Airline theft has been on the rise, and securing your luggage with a quality lock is your first line of defense.
A good lock should deter would-be thieves, but should also be accessible to TSA workers. Most of the time, bags only need to be electronically screened. However, sometimes a TSA agent would need to open the case.
TSA-approved locks can be opened with a master key, which is only given to TSA agents. Using a TSA lock ensures that if they need to open the case for security reasons, they aren’t going to have to break it.
You should be aware that no lock is 100% secure. Any lock can be broken into, but a good lock can reduce the odds of that happening.
Below, you’ll find our recommendations for the best TSA locks, as well as how to choose the one suitable for you.
Editor’s Pick: Tarriss TSA Luggage Lock with SearchAlert
These popular locks come in packs of two and have three color variations. They’re 3-digit combination locks with a retractable cable. The flexible cable is not as sturdy as a metal shackle, but it allows the lock to work on different types of bags.
If a TSA agent opened your lock, there’s an indicator that changes from green to red. The TSA agent can’t take their master key back unless they re-lock, and the only way to reset the indicator is to open the lock with the number combination and close it again.
The indicator encourages you to check your belongings before leaving the airport, in case any object went missing during the search.
Another good thing about this lock is that the numbers are large and easy to read, making it good for the elderly and anyone with weak vision.
- Polished appearance
- Flexible cable
- TSA search indicator
- Re-locks after TSA search
- Large, easy-to-read numbers
- 3 digits only, which limits the number of possible combinations
- The cable isn’t very sturdy, may not hold up to frequent traveling
These U-locks use dimple keys instead of single-bitted keys, which makes them much more secure. They come in packs of two, four, six, or eight, and in many vibrant colors.
You can use the same key with several locks in the same pack. Keeping keys can be a hassle, so this, at least, reduces the number of keys you need to carry.
In case searched by the TSA, the TSA agent must re-lock the device to retrieve their master key.
One problem with these locks is that they’re made in batches of 1000. So any key can open any lock in the same batch. It’s highly unlikely that a thief would’ve bought a key from the same batch you have, but it’s enough to unsettle some people.
- Dimple keys
- Sold in a variety of packs and colors
- Reasonably sturdy
- Re-locks after TSA search
- Same key can be used for the entire set
- Locks are identical in batches of 1000
This lock is small compared to the notoriously bulky card key locks. It locks with a metal shackle, which is more secure than a cable, but the U-shape is too small and may not fit some cases.
You can buy these locks in a set of 2 or 4. The same card key fits into all the locks in one set.
The cards come in a variety of combinations for maximum security. The lock is “non-pickable” according to the manufacturer, but you shouldn’t take this literally for any lock. It just means that picking it would be difficult.
Using the lock can be confusing to some people, and there are no instructions available. However, a customer service agent would gladly walk you through it.
If you ever lose your card or lock, the manufacturer can send you one free of charge.
- Small size for a card lock
- Sturdy metal shackle
- Manufacturer offers free lock and card replacements
- Difficult to pick, unlike key locks
- You don’t need to remember a key combination
- Shackle is too small and may not fit some cases
- May be confusing to use, doesn’t come with a manual
How to Choose the Best TSA Lock
There are so many locks on the market, so choosing the right one can be a daunting task. Below, you’ll find some information you should know to make the best purchase.
There are many types of locks, depending on how you open them. Some require an external key of some sort, others make use of a number or word combination.
The oldest type of locks available. These locks are designed to be opened with the appropriate key. This is useful if you aren’t good at remembering number combinations, but you have to be careful not to lose the key.
If the key is lost, there’s always the option to saw the lock open, but it may be a hassle.
These locks use a 3-digit or 4-digit combination. It’s a popular choice among travelers, and you wouldn’t need to worry about losing a key.
Combination locks are great as long as you remember the number. Consider using a meaningful combination, or to keep it written safe somewhere in your wallet or on your phone.
A rarer type of combination locks uses letters instead of numbers, so you can just use a password. For many people, this is easier to remember.
Combination locks are convenient if you need to share access with another person since they don’t need to have a physical key at hand.
Key Card Locks
These locks are a little bit bulky. They use a key card, very similar to the one found in hotel room doors. They’re convenient because you can keep the card in your wallet next to credit cards, IDs, and so on.
Key card locks are a bit more sophisticated, and more expensive than the other types. They’re also less common. Their complexity can be a good deterrent for thieves.
Travel locks can also be categorized by the type of locking mechanism. The most common being the U-lock and the retractable cable lock.
U-locks are the traditional locks with a metal clip. Most of them are key locks, but some can use combinations. They’re very sturdy.
One problem people may have with U-locks is that the clip isn’t flexible. It may not fit into smaller zippers or work with certain bags.
Retractable Cable Locks
Retractable cable locks use a flexible cable instead of the fixed metal clip. The cable isn’t as sturdy as a metal clip, but it’s still good enough for most situations.
The flexibility of the cable allows for a wider variety of applications. You can even use the same lock to attach two bags together. You can also lock bags that don’t quite fit into a traditional padlock.
Steel Cable locks
Cable locks aren’t really “locks” by themselves. They’re a flexible cable that can be fitted into other locks. They can be used in combination with padlocks or retractable cable locks for when you need to attach several objects together and keep them secured.
Cable locks are commonly used to secure bicycles, but they’re useful when traveling as well.
It’s worth noting that a strong pair of handheld wire cutters is enough to cut through most cable locks, so even though they’re good at keeping your bags together, they aren’t very secure by themselves.
No lock is completely secure. Knowing this, using a good lock can still ease your mind and lower the chances of tampering and theft.
If you don’t like having an external key, a combination lock such as the Tarriss TSA Luggage Lock with SearchAlert is a very popular choice. If you don’t mind having an external key, Keyless TSA Approved Luggage Locks is a fun alternative.
For those who prefer traditional padlocks with a key, go for the Forge TSA Approved Travel Luggage Locks.