How to Get TSA PreCheck Free: Try These 6 Credit Cards

Susan Shain

Susan Shain | Blog

Feb 11, 2019

I remember what it was like to stand in endless airport security lines. To remove my shoes, jacket, and laptop; to collect all my liquids and place them into a tiny bag.

But, even though I still fly all the time, I haven’t done that in years. I’m not rich, and I’m not royalty: I have TSA PreCheck, a magical program from the Transportation Security Administration that allows me to breeze through security like Beyonce. Because I have Global Entry, too, I don’t wait in immigration lines either.

Intrigued? You should be. Keep reading to discover the difference between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck — and how you can become a member of these elite clubs for free.

What Is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is one of several “Trusted Traveler” programs from the U.S. government. It’s open to most U.S. citizens, nationals, and lawful permanent residents.

With TSA PreCheck, you’ll have access to an expedited security lane at more than 200 airports when flying with 56 participating airlines. You won’t need to remove light jackets, belts, or shoes, and can also leave liquids and laptops in your carry-on.

  • TSA PreCheck fee: $85 for a five-year membership
  • TSA PreCheck application: Submit an online form, then visit an enrollment center for an interview, fingerprinting, and background check.

If your application is approved, you’ll receive a “Known Traveler Number.” When booking flights, you’ll include that number on your reservation, and will then see “TSA Pre✓” listed on your boarding pass. (If it’s a paper version, it’ll have “TSA PRECHK” printed across the top.)

TSA PreCheck boarding pass

When traveling with a parent or guardian who has PreCheck, children under 12 can travel in the expedited lane (without applying for the program). Members of the military do not need to apply for TSA PreCheck; as long as they include their DoD number when booking, they will have access to the expedited line. While eligible Department of Defense federal civilians don’t need to apply either, they must opt in here.

What Is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a supercharged version of TSA PreCheck. Not only will you get PreCheck at domestic airports, but you’ll also be able to bypass immigration lines when re-entering the country.

Instead of standing in that snaking line to see a border agent, you’ll go to a Global Entry kiosk, where you’ll quickly scan your passport and fingerprints before heading to customs.

  • Global Entry fee: $100 for a five-year membership
  • Global Entry application: Submit an online form, then visit a special enrollment center for an interview, fingerprinting, and background check.

To make it crystal clear, the answer to “does Global Entry include TSA PreCheck?” is a resounding yes.

If your Global Entry application is approved, you’ll automatically get TSA PreCheck, too. You’ll need to include your Known Traveler Number (KTN) when booking flights to qualify for the expedited screening.

Since your passport will be linked to your KTN, you won’t usually need to carry your Global Entry card with you. One exception is if you’re driving across the border from Mexico or Canada, and want to take the express lane. In that case, your car must be registered with the program, and every person in your vehicle must have his or her physical Global Entry or SENTRI/NEXUS card. (I learned this rule the hard way!)

Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck

Now that you’re convinced they’re the bee’s knees, you’re wondering: Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck? Which one should I get?

For most people, Global Entry is the smarter choice. It includes TSA PreCheck — plus the ability to skip lines at immigration. For only $15 more, that’s well worth it (and if you read the rest of this post, you won’t be paying that fee anyway).

Global Entry TSA PreCheck

My first time using my Global Entry card: a fantastic day.

In my mind, the only reason you might opt for TSA PreCheck is if you don’t think you’ll qualify for Global Entry. Since you’ll have to pay the application fee regardless of whether you’re approved, you should read the guidelines carefully.

  • The requirements for Global Entry are pretty strict: You may be disqualified if you “have been convicted of any criminal offense or have pending criminal charges or outstanding warrants,” including for driving under the influence.
  • For TSA PreCheck, certain crimes, like espionage, will bar you forever — and some felonies will bar you for seven years — but requirements are generally more lax.

PreCheck might also be preferable if you live far from the nearest Global Entry enrollment center or never plan to travel abroad. In that case, it might make sense to simply visit your local PreCheck enrollment center instead.

