After checking your luggage, getting through security, and finding your gate, you settle down for a few minutes of rest before your flight.
But how are you supposed to relax when it’s noisy, your seat is dirty and uncomfortable, and the airport WiFi isn’t working?
You glance across the terminal and see a group of people relaxing in a lounge, separate from the noise and chaos of the terminal. If only you could somehow join this elite group of people, all the madness of the airport would fade away. (more…)
I mean, of course, it’s great that it keeps us safe while flying, but going through airport security is an experience that feels like purgatory. This is especially true at large, busy airports such as ATL and LAX, where it can routinely take over an hour just to get through security screening.
However, there is a way to make airport security faster and less frustrating. It’s a program called TSA PreCheck. In this article, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about the PreCheck program. We’ll cover what TSA PreCheck is, why it’s worth it, and how to apply for it.
Let’s get started!
What Is TSA PreCheck?
To understand TSA PreCheck, you need to understand the goal of airport security. The TSA’s main goal is to ensure that no one brings weapons or other dangerous items onto airplanes. They, therefore, conduct a screening process that consists of x-raying your luggage and having you step into a body scanner.
However, the reality is that most travelers have no intention of committing a crime or bringing prohibited items onto an airplane.
In recognition of this, the TSA created a program called PreCheck. The goal of this program is to identify “low risk” travelers and allow them to pass through airport security more quickly and with less screening.
Sounds great, right? As you’ll see in the next section, it’s even better than you imagine.
Why You Should Get TSA PreCheck
So what exactly are the benefits of TSA PreCheck? When you’re a PreCheck member, you get to do the following when going through airport security:
Walkthrough a metal detector instead of standing inside a body scanner.
Note that the main benefit of the above isn’t (necessarily) getting through airport security faster. While the process tends to be faster (because people who have PreCheck are usually regular air travelers), the PreCheck lines have gotten longer as more people discover the program.
The real benefit to PreCheck is all the hassle and frustration it saves you. You don’t have to awkwardly try to remove your belt and shoes while also trying to place your bags into the x-ray machine, for instance.
Going through airport security becomes an (almost) dignified experience, and that’s more than worth the money in our opinion.
TSA PreCheck Application Steps
Applying for TSA PreCheck is a simple process. To start, you’ll need to complete an online application. This application will ask you for some basic information, including your name, birth date, address, and phone number. It only takes about 5 minutes.
After you’ve entered your information, you’ll be able to schedule an appointment at one of the 380+ enrollment centers across the United States. Visit this page to find an enrollment center near you.
During your appointment, you’ll pay an $85 application fee, get fingerprinted, and receive a background check. The appointment should only take around 10 minutes.
After your appointment, just wait for an email from the TSA letting you know if you’ve been approved. Assuming the TSA approves you for PreCheck, they’ll mail you a document with your Known Traveler Number (KTN).
Now, all you have to do is add your KTN to your flight information when booking. You can usually save this number to your frequent flyer account(s) so that you don’t have to enter it each time you book.
When you enter your KTN when booking a flight, you’ll get a boarding pass that says “TSA PreCheck” on it. This is what you’ll use to go through the PreCheck security line. You don’t need any additional cards or documents (aside from the usual valid ID).
How to Get TSA PreCheck for (Almost) Free
You have to pay an $85, non-refundable application fee when you apply for TSA PreCheck. Even if the TSA rejects your application, you won’t be able to get this fee back.
However, there is a way to get reimbursed for your application fee. If you use one of the following travel credit cards to pay your PreCheck application fee, you can receive a statement credit:
Of course, you’ll still have to pay the annual fee for these cards. But the $85 statement credit can do a lot to offset that fee.
TSA PreCheck FAQ
To conclude this article, here are the answers to some common questions about TSA PreCheck.
1. Is the TSA PreCheck application fee refundable?
No, it isn’t. This is why we strongly encourage you to pay the application fee with a travel credit card that will reimburse you.
2. How long is TSA PreCheck good for?
TSA PreCheck is valid for 5 years. And you can also renew your membership once those 5 years are up. The TSA will send you a reminder that your membership is about to expire, though we also recommend putting it on your calendar so you don’t forget.
3. What’s the difference between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry?
Some people confuse the two, but TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are different programs.
