Monday, March 21, 2016

Alaska Airlines offers use of frequent flier miles for TSA Pre-Check program

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines has claimed the distinction of becoming the first airline to allow members of its frequent flier program to use accrued miles to pay the application fee for the TSA Pre-Check program.

Under a partnership between Alaska (NYSE:ALK) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Mileage Plan members can, through April 30, redeem 10,000 miles to cover the TSA Pre-Check application fee of $85. Once approved, the Known Traveler Number issued through the program will provide travelers access to the Pre-Check lanes at security checkpoints for five years.

TSA Pre-Check at SEA
Travelers with access to the Pre-Check lanes do not need to remove belts, shoes or light outerwear. Computers and tablets need not be removed from their cases and bags containing 3-1-1 compliant liquids need not be removed from carry-on luggage, making for a much quicker and smoother trip through security.

I found the process of applying for the credential fairly simple.

While a TSA Pre-Check credential is excellent for travelers who primarily travel domestically, those who travel internationally might find greater value in the Global Entry program operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

For a non-refundable application fee of $100 – just $15 more than TSA Pre-Check – the program provides approved travelers expedited clearance through U.S. Customs upon returning to the U.S. from overseas, access to the NEXUS and SENTRI lanes when returning to the U.S. from Canada and Mexico, respectively, as well as access to TSA’s Pre-Check lines. A Trusted Traveler Number obtained through the Global Entry program is also good for five years.

Travelers interested in the Global Entry program can visit the Customs and Border Protection web site to start the Global Entry application process.

While Alaska Airlines and TSA deserve kudos for their innovative partnership, which will doubtless raise awareness of TSA’s Pre-Check program, travelers should calculate the value they receive before redeeming their miles. In this case, it is a very simple calculation: Using 10,000 miles to pay an $85 charge means each mile has a value of 0.85 cents.

For comparison, I investigated using miles to book a sample round-trip flight between Seattle (SEA) and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) in early April. The information obtained from Alaska’s website showed that it would take between 25,000 and 42, 500 miles, depending on the flights chosen, for a ticket that would cost around $616 if purchased with cash. That means each frequent flier mile has a value of between 1.5 cents and 2.5 cents.

Given the value calculation, I would recommend simply paying cash for the Pre-Check application. However, we each make our own decision based on our own circumstances, so those wanting to redeem their Mileage Plan miles need to follow these steps:
  1. Email TSAredemption@alaskaair.com by April 30, 2016 with your name and Mileage Plan number.
  2. Within 72 hours, Alaska will deduct 10,000 miles from your account and send you an email with your authorization code.
  3. Apply for TSA Pre-Check at https://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/apply and schedule your screening appointment. Customers applying are responsible for ensuring they are Pre-Check-eligible by visiting TSA’s web page on the topic
Be sure to print out the email received in reply and take it, along with proof of citizenship status, to the TSA screening appointment that will be scheduled. The authorization code in the email will prove that Mileage Plan miles have been used to pay the application fee.

Additional information on the TSA Pre-Ccheck program as well as full terms and conditions of the program are available at www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photo by Carl Dombek
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