can be directed to the right security line upon arrival at the airport.