Global Entry is a program of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows you to go through expedited border control and customs at select airports. TSA PreCheck, meanwhile, lets you go through expedited security screening for domestic flights.
However, Global Entry members automatically get TSA PreCheck as well. For this reason, applying for Global Entry is a better deal if you plan to travel internationally. You can learn more about Global Entry in this guide.
4. Who is eligible to apply for TSA PreCheck?
U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents are eligible to apply for TSA PreCheck. Note that certain criminal offenses may make you ineligible for the program. You can learn more about PreCheck eligibility requirements here.
5. Can my children go through TSA PreCheck with me?
If your child is 12 or younger, they may accompany you through the TSA PreCheck line as long as you have a PreCheck indicator on your boarding pass.
If your child is 13 or older, then they’ll either need to go through the standard security line or apply for PreCheck. You can learn more here.
Get Through Airport Security Faster with PreCheck
TSA PreCheck can save you both time and hassle during your next trip to the airport. To start enjoying the benefits of TSA PreCheck, apply here.
Getting back into the United States after an international trip is an unpleasant process. You have to stand in long lines, answer endless questions from border control officers, and generally waste a lot of time.
However, there is a way to avoid much of this frustration. It’s a program called Global Entry, and it can allow you to re-enter the United States more quickly and with less hassle.
In this guide, we’ll look at everything you need to know about the Global Entry program, from how much it costs to how to apply. That way, you can skip the lines when you return from your next international trip. (more…)
If you’ve never heard of round the world tickets, you may be missing out. Round the world tickets (also known as an “around the world ticket” or just “RTW”) allows you to fly to many destinations in one trip, often more cheaply than buying tickets individually.
But is buying an RTW ticket worth it? And how the heck do you buy one, anyway? In this guide, we’ll show you everything you need to know. We’ll cover what RTW tickets are, how they work, and whether or not you should buy one for your next trip. (more…)
The pass allows a companion (spouse, mother, friend, favorite blogger) to fly free with you when you fly on Southwest.
And unlike many other airlines, Southwest does not make the rules super confusing. In fact, the process is fairly straightforward:
Once a person earns the Companion Pass (how to earn it is discussed below) they will designate the individual they want as their companion.
The Companion Pass arrives in the mail.
When the person is booking their tickets online, there is an option to choose to use the Companion Pass. When the person is booking over the phone, they simply have to tell the representative they want to use the Companion Pass.
The companion flies for free.
About as easy as it gets, right?
Here’s a closer look at how you can earn the Companion Pass:
How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass in 2020
Technically, there are two different ways to earn the Companion Pass:
By flying 100 qualifying one-way flights with Southwest in a calendar year.
Earn 110,00 Southwest points in one calendar year.
Since 99% of people won’t fly enough on Southwest to earn it the first way, we will focus on how to earn 110,000 Southwest points in one calendar year.
At first glance, this may seem difficult, but in fact, it’s not hard AT ALL – below are all the options for earning 110,000 Southwest points in one calendar year.
Option 1: Open Two Southwest Credit Cards
Getting the Companion Pass is so easy because Chase is currently offering three different Southwest credit cards that EACH earn you Southwest points that count toward the Companion Pass.
The amount of points each credit card earns changes throughout the year, but you can generally get these cards with bonuses between 25-60k.
All you have to do is open up two of these credit cards and you’ll be at 110k Southwest points (and the Southwest Companion Pass) before you know it!
Plus vs. Premier Southwest Credit Cards
The first thing to be aware of is that there are two types of Southwest cards, the Plus and the Premier. These cards differ slightly:
The Plus has an annual fee of $69 and offers 3,000 Southwest points as an anniversary bonus each year you keep it open. Also, it charges a foreign transaction fee of 3%.
The Premier has an annual fee of $99 and offers 6,000 Southwest points as an anniversary bonus each year you keep it open. It has no foreign transaction fee, so you pay nothing extra when you use it abroad.
The second thing to understand is that Chase offers both a personal and a business version of the Southwest Premier card.
That means there is a Plus personal card, a Premier personal card, and a Premier business card — three opportunities to make the Southwest Companion Pass yours!
To ensure that you get the sign-up bonus for both cards (more than enough points to qualify for the Companion Pass), we recommend opening both a business and a personal card.
