Photographer: Stefano Gentile /EyeEm/Getty Images

Eight Ways to Cut the Airport’s TSA Security Line, for a Price

The dreaded TSA staff shortage won't stop you from zipping through the airport—if you're willing to open your wallet.

massive TSA shortage proved to be far less of a headache on the holiday weekend than previously anticipated—which means you might have made it through Memorial Day relatively unscathed.

But don’t count on good luck all summer. The TSA’s efforts to mitigate crowds this past weekend involved overtime staff and increased canine support, which likely aren't sustainable for the cash-strapped department in the long term.

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up eight ways to maximize your odds of speeding through security—regardless of whether the TSA can keep up its winning streak. Expedited access can come cheap, but it won’t come free; deciding how much you’re willing to pay can help determine which line-cutting strategy is best for you.

 

For $10-$15: Buy an expedited security pass

Long security lines at the airport have been the norm for weeks.
Long security lines at the airport have been the norm for weeks.
Photographer: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Some carriers offer expedited security access as an add-on when you’re booking your fare; it’s called Even More Speed on JetBlue (from $10) and Premier Access on United (from $15). The programs aren’t available at all airports, though—that’s because the airlines must set up a separate security line just for pass holders—so check on availability ahead of your departure.

 

For $25: Check your bags

A traveler checks in.
A traveler checks in.
Photographer: Image Source/Getty Images/Image Source

Nixing your carry-ons will only get you through security faster if the TSA is deploying bomb-sniffing canines at your home airport. It’s worth rolling the dice if you’re flying through the country’s busiest hubs (think Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta Hartsfield); there, passengers without bulky bags are the most likely to get pulled out of line for a quick sniff and a faster trip through.

 

For $85: Get PreCheck

You can enroll in PreCheck at the airport, before your next flight.
You can enroll in PreCheck at the airport, before your next flight.
Photographer: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

We’ve yet to hear a single frequent traveler say they regretted spending money on PreCheck, the trusted traveler program that automatically puts travelers in the fast lane for every domestic flight. And now that your odds of getting randomly selected for the fast lane are dwindling, there’s more urgency than ever to sign up. If that’s not enough reason to get on board, consider this: Just last week, PreCheck expanded to a handful of international airlines, so passengers on Aeromexico, Cape Air, Etihad Airways, and Seaborne Airlines can also benefit from expedited access credentials. Sign up here; the approval process takes a few weeks and requires an in-person interview.

It’s also worth spending an extra $15 for Global Entry, which involves the same application process and lets you breeze past the customs and immigration lines when you’re returning from international trips. Membership for either program lasts five years; once you have it, be sure to enter your Known Traveler Number on all flight bookings to make sure you get the perks you’ve paid for.

 

For $179: Sign up for Clear

The security lanes at Miami International Airport, one of 13 airports where Clear has set up shop.
The security lanes at Miami International Airport, one of 13 airports where Clear has set up shop.
Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Sports fans might recognize this expedited security program for its presence at ballparks and arenas across the U.S.; now the company is offering expedited security service at 13 airports across the U.S., from Miami to San Francisco. (Find the full list here.) Because the program is still small, there’s virtually never a queue. Enroll by filling out an online application and verifying your identity in person; once you’ve paid your annual dues, a simple fingerprint scan will whisk you past security. It’s especially worthwhile for families, as kids under the age of 18 can join for free.

 

For $450: Have the right credit card

Having the right card in your wallet can speed you through security.
Having the right card in your wallet can speed you through security.
Photographer: DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

According to Sean McQuay, NerdWallet’s Credit Card Expert, the best credit cards to get you through security are the Platinum Card from American Express, the Citi Prestige Card, and the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard. All three include statement credits for PreCheck and Global Entry, he says. Another thing they all have in common: a $450 annual fee.    

 

For $800 and up: Splurge on an upgrade

A man sleeping in Delta One on an Airbus 330-300 (333).
A man sleeping in Delta One on an Airbus 330-300 (333).
Photographer: Pouya Dianat/Pouya Creative for Delta Air Lines

VIP seats make for VIP benefits, but every airline is different about doling out the perks. American and United offer expedited security lane access for business- and first-class passengers; Delta is more restrictive, offering the service only to travelers in its exclusive Delta One cabins (that’s a step up from first, in case you're wondering).  Don't count on getting upgraded for free unless you're at the very top of the status chain; airlines are generally holding out for paying customers these days.

 

For $1,950 and up: Take a private jet

The Challenger 850, a private plane available on JetSmarter.
The Challenger 850, a private plane available on JetSmarter.
Source: JetSmarter

You don’t need to own a private jet to fly on one. In fact, the private aviation market is undergoing an uncharacteristically democratic transformation. Among the entry-level options is privatefly.com, where you can reserve anything from a three-seat Cessna to a full Boeing 737. (Expect to pay $1,950-$2,500 for short regional flights, like those from New York to Philly or New York to Boston.) The membership-based JetSmarter is another good option; it offers unlimited free flights on its network of private jets for an annual cost of $10,000; it’s like a carpooling service for Gulfstreams.

 

For more than $2,000: Invest in elite status

If you're constantly on the go, investing in a loyalty program might be right for you.
If you're constantly on the go, investing in a loyalty program might be right for you.
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Once you’ve hit the middle tier with (almost) any airline loyalty program, you’ll automatically be waved through to the expedited security lanes at participating airports. Getting to that point isn’t always easy, but there are some shortcuts. You can ask any major carrier about status matching if you’re willing to consider changing your airline allegiances; this can give you temporary elite benefits while you work on securing status the more legitimate way (with qualifying flight segments and dollars spent, that is). Another approach: Sign up for a co-branded credit card and take advantage of sign-up bonuses. If you hit minimum spending thresholds, generally starting at $2,000 over the course of three months, you’ll be on an accelerated track toward VIP status—but you’ll still need to book a few flights to seal the deal.

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