How to Get TSA PreCheck Free

The easiest way to get TSA PreCheck free is with a travel rewards credit card that reimburses your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee.

You’ll need to pay the application fee upfront using your eligible credit card; then, once the fee appears on your bill, the issuer will automatically give you a statement credit to match it, usually within two billing periods. $100 for Global Entry, or $85 for TSA PreCheck.

Note that, with most credit cards, this offer is only available every four or five years.

How to Get TSA PreCheck Free Without a Credit Card

Another way to get TSA PreCheck for free (or Global Entry, in some cases) is by being an elite member with certain loyalty programs, or by redeeming points or miles.

Here are a few of your options:

  • Delta Airlines: Platinum or Medallion members can get a Global Entry voucher as one of their Choice Benefits.
  • Orbitz Rewards: Platinum members can opt for a free TSA PreCheck or LoungeBuddy membership.
  • United MileagePlus: Redeem 10,000 miles for TSA PreCheck (at 0.85 cents per mile).
  • IHG Rewards: Redeem 30,000 points for TSA PreCheck (at 0.28 cents per point).
  • Radisson Rewards: Redeem 65,000 points for TSA PreCheck (at 0.13 cents per point).

If you have elite status and can get free PreCheck, great — but when it comes to reward points and miles, you’ll likely find better value by redeeming them for flights or hotel stays. So we don’t recommend using credit card rewards to pay for the application.

6 Best Credit Cards With TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Fee Credits

More than 17 credit cards offer a statement credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. If you don’t already have a credit card with this benefit, you might consider applying for one before paying your application fee.

Here are six of our favorites. (None have foreign transaction fees, making them good options for international travelers.)

Best For Card Annual Fee TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Fee Credit Every…
Travel Rewards Chase Sapphire Reserve (Review) $450 4 years
Lounge Access The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review) $550 4 years
No Annual Fee PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card $0 5 years
Rewards & Low Annual Fee Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card (Review) $95 (waived for first year) 4 years
United Flyers United Explorer Card (Review) $95 (waived for first year) 4 years
Hotel Lovers Citi Prestige® Card (Review) $495 5 years

Best for Travel Rewards

Due to its high rewards, Priority Pass lounge access, and generous travel credit, this is already my favorite travel rewards card. The fact you can get a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit every four years is just icing on the cake.

Even though its annual fee is intimidating, the $300 travel credit essentially reduces the net annual fee to $150.

Spending Rewards
  • 3X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • Travel (after using the full $300 travel credit)
    • Dining at restaurants
  • 1X Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $500–$1,000 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 12.5–25%

Key Features & Terms

  • Perks: $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass membership, Primary Car Rental Insurance, Trip Delay Insurance, and more
  • Annual fee: $450
  • Purchase APR: 19.24%–26.24% Variable

Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

 

Best for Lounge Access

Like the Reserve, the Amex Platinum is another amazing premium travel rewards card, offering a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit every four years. Its biggest perk is its generous lounge access, which means free food and booze, fewer people, and lots of power outlets. It also comes with airline fee and Uber credits, hotel elite status, and free Boingo WiFi.

Spending Rewards
  • 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • Flights booked directly through airlines or through Amex Travel
    • Prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on other eligible travel expenses booked through Amex Travel
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar for all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 60,000 Membership Rewards points for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $600–$1,200 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 12–24%

Key Features & Terms

  • Perks: $200 annual airline fee credit, Hilton Honors and Starwood Preferred Guest elite status, up to $200 in annual Uber credits, Global Lounge Collection access, and more
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Charge card: You must pay the balance in full each month

Read more in our Review of The Platinum Card® from American Express: Is It Worth the $550 Annual Fee?

Trying to decide which premium travel card to get? Here’s our head-to-head breakdown of the Amex Platinum vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve.

 

Best for No Annual Fee

Just looking to get Global Entry or TSA PreCheck for free? Then this card’s for you. Unlike the others on this list, it has no annual fee — ever. So, even though it doesn’t have a lot of perks, it’s a smart choice for that reason alone. Its Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit is available every five years.