Since one is a personal card and one is a business card, you can apply for them at the same time without issues getting approved.
It is possible to reach the necessary number of points by opening two personal Southwest credit cards, but we don’t recommend it, as Chase is unlikely to approve an application for two personal credit cards so close together.
If you only get approved for one Southwest credit card, or just want to apply for one of the cards, don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to rack up points towards your Southwest Companion Pass.
Just a quick (but very important) heads-up: Not all the ways that you can get Southwest Rapid Rewards points to count towards the Companion Pass, so be careful.
For example, buying 6,000 Southwest points WILL NOT count towards the Southwest Companion Pass, nor will transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points directly to Southwest. Transferring points from hotel loyalty programs was also cut out of the equation early in 2017.
Option 2: Spend with the Southwest Credit Card
For each dollar you spend, you’ll earn one Southwest point, so if you spend $6,000, you’ll earn 6k points!
Plus, any Southwest flights you purchase on the card earn you an additional point, making it that much easier to rack up those Rapid Rewards points! For instance, if you use your Southwest credit card to buy a $300 ticket, you’ll earn 600 points instead of just the regular 300.
I’d recommend this for anyone who has a big purchase planned or plenty of monthly expenses that you can pay with a credit card.
Your regular monthly spending could earn you your Southwest Companion Pass in no time!
Option 3: Book Hotels Through Southwest Hotels
If you are planning any travel in the near future, consider booking your hotel through Southwest Hotels.
The base rates for points will count towards your Southwest Companion Pass.
Generally, you’ll earn one point per dollar spent on hotels. This isn’t bad, but we can do better — some hotels give you up to 10k points!
For instance, a quick search for a one night stay in Las Vegas shows many hotels with 1-2k Rapid Rewards points per night. A $254 night at The Palazzo will earn you 7,000 Rapid Rewards points when you book it with your Southwest credit card.
And when you pay for the hotel with your Southwest credit card, and you’ll earn an additional two points per dollar. Meaning that, in the above example, your total earnings would be ($254 x 2) + 7,000 = 7,508 points.
Option 4: Shop Through the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal
Everyone shops online – so why not earn something for it?
There are lots of stores on the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal that you probably already shop at, so make sure you visit those shops through the portal and earn points towards your Southwest Companion Pass for buying what you were already going to buy!
Earn Rapid Rewards points at websites like Restaurant.com, Home Chef, Shutterstock, Bass Pro Shops, Lord & Taylor, Tumi, Apple, and Nike.
Buying a new iPad Pro? That’s 650 points towards your Southwest Companion Pass.
Buying $100 worth of clothes for the kids at JCPenny? That’s three points per dollar equalling 300 points!
The best part is that you can double dip when you pay with your Southwest credit card. This means iPad Pro purchase has turned into 1300 Rapid Rewards points and the clothing from JCPenney has become 400 points.
All of these points count towards your Southwest Companion Pass!
There are hundreds of websites listed, so make sure you check the Rapid Rewards portal before you click “buy” and you’ll be well on your way to the Southwest Companion Pass!
Option 5: Go out to Eat with Rapid Rewards Dining
If you go out to eat a lot, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to earn points towards the Southwest Companion Pass.
Signing up for Rapid Rewards Dining Program will earn you up to three points per dollar towards your Southwest Companion Pass at participating restaurants.
That means a $20 dinner would net you 60 Rapid Rewards points!
If you use your Southwest credit card, you can double dip and earn even more!
Your $20 dinner just turned into 80 Rapid Rewards points just by using the right credit card. Who thinks double dipping is bad now?
Option 6: Fly Southwest Airlines
This might seem like a no brainer, but it really does make sense. You’ll earn miles for your fare, plus an additional two points per dollar when you book with your Southwest credit card.
You’ll earn Rapid Rewards points based on the fare you buy:
6 points for Wanna Get Away
10 points for Anytime
12 points for Business Select
If you book a $200 Wanna Get Away fare, you’ll earn 1,200 Rapid Rewards points.
If you book that same fare with your Southwest Credit card, you’ll earn an additional 400 points for a total of 1600 Rapid Rewards points!
A $300 Anytime fare will earn you 3000 Rapid Rewards points (300×10=3000!)
