TSA Pre✓: A Brilliant Marketing Campaign?

 remember the days when the Transportation Security Administration was first created shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. There were two camps of people: one which abhorred the Transportation Security Administration and everything for which it represented, hoping that one day the agency would be abolished altogether; and the other who would do anything it took in the name of safety and security.

How times have changed.

We still have two camps of people pertaining to airport security in 2015 — but now they comprise of people who went through the background checks and interviews and paid for that privilege so that they may be processed through airport security checkpoints as quickly and efficiently as possible; and the other who believe that quick and efficient processing through airport security checkpoints should be available free of charge.

There are variants of those two camps — the latter of which may comprise of frequent fliers — but they are two distinct camps just the same.

It is not like we all are not already paying for security at airports in the United States, as anyone who purchases an airline ticket pays a minimum airport security fee of $5.60 per one-way trip imposed by the federal government of the United States effective as of July 21, 2014.

That $5.60 is more than the $2.50 per leg which we used to pay in security fees…

…and if you want expedited screening, it is yours for anywhere between $50.00 and $122.25 every five years, as shown in the comparison chart below illustrating four separate qualifying programs:

Agency Transportation Security Administration Customs and Border Protection
Program TSA Pre✓™ Global Entry NEXUS SENTRI
Website www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck www.globalentry.gov NEXUS SENTRI
Eligibility Required U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents. U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of certain other countries.1 U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, Canadian citizens and lawful permanent residents of Canada. Proof of citizenship and admissibility documentation.
Application Fee $85.00 (5 year membership) $100.00 (5 year membership) $50.00 (5 year membership) $122.25 (5 year membership)
Passport Required No Yes; or lawful permanent resident card No No
Application Process Pre-enroll online, visit an enrollment center; provide fingerprints and verify ID. Pre-enroll online, visit an enrollment center for an interview; provide fingerprints and verify ID. Pre-enroll online, visit an enrollment center for an interview; provide fingerprints and verify ID. Pre-enroll online, visit an enrollment center for an interview; provide fingerprints and verify ID.
Program Experience TSA Pre✓™ expedited screening at participating airports. Expedited processing through CBP at airports and land borders upon arrival in the U.S..Includes the TSA Pre✓™ experience. Expedited processing at airports and land borders  when entering the U.S. and Canada.
Includes Global Entry benefits.Includes the TSA Pre✓™ benefits for U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and Canadian citizens.
Expedited processing through CBP at land borders.
Includes Global Entry and TSA Pre✓™ benefits for U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents.
Ready to apply? Apply for TSA Pre✓™ here Apply for Global Entry here Apply for NEXUS here Apply for SENTRI here

1For a list of eligible citizens, visit www.globalentry.gov

Perhaps my memory fails me; but there was a time where people were vociferous about privacy issues. Imagine voluntarily handing over your personal information to the federal government of the United States — and paying for the privilege, no less. Does that smack of “Big Brother”? At one time, that thought might have been considered ludicrous:

“I sure wonder how people in the United States would have felt 15 years ago to fill out an application and pay specifically for the privilege of enduring a background check and be fingerprinted — just to pass through an airport security checkpoint like we used to do in the ‘old days’…”

Brian Cohen, July 20, 2013

Now there are people who paid for one of the four programs listed in the above chart who say that people should not enjoy the expedited process at airport security checkpoints unless they pay for it as well.

Although I do understand their points of view, this led me to wondering whether or not the Transportation Security Administration spearheaded one of the most brilliant marketing schemes with its Pre✓ program. First, inconvenient policies bordering on draconian were implemented into the screening process at airports. Then the Pre✓ program was implemented to solve this issue for known travelers. Then members of frequent flier loyalty programs who earned elite level status were permitted to be a part of it free of charge on a random basis. Then wounded members of the armed forces were permitted to use it free of charge as of March of 2013. Then it was expanded in July of 2013 to anyone who was willing to pay $85.00 every five years to be a member of the program. Then people who neither paid to be members of the program nor had earned elite level status in a frequent flier loyalty program were randomly selected for expedited screening in designated Pre✓ lanes, which ironically potentially slowed the process down…

…and now being screened without pulling out your trusty bag of liquids — ensure that your liquids are comfortable in their quart-sized bag — or removing your shoes is available for a fee every five years. Some people who once scoffed at and lambasted the Transportation Security Administration and had their taste of the Pre✓ program are now ironically considering going through the process they once eschewed.

