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Are TSA Pre-screening programs worth the cost? Christopher Elliott weighs in. (Photograph by Lisa Werner, Alamy)

Are Airport Pre-Screening Programs Worth It?

National Geographic Traveler editor at large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.

Here’s his latest advice:

Reader Question: I’m an American who flies two to three times a year. At what point does it make sense for me to sign up for TSA PreCheck programs?

My Answer: The United States Transportation Security Administration hopes the answer is: right now. The agency’s apparent goal is for every air traveler to plunk down $85 for a five-year PreCheck membership, which is the agency’s “trusted traveler” program.

The benefit? You get screened as if it’s 1999. Your shoes stay on, your liquids remain in the carry-on bag—and best of all, you don’t have to deal with the prospect of walking through a full-body scanner or getting an “enhanced” pat-down.

If your time is valuable to you, and you travel more than twice every year, it’s probably worth the money.

But here’s something else to consider: You might get sent to the fast lane anyway.

TSA’s stated goal is to increase the “trusted traveler” lanes and focus on high-risk passengers. It’s begun waving regular folks without PreCheck privileges into the quicker line, including, ahem, yours truly. So, for now, I intend to hold on to my money.

Christopher Elliott is Traveler magazine’s consumer advocate and pens the “Problem Solved” column for the magazine (this exchange appeared in the June/July 2014 issue). Follow Christopher’s story on Twitter @elliottdotorg.

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