If you’re a little short on Companion Pass qualifying points, spending a little extra on your next Southwest flight could bump you up to two for one travel for the next year!
5 Awesome Southwest Companion Pass Benefits
Still not convinced of the value of the Southwest Companion Pass? There are five things that make the Companion Pass especially awesome. Let’s take a look at them:
1. You Can Use the Pass Unlimited Times
This is not a one-time pass, but instead allows a companion to fly free with you EVERY TIME you fly Southwest.
Yes, you are hearing me correctly: EVERY SINGLE TIME you fly Southwest.
Theoretically, I could fly Southwest every day and my companion would fly free with me each and every time.
2. The Companion Pass Can Remain Valid for Up to 2 Years
You may think you are mishearing misreading me, but you aren’t. The Companion Pass is good for the year you earn it and the next calendar year as well.
Example: Let’s say you get your Companion Pass on October 1st. Your Companion Pass will then be good for October, November, and December of 2020 and then all of 2021, for a total of 15 months.
Of course, the way to squeeze maximum value out of it is to get it as early in the year as possible (like January) and then you’d have it for a full two years.
3. Your Companion Flies Completely Free
With most things in life, free doesn’t mean free, and a lot of times there is enough red tape and rules to make the “free” item not even worth it.
This is NOT the case with the Southwest Companion Pass.
In this case, free really does mean free.
The only thing that the companion will be required to pay is a government-mandated September 11th security fee and taxes which is about $5.60 one way.
Other than that, there are no costs for the companion whatsoever.
And in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last two years, you should be aware that bags fly free on Southwest (awesome commercial evidence here, here, and here), so the companion won’t even have to worry about that cost!
4. You Can Use the Companion Pass on Both Paid and Award Flights
Whether you pay out of pocket for your flight or use some of the Southwest miles you’ve accumulated to get an award ticket, your companion can still fly free with you.
This is basically unheard of in the airline world, as every other companion pass (that I’m aware of) requires the original person to pay for their ticket.
Not on Southwest.
So whether you pay $500 for a last-minute ticket, $150 for their normally cheap regular fares, or fly free yourself using your Southwest miles, your companion can come along as well.
What’s better than one person flying free on Southwest?
TWO PEOPLE FLYING FREE ON SOUTHWEST!
5. You Can Change Your Designated Companion Up to 3 Times Per Year
After you originally designate your companion you can change it and get a Companion Pass reissued with another person’s name up to three times a calendar year each year you maintain your Companion Pass.
This can be done instantly over the phone and is an awesome perk that often gets overlooked among all the other amazing things about the pass.
I’ll give you a good example of how I plan to use this to my advantage.
Naturally, Heather (my wife) will be my companion on many of my trips.
However, instead of designating her as my original companion, I plan on designating my best friend Jon because we are planning a trip together down to Florida.
After we take our trip and he flies for free (saving him anywhere between $150-300), I’ll call in and ask to designate Heather as my new companion.
Then, we’ll use the Companion Pass to fly all over this awesome country of ours.
You can even designate a new companion (i.e. Jon), change it to someone else (Heather) and then change it back to the original person (Jon).
The Southwest Companion Pass is an amazing, amazing perk and even those who only occasionally fly domestic should consider it. Southwest is expanding its route network every year with flights to the Caribbean and Latin America already happening.
For anyone who flies a decent amount (or would if it was cheaper), it’s an absolute must.
Grab a personal and business card, find a good companion, and experience the joys of free travel!
If you’ve got the Southwest Companion Pass, weigh in below. Is my love for it justified? Where have you gone with it? If you don’t have it, how do you plan on getting it? Fire away!
The goal of this FAQ is to serve as a guide for anyone (from total newbie to veteran) who has questions about how to use and redeem their frequent flyer miles to book a ticket. I’ve attempted to arrange the questions in an order from the most basic to the more advanced while also keeping some semblance of continuity between the topics discussed.
I want this to be a “living document”, so if you have any other questions I’ve missed or things you want explained, please ask, either by commenting below or by emailing. I’m looking to continuously add to the list, so don’t be shy!