Hmm…didn’t everyone have that “luxury” at one time when passing through airport security checkpoints of not removing shoes or pulling out that bag of liquids? Am I missing something here?!?

Oh…that’s right…this is all in the name of “security” to keep us all safe. The skeptic in me keeps suggesting that this is little more than a “money grab” by the federal government…

…but what do I know? I then decided to view the latest debate on FlyerTalk regarding this very issue — and lo and behold, people from both camps are out in full force.

“Letting random people into that lane because they are old, or look nice defeats the entire purpose of the lane, and I’m happy it is ending.” I do not necessarily disagree with FlyerTalk member ScottC, who imparted that thought; but if those same people paid for the privilege, they will not go through the airport security checkpoint any faster or more efficiently.

“Think real hard about the security process – do you really think all of those measures are making flying any safer?” asked FlyerTalk member FlyingUnderTheRadar. I personally do not believe so; and I never did believe so.

“Clueless people in the Pre✓ lane annoys both the TSA officers and the frequent fliers to no end. This is a welcome and long-overdue change.” I believe that FlyerTalk member ThreeJulietTango might be confusing two issues with this thought. The people who may be “clueless” would not typically be the frequent flier with elite level status; but rather the occasional inexperienced traveler who is not familiar with the process. Why penalize the frequent flier — who can usually zip through the process faster than anyone — by now excluding them from the Pre✓ program?

Simple. The government wants more money. It has no competition. It can set the rules. Again, that is the skeptic in me suggesting that line of reasoning.

As I originally wrote in this article pertaining to the idea of allowing pocket knives, bats and clubs aboard commercial aircraft, I am all for ensuring that commercial aviation is as safe and as secure as possible for all who use it, as well as employed by it — but not at the expense of the convenience of passengers, nor at the expense of common sense. Eliminate the liquid restrictions, the shoe removal requirements, the needless harassment, and other seemingly ineffective policies for all airline passengers. Notice that I did not say for free. As I said, we all pay for security at airports with a mandatory fee imposed by the government which is added to our airfare…

…but like certain airlines which eliminate benefits which were once complimentary and later reintroduce them at a price — such as the policy for checked baggage as an example — so does the Transportation Security Administration come along and sell back certain policies which used to be available to all travelers free of charge.

What do you think: is how the Pre✓ program was handled by the Transportation Security Administration a brilliant marketing campaign — or something else entirely?

11 thoughts on “TSA Pre✓: A Brilliant Marketing Campaign?”

  1. Tom says:

    Your information for SENTRI isn’t quite right: it provides Pre-Check, Global Entry, and expedited screening for passengers & vehicles at Mexico-US land entry points.

    You accidentally included Canada entry points and left out the part about vehicle pre-clearance. (Entering from Canada is just Global Entry; vehicles aren’t part of the equation.)

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That is bizarre, Tom: the information came unedited directly from the official Internet web site here…

      http://www.dhs.gov/comparison-chart

      …and the last published date of that information was March 27, 2015…

  2. Noah says:

    First, I agree that we should scale back the “security theater” and focus on real risks, not spending boatloads so an unhappy, poorly trained TSA employee with no power of arrest and no performance measures harass grandma until she takes off her shoes. Too many people have access to walk around the checkpoint with inadequate training and background checks (employees), and there is no evidence that this system really makes us safer. Even things like human trafficing, where airport secruity could have a positive impact, is ignored in favor of a blacklight which can be beaten by high school fake IDs. We should dump devices that are slow and expensive and work to streamline the entire process.

    That being said, assuming we aren’t changing airport security anytime soon, I don’t think non-pre members should be in the lane. It is not because “I paid and you didn’t” but because the value of the line is speed. There was a time when the line was empty, now it isn’t. There is finally enough people enrolled to stop the Pre checkpoints from being empty, so adding slow people in hurts everyone – it is annoying to Pre customers and TSA agents, and confusing for the passengers who have different experiences each time they fly.

