After initial estimates of up to $100 in government-imposed charges for enrollment in Registered Traveler programs, the Transportation Security Administration late last month outlined recalibrated costs that bring the fee down to $30.
TSA in early September estimated a cost to the government of about $30 per enrollee for a background check and $70 per enrollee to supplement costs to pay TSA screeners working the lanes at airports. With backlash from industry providers and proponents of the Registered Traveler program, TSA rescinded the $70 security screening charge.
While vendors agreed to the $30 vetting charge, Registered Traveler supporters argued that the extra $70 screening fee should not be incurred unless a greater burden is placed on TSA screeners (BTN, Sept. 25).
TSA reevaluated this fee and agreed with the assessment of the vendors. TSA said it "will not seek cost reimbursement beyond the enrollment fee, until such time that RT screening modifications impact TSA duties, responsibilities, or costs." The clarified charges, as outlined by TSA and private industry suppliers, fall in line with the costs expected by the travel industry.
Following the government's fee adjustment late last month, Verified Identity Pass—which operates a program in Orlando and expects at least four other airports to be operational by the end of November—followed TSA's reassessment by lowering its own price. The vendor, which now is accepting online enrollments for airports in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, New York and San Jose, initially charged customers $79.95 plus a $27 government-imposed fee for background checks. Verified's founder and CEO, Steven Brill, last month said the company would keep its cost to enrollees below the $100 mark, bringing its base fee down to $69.95, while also including the government's $30 vetting charge.
"We want the pricing to be simple and appeal to a broad group of frequent flyers, not just elite flyers," Brill said. "Saying simply that the price will be $99.95 and that we'll absorb the TSA fees, as well as any other fees such as shipping and handling of the cards, is the way to do that."
Brill said the downward move in pricing eliminates a barrier of entry for applicants, noting market research that shows "much more consumer willingness to try the new program when the total cost is below $100. It's also our response to the flexibility the Transportation Security Administration showed in revising downward what it would charge members of the program for providing security-threat vetting associated with their applications."
FLO Alliance, a Registered Traveler consortium that includes Saflink, Microsoft, Johnson Controls and others, said pricing for its FLO Card would not exceed $100 for annual membership.
FLO Alliance late last month began opening online advanced registration, but at press time had yet to sign an airport. However, the Registered Traveler program by design is interoperable, allowing cards to be used at any airport that hosts a Registered Traveler lane. Meanwhile, FLO Alliance said Denver International Airport is a prospect as it is in the process of evaluating vendors.
Unisys, another vendor putting together a Registered Traveler program, also anticipates a cost to travelers below $100. "Unisys has not settled on a final cost for Registered Traveler, but it will be in the range of $75 to $100. This range includes the $30 TSA vetting fee," a spokesperson said.
The clarified cost of Registered Traveler programs comes as a relief to proponents of the program who noted that costs as high as $200 for annual membership would greatly impact the nascent program's desirability.
National Business Travel Association executive director Bill Connors said, "Clearly, as you escalate the price, you're eliminating certain people from participation," he said. "We don't want to see this being some sort of elitist thing just for the rich. The only way this program works effectively is if a lot of people join the RT line, and reduce the size of the regular line."