1. Since I have 50,000 miles, that means I can fly 50,000 actual miles, right?
I start with this basic question because that is EXACTLY what I thought when I first heard about frequent flyer miles. Turns out, I was completely wrong. The term “miles” does not equate to the actual miles you can fly, and should really be thought of as “points”. A certain amount of points will equate to a certain level of prize (free flight), but it does not necessarily correlate with the actual number of miles that flight will be.
For example, an economy class roundtrip ticket between Philadelphia and San Francisco will cost 25,000 miles but the distance you will actually be flying is about 5,000 miles roundtrip.
2. How do I determine how many miles I need to fly to a specific destination?
Each airline has different charts that determine how many miles you’ll need to fly to and from each place. The best place to go to determine how many miles you’ll need to fly from place to place is milez.biz which will show you the miles you need for each airline. This is much faster than checking each airline’s individual award chart.
3. Will I pay more to fly business class or first class than economy class?
Yes. How much more depends on the airline. Milez.biz will show you the prices for economy class, business class, and first class.
4. Is a first class redemption worth it?
That’s up to you. Some people prefer to make their flights as comfortable as possible. Others prefer to get as many trips out of their frequent flyer miles as possible.
5. If I have 50,000 American Airlines miles, does that mean I can only use them on American Airlines flights? (substitute American Airlines with any other airline you wish).
No, not usually. Most airlines are part of one of the three major alliances; OneWorld, Star Alliance, or Sky Team. To see what airlines are a part of what alliance, see this Wiki page.
If the airline that you have miles with is part of an alliance, you will be able to use those miles to fly on the other partners in that alliance.
For example, lets say you want to fly from New York to Madrid and you have AA miles. AA does not operate this route, but Iberia does. Iberia and AA are both part of the OneWorld Alliance, and therefore, you can use your AA miles to fly with Iberia.
6. Which airline alliance should I focus on?
The short answer is, it depends. If you live near a major airline’s hub, Delta’s Atlanta hub is a good example, then focusing on SkyTeam is a good idea because you will have access to many more flights out of Atlanta.
If you don’t live near a hub for a major airline, then finding the right alliance is a little trickier and it becomes more dependent upon where your dream destination is!
7. If I am using miles from one airline but flying on a partner airline, which airline do I actually book the tickets with?
You will always book the tickets (either online or over the phone) with the airline that you have the miles with, not the airline you will actually be flying.
If you are using AA miles but flying on Iberia, you will book your tickets with AA.
8. If I am using miles from one airline but flying on a partner airline, whose award chart do I use to determine how many miles it will cost?
You always use the airline whose miles you are using to determine how many miles a trip will cost, not the airline(s) that you will actually be flying on.
If you are using AA miles but flying on Iberia, you will use AA’s mileage chart to determine how much it costs.
9. What is the difference between a “zone-based” award chart and a “distance-based” award chart?
Most airlines operate on a zone-based award chart. The world is divided up in to sections, such as North America, Europe, Middle East, etc. Travel from one zone to another is a certain amount, no matter what city you leave from or arrive at.
For example, you would pay the same amount to fly from Vancouver to Rome as you would to fly from New York to London because each flight would be leaving from the same zone (North America) and arriving in the same zone (Europe).
A few frequent flyer programs operate a distance based award chart (with British Airways being the most notable). With a distance-based award chart, you are paying based on how many miles you are actually flying.
Using the above example, a ticket between Vancouver and Rome would cost many more miles than a ticket between New York and London because it is twice as far.
10. Can I book one-way award tickets or must I always book roundtrip?
This totally depends on the airline whose miles you are using.
In the U.S., the major carriers (American, United, Delta, and Southwest) all allow one way award redemptions.
11. How do I find availability if I want to fly on partner airlines?
Most airlines’ websites will only show availability for their flights, not for all their partner’s flights. If you have AA miles and simply go to AA.com to search for availability, you won’t be seeing all the possible options.
The best way to see availability on for all OneWorld partner’s is to use Qantas’s website. If you’ve never done this before, first check out my step by step instructions and video tutorial. Remember, you won’t actually book through Qantas’s website, but you will be able to find flights you want and then call the airline whose miles you are using and tell them the times and numbers of the flights you want.
12. Are there any specials or discounts that airlines offer on using frequent flyer miles?
American Airlines offers off-peak rates to certain destinations throughout the year. To read all about the value of traveling off-peak, the rules regarding off-peak travel, and what destinations are available, click here.