Spending Rewards
  • 3X points per dollar spent on travel
    • 4X points per dollar spent on travel for PenFed Honors Advantage Members (must be active or retired military, or have a PenFed checking account)
  • 1.5X points per dollar spent everywhere else
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 25,000 bonus points for spending $2,500 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $200–$300 (assuming 0.8–1.2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 8–12%

Key Features & Terms

  • Perks: $100 annual incidental airline fee credit good for baggage fees, lounge access, and onboard food and beverages
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Purchase APR: 12.74%–17.99% Variable

 

Best for Rewards & Low Annual Fee

Although this card doesn’t have a slew of fancy perks, it does earn solid rewards at a low annual fee (which is even waived the first year). If you book a lot of hotels, you’ll also earn crazy rewards at Hotels.com until early 2020. This card’s Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit comes around every four years.

Spending Rewards
  • 2X miles per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 50,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $500–$1,000 (assuming 1–2 cents per mile)
    • Return on spend: 16.67–33.33%

Key Features & Terms

  • Perks: Point transfer ability and Visa Signature benefits, like the Luxury Hotel Collection and concierge service
  • Annual fee: $95, $0 first year
  • Purchase APR: 15.24%–25.24% Variable

Read more in our Review of the Capital One® Venture Rewards® Credit Card.

If you’re looking for other cards with low annual fees that offer these credits, check out the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card (Review). For just $95 you get the application fee credits, along with a $100 incidental airline fee credit.

 

Best for United Flyers

This respectable travel rewards card works best for frequent flyers on United. (If you’re more an American Airlines fan, try the Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, which offers Global Entry/TSA PreCheck reimbursement every five years.)

With this United card, you’ll get a free checked bag, priority boarding, and two free United Club passes annually. The annual fee is waived for the first year, and your Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit is available every four years.

Spending Rewards
  • 7X or more miles per dollar on tickets purchased from United
    • 2X miles per dollar from the Explorer Card
    • 5X miles or more per dollar for being a MileagePlus member
  • 2X miles per dollar for:
    • Restaurants
    • Hotel accommodations purchased directly with the hotel
  • 1X mile per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $400–$600 (assuming 1–1.5 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 20–30%

Key Features & Terms

  • Perks: Free checked bag, priority boarding, and two United Club lounge passes each year
  • Annual fee: $95, $0 first year
  • Purchase APR: 18.24%–25.24% Variable

Read more in our Review of the United Explorer Card.

 

Best for Hotel Lovers

Twice per year, this card offers your fourth night free on stays booked through ThankYou.com or your Citi Concierge. Although the annual fee is high, you’ll get a $250 travel credit, as well as Priority Pass lounge access and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit every five years.

Spending Rewards
  • 5X ThankYou points per dollar spent on:
    • Air travel
    • Restaurants
  • 3X ThankYou points per dollar spent at:
    • Hotels
    • Cruise lines
  • 1X ThankYou point per dollar for all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 50,000 ThankYou points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $500–$1,000 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 12.5–25%

Key Features & Terms

  • Perks: Fourth night free, $250 travel credit, Priority Pass Select membership, point transfer ability
  • Annual fee: $495
  • Purchase APR: 17.99%–25.99% Variable

Read more in our Review of the Citi Prestige® Card.

Looking for other hotel cards offering credits for expedited airport service? For a lower annual fee of $89 — which includes one free night per year, and your fourth night free on reward stays — the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is a fantastic choice. Alternatively, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (Review) is a high-end option for SPG/Marriott loyalists.

Should You Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry?

Though the answer probably depends on how much you fly (and where), I can tell you I applied for Global Entry in 2014 and have never looked back. It saves me so much time and frustration at the airport that I’d call it one of the best travel purchases I’ve ever made.

So, while I would happily pay $100 for the convenience — why would I? Getting Global Entry or TSA PreCheck for free is a cinch with any of the travel credit cards above.

Itching for an adventure? Why not take a look at our picks for the Best Airline Credit Cards and Best Hotel Credit Cards?
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