Skipping to the front of the TSA checkpoint can make the travel experience much less stressful and can sometimes be the difference between making your flight or not. While most passengers are subject to widely varying wait times to go through airport security, there are a few ways you can speed up this process and better predict how far in advance you need to arrive at the airport.
Both TSA PreCheck and Clear are programs that help expedite the security screening process, but there are a few differences to consider when deciding which is best for you. And you might even be interested in both. Here’s a look at what each program offers, how to apply, and how to get discounts or fees reimbursed.
TSA PreCheck is a government run program, which requires you to pass a background check. It’s part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler Programs. If you have TSA PreCheck, you can register your Known Traveler Number with participating airlines when you book your flight and have access to the TSA PreCheck expedited security line.
This will not only give you a shorter line at the security checkpoint, but you’ll also have an easier time going through security. When traveling with TSA PreCheck, you
- Don’t need to remove your shoes or belt if they won’t set off metal detectors
- Can leave laptops and travel-sized liquids in your bag
- Can usually walk through a metal detector instead of full body scanners
Where Can You Use TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is available at more than 200 U.S. airports and a total of 80 airlines work with TSA PreCheck. This covers most commercial flights in the U.S. You can check this map to find out if your airport is available.
Who is Eligible and How to Apply for TSA PreCheck?
TSA Precheck is available to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. To apply, fill out an online application and schedule an appointment at one of the 380+ enrollment centers where they will complete your background check.
Children under 12 are allowed to join you in the TSA PreCheck line without paying for membership.
How Much Does TSA PreCheck Cost?
There is an application fee of $85 to enroll in TSA PreCheck. Once enrolled, your membership is valid for five years and can be renewed online.
There are several credit cards that issue credits for TSA PreCheck charges. Some of the most popular include the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Platinum Card from American Express, and Capital One Venture Rewards. The TSA lists over 30 cards and loyalty programs that cover the application fee or allow it to be paid with miles. If you do a Google search, you’ll find even more cards that will issue credits of up to $100 to cover the cost of either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.
What About Global Entry?
Global Entry is another Trusted Traveler Program that expedites the customs and border screening when you enter the U.S., and as a bonus, it includes TSA PreCheck. Global Entry costs $100 and is also good for five years. In short, get TSA PreCheck if you only travel domestically. However, if you have a passport and travel internationally —even occasionally—getting Global Entry is well worth the extra $15.
Clear is a privately run program that allows you to expedite the process of verifying your identity at airports and venues across the U.S. It does this by using biometric data such as your eyes and face to confirm your identity rather than having an airport official check your ID.
Once verified, a Clear representative escorts you to the front of the TSA screening line. It allows you to skip the line at security checkpoints (where available), but does not give you the same benefits of TSA PreCheck regarding removing your shoes, belt, laptop, liquids, etc. Of course, if you also have TSA PreCheck, you’ll be able to use those special checkpoints and save time if the PreCheck line happens to be long.
Another perk of Clear is that it allows you to add Health Pass in order to link your COVID-19 vaccine status or test results, which can streamline the process to verify both your identity and health status when entering venues that require this information.
Where Can You Use Clear?
Clear is currently available at 50+ airports, stadiums, and other venues around the U.S. It’s a nice perk to be able to use at a few popular sports and music venues such as Madison Square Garden and Banc of California Stadium in addition to flying any airline at major airports around the U.S. However, it is not nearly as widespread as TSA PreCheck.
If you’re flying from a smaller airport, even in some medium sized cities, like San Diego, there won’t be a Clear lane available to bypass the TSA security line. It seems to only be available at larger airports for now. For a complete list of Clear locations, check out this map.
Who is Eligible and How to Apply for Clear?
Clear is available for U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents over the age of 18. To apply, you can register online and then complete the process at a Clear checkpoint. You’ll simply need to answer a few questions, scan your fingerprints and eyes, and show your ID.
How Much Does Clear Cost?
Annual membership costs $179 and you can add up to three adult family members to your account for $50 each, which allows them to use the Clear Lane even when not traveling together. Children under 18 are free and do not require enrollment, but must be traveling with an adult member to use the Clear lane.
Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus frequent flyer program members get discounted rates. Just by signing up as a general frequent flyer member for free, annual Clear membership drops to $119, while silver status and above or certain co-branded credit card holders only pay $109. Top elite status members, Delta’s Diamond Medallion or United’s Premier 1K, receive free membership.
Students are also able to receive discounted rates of $50/year by enrolling with a valid student email address. Currently, the only other way to get your fees reimbursed is if you hold the American Express Green Card, which refunds $100, or either the Platinum or Business Platinum Card from American Express, which both refund up to the total cost of $179.
Related: The Best TSA Approved Luggage Locks
Which is Better: TSA PreCheck or Clear?
Comparing cost and usefulness, I’d say it’s a no brainer that TSA Precheck is a much more valuable program than Clear. If you’re going to choose one or the other, I would, hands down, choose TSA PreCheck since its fee equates to $17/year compared to $179/year for Clear. Plus, you’ll be able to use TSA PreCheck at several more airports and it actually makes the physical screening process much more seamless. Better yet, if you travel internationally, get Global Entry, which includes TSA PreCheck.
However, there are some reasons to add Clear in addition to TSA PreCheck, especially if you are able to have the fees covered by a credit card. If you’re a season ticket holder for one of the sports stadiums that has Clear lanes, having a Clear membership could save you a lot of time throughout the season. Plus, although rare, the TSA PreCheck security line can sometimes be a little long and having Clear would allow you to jump to the front.
In any case, if you have TSA PreCheck and don’t frequent the sports and entertainment venues available to Clear, I find it hard to justify Clear’s high annual membership fee if you’re paying for it outright. The TSA PreCheck line is almost never more than a 5-minute wait so the typical amount of time you’ll save with Clear at the airport won’t amount to much for TSA PreCheck members.