    Is it a marketing ploy? Well, a lot of people have their applications paid for by airlines or credit cards. The cost to process a Pre person is likely lower (faster, fewer machines), so govt collects fees and then again has lower costs, so you would think they would want as much pre as possible, paid or unpaid. But airport security still runs at a deficit, so in my view it is a cost problem more than a revenue problem. This isn’t like airlines fees as you suggest since the Pre process is not pre 9/11. There is the background check process which did not exist before. Who should pay for that? You pay for other government services like a drivers license, why is this different?

    Eventually, we will hopefully see the balance of Pre:Regular lanes shift, and airlines will hopefully introduce elite Pre lines. But only thing slower to change than airlines is government, so I guess we are out of luck.

  3. Robert says:

    Neither TSA or CBP is making any money on these programs. They still have to pay someone to manually review the applications, review any background check documents, and then do the interview plus take the fingerprints. At some point, CBP may be able to save money by reducing staffing at border crossings and TSA may be able to save money by not needing as many fancy screening machines, but neither of these benefits are likely to materialize anytime soon.

  4. Tom says:

    Brian: Yes, to be sure, but your information is still wrong because you didn’t read far enough down. I don’t intend to be mean about this, but you actually do have do 3 or 4 minutes of research. SENTRI differs from Global Entry solely in that it enables you to drive your car in from Mexico w/o a full border stop, i.e., expedited reentry into the US. It has zippo to do with Canada beyond giving you Global Entry participation (which works everywhere at all border stations as you already know).

    Note, by the way, that the only SENTRI interview points are in southern California, Arizona and Texas — for the reason stated above. (I wonder why New Mexico got left out?) You pay extra for SENTRI in part because they have to register your car & license plates.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You are not being mean at all, Tom. I prefer that you bring this to my attention; and I appreciate it.

      Even the links to the official Internet web site of SENTRI were incorrect and broken from the source to which I linked, Tom. I have corrected those.

      Thank you.

  5. John says:

    Brian, interesting article, and I think you are right about the problem. Of course for many it is a matter of ROI – for a fee we will get a faster and less invasive airport experience. I do have a question about the comparison chart. If I read it correctly, it looks like the best overall value for quicker screening procedures at airports is Nexus, at “only” $10/yr for 5 years. Does this sound right, as Nexus includes both Global Entry AND TSA Pre at ALL airports offering those services?

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      If the source from where the information for the chart is correct, then the answer seems to be yes, John:

      http://www.dhs.gov/comparison-chart

      Additional information pertaining to Nexus can be found here:

      http://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/nexus

      “Individuals approved to participate in NEXUS receive photo identification cards that allow them to receive expedited passage at NEXUS-dedicated lanes at the land borders (both into the U.S. and Canada), NEXUS kiosks at airports when entering Canada, at Global Entry kiosks when entering the U.S. (both in the U.S. and at Preclearance locations) and by calling a marine telephone reporting center in the marine environment to report their arrival into the United States and Canada.

      NEXUS applicants only need to submit one application and one fee. Applicants may apply on-line via the CBP Global On-Line Enrollment System (GOES) website. Qualified applicants are required to travel to a NEXUS Enrollment Center for an interview. If approved for the program, a photo identification card will be mailed to the member in 7-10 business days. NEXUS members who are U.S. citizens, U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents, or Canadian citizens are also eligible for TSA Precheck.”

  6. wise2u says:

    if the $5.60 fee covers security, how about they end the 9/11 fee?!? they originally gave this to airports so they could start using security and buy equipment to replace the military presence in the airport…but as time moved on this became income for the airports and in a large way subsidized their budgets for many other things beside new machines or security….but once an airline or airport gets used to an income source they will never give it up willingly.

  7. Tom says:

    Yes, NEXUS is by far the best value! The downside? There seem to be two. First, you can only get it at Canada-US border stations since both countries have to approve you (i.e., the interview places are inconveniently located for most people). Second, Canada is apparently a slight bit stricter when it comes to approving you (e.g., a DUI is only a 50% or so deal killer for Global Entry; for the NEXUS it’s more like 100%). The first downside is the driver for most people, and so they get Global Entry and pay the $50 more. Like me.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I just learned something new.

      Thank you for that information, Tom.

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