Which TSA-approved lock is best?
Whether traveling by train from New York to Boston or on a long-haul flight to South Korea, it’s always best practice to take additional security measures with your luggage. It’s not only to prevent thieves from easily picking your bulky Master Lock, but also to ease your mind, knowing that the Transportation Security Administration won’t break the lock if they need to go through your bags.
Each TSA-approved lock has several identifiable features that you should look for. For example, the best TSA-approved lock, the compact TravelMore Combination Lock, has the required red logo and easy-to-read dials.
What to know before you buy a TSA-approved lock
You can find varying types of TSA-approved locks for sale, and it’s really a matter of personal preference which one you should buy. However, like TSA-approved travel bottles, they must fulfill specific requirements to be accepted. Some of the varying types include ones that open with a combination, key or pin.
A combination lock on luggage isn’t like the bulky ones you’d find on school lockers. Rather, there are dials that turn instead of the ones that spin. Since each dial only goes up to nine digits, there are only a limited number of combinations that a thief would have to attempt in order to access the bag’s contents. So if you decide to go with a combination lock, look for ones that offer at least three to four separate dials.
Next, you’ll come across key locks. These use a key that looks like a miniature version of the one for your front door. Because of their size, these keys can be easily lost, but manufacturers typically sell these locks with at least two sets of keys.
Similar to a key lock, you have locks that open with pins. The only difference between the two is the tool.
Many locks market themselves as TSA-approved but aren’t. Using an unapproved lock increases the chance that the TSA will have to break the lock, leaving your bag unsecured.
Safe Skies and Travel Sentry are the two main companies that manufacture approved locks. These ones must have a red torch or a maroon diamond that signals to the TSA officer checking your bag that they can easily use their universal key to open it instead of breaking it and rendering it useless.
Multiple unlocking methods
If you purchase a lock that only opens with a combination or key, you can run into trouble. A combination can get quickly forgotten and a key misplaced. Unfortunately, most TSA-approved combination locks can’t be reset if you ever forget the number. You’ll have to cut off the lock and purchase a new one. Luckily, these locks are relatively inexpensive, so it’s not a major problem if you ever forget your combination.
However, if you purchased a lock with both a key and combination option, even if you forget the combination, you can still use the key. But best practice is to take note of your combination and place it in a safe space if it’s a lock that can’t be reset.
What to look for in a quality TSA-approved lock
Travel sentry symbol
One of the reasons to use a TSA-approved lock is that they don’t have to break it if your luggage needs to be searched. The most important thing to look for on any lock is the Travel Sentry symbol. This symbol alerts the agent searching your bag that it can be opened with their issued universal key.
Compact but sturdy
The best TSA-approved locks are compact and sturdy. Size and shape are important: You don’t want the lock to hook onto the handles of other luggage and cause damage. While the locks may be small, high-quality ones are rugged enough to handle the harsh treatment your luggage goes through to get to your destination.
If you decide to go with a lock that’s not approved, be aware that sometimes the mechanisms within can freeze during travel.
An excellent feature to look for on an approved lock is the Search Alert indicator. Typically, they come built-in, and a red indicator pops up when a TSA agent uses their universal key. You may also find locks with a built-in indicator that shows up as a green block when it’s locked but turns red when opened.
How much you can expect to spend on TSA-approved locks
TSA-approved locks are relatively inexpensive, and you can expect to pay between $8 and $30.
TSA-approved lock FAQ
How can you tell if a lock is TSA-approved?
A. The TSA works with two companies, Safe Skies and Travel Sentry, that provide them with universal keys that allow agents to open the lock without cutting through it. Typically, the first sign that a lock is TSA-approved is the red torch logo for Safe Skies, or the maroon diamond that signals the lock is a Travel Sentry product. Other than that, the packaging should also state that it’s TSA-approved.
How does the TSA open these locks?
A. All approved locks have a particular keyhole at their bottom only accessible with the universal key given to TSA agents. The unique red logo alerts the agents that they can use the key to open and relock your luggage instead of cutting it off.
What are the best TSA-approved locks to buy?
Top TSA-approved lock
What you need to know: Larger than its competitors, this TSA-approved lock from TravelMore is perfect for frequent travelers who need a lock that stands the test of time and multiple journeys.
What you’ll love: Although it’s large, it’s a quality lock that you can easily use for the gym locker or to secure the zippers on any bag. TravelMade has stellar service and responds to any issues that may arise with their locks.
What you should consider: Sometimes the lock sticks.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top TSA-approved lock for the money
What you need to know: If you have a lot of luggage or are forgetful, Forge offers a set of four color-coded locks to help you remember your combination.
What you’ll love: These locks come with a built-in indicator that lets you know if a TSA agent has opened your locks. The contrasting color of the dials allows for an easy-to-read experience to avoid any frustrations that come with having to put in your combination multiple times.
What you should consider: The shackle is short for some bags. It’s always recommended to test it out before purchasing it.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This is the perfect lock for people who want a more secure lock that a thief would have trouble breaking.
What you’ll love: A majority of locks come with three dials. However, that limits the number of possible combinations, potentially making such locks easier to crack. Anvil stepped up and introduced a combination lock with four dials, making it that much more difficult to open. For a small lock, it’s extremely durable and sturdy.
What you should consider: Similar to other metal shackles, it’s shorter and not flexible, meaning that it may not fit all your luggage.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Christopher Lee writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.