Flying Blue (the frequent flyer program of KLM, Air France, and others) also offers 50% off certain destinations all year round. Every 2 months, they’ll change the destinations, so continue to check back. American Express Membership Rewards point will transfer to Flying Blue at a 1:1 ratio.
13. When I use frequent flyer miles, will my flight be free?
No, you’re flight will not be completely free, but it will usually be a whole heck of a lot cheaper than paying for a ticket!
They are not completely free because you will be required to pay the “taxes and fees” associated with your flight. Unfortunately, there is no set rule of how much these will cost, as they can range from $5-$700+.
14. How can I pay less taxes and fees on an award ticket?
The two main culprits for why these prices can vary so wildly are the amount of the airport tax (London Heathrow is notorious for having high taxes) and whether an airline charges a fuel surcharge as part of the “fee”.
It is difficult to avoid the airport tax charged unless you decide to fly somewhere else. Usually, the amount you’ll pay in taxes isn’t enough to justify going out of your way to find another airport.
Fuel surcharges are another story, as they make up the bulk of the money charged on award tickets. To avoid them, you must use miles for carriers that don’t charge them (like United) or fly on routes that where they are not charged. To learn all about fuel surcharges and the way to avoid these like the plague, start here.
15. Can I combine frequent flyer miles from different airlines?
No. If you have frequent flyer miles 50,000 American Airlines miles and 50,000 United miles you can not combine them to make 100,000 miles. Each airline’s miles must always be kept separate.
16. Can I transfer my mom/dad/sister/brother/friend’s miles in to my account?
If the miles are from the same airline, then yes, you can transfer (or share) them between accounts. However, most airlines will charge you a substantial fee to do this. For example, AA charges $10 for every 1,000 miles plus a $30 fee for each transfer. This is almost always a terrible value for your money and miles!
There are a few airlines that let you “pool” your miles together and have household account, as long as you everyone lives under the same roof. An example of this is British Airways, which you can read more about here.
17. Can I use my miles to book a ticket for someone else, or vice versa?
Yes, you can use miles to book tickets for someone else. The name on frequent flyer account that has miles in it DOES NOT have to be the same as the passenger.
18. Can’t I just buy airline miles for an award flight?
Yes, you can buy miles, but they are priced at a point that will make the award flight cost more than you would pay for the flight with cash.
The only time I recommend buying airline miles is when you need to top up your balance to get those last few miles towards your award flight. Otherwise, you are just spending more money than you are saving!
19. What is an “open-jaw”?
An “open-jaw” is when you arrive in one city but leave from a different city. An open-jaw itinerary would look like this:
Departing flight: New York to London
Returning flight: Paris to New York
You originally arrived in London but your return flight left from Paris, a different city.
20. What is a “stop-over”?
A stop-over is when you spend more than 24 hours in a city on international flights.
Whether you are allowed a stop-over or not depends on what airline you are redeeming miles with.
An example of a stopover itinerary would be:
New York-London (stay 5 days as a stopover)-Rome (final destination)
If you are allowed a stop-over, you usually have up to 1 year to stay in the stop-over city before you have to continue on to your final destination. In the above scenario, you could stay in London for up to 364 days before heading to Rome.
I always, always, always recommend people make use of stop-overs if they are able to because this is like getting 2 vacations for the price of one. In the above scenario, you’d be able to visit both London and Rome but only pay the price for one ticket!
21. When does award availability open up?
For most airlines, they will begin releasing award seats 330 day before the flight date. Most airlines do not release all the seats at once, but stagger it over a period of time. If you know for sure that you want a certain flight on certain dates, you should start looking as soon as possible. The 330 day “early bird” gets the worm.
You can also, on occasion find some first class awards very close to departure, sometimes even as close as 24 hours!
22. Do my frequent flyer miles expire?
Yes! But don’t worry, as long as there is some sort of activity, like award redemption or if you earn more miles, your miles are safe.
Different programs’ miles expire at different times, but most programs are between 18-24 months.
FURTHER READING (POSTS HANDPICKED FOR YOU…BY US!)
None of that automatic “read more” stuff you’ll see everywhere else on the internet!
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