Getting through security at an airport is rarely an enjoyable experience — especially when you are in the general line. But with expedited security programs such as TSA PreCheck and CLEAR, you could move through security lines faster and get you on your way to your flight.
But how do these programs work, and what do they cost? Below, we dissect each of these programs to ensure you can make the best decision for your travel needs.
TSA PreCheck vs. CLEAR
It’s worth noting that TSA PreCheck and CLEAR aren’t competitors — they often work best in tandem with one another. They both offer options to shorten wait times, but in their own ways; CLEAR simplifies the documentation check, while TSA PreCheck cuts down the physical security screening.
But whether you should use one, the other, or both together depends on your typical travel habits.
|Cost||$85 for five years||$179 a year|
|Membership term||Five years||One year|
|Application process||Apply online, and then complete a ~10 minute in-person appointment||Apply online, and then finish registering at any CLEAR location in a few minutes|
|Benefits||Expedited airport security screening; no need to remove shoes or certain items from bags||Expedited document checks at airports and stadiums; all identification is completed through biometrics using eyes and fingerprints|
|Locations||200+ domestic airports||60+ domestic airports and stadiums|
|Kids allowed?||Children ages 12 and under can use the PreCheck lane with their parents; older kids must have their own membership||Children under 18 can use the CLEAR lane with their parents; other family can be added for $50/year|
|Discounts available?||Yes, many credit cards offer TSA PreCheck credits||Yes, a few programs offer CLEAR discounts such as:
What is TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is a Trusted Traveler Program that is run and administered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In essence, they want to get you through security faster and easier — and TSA PreCheck is proven to be very effective. In December 2019, 93% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes to complete their security screening.
If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you are eligible to apply. And once you are approved for the TSA PreCheck program, it will make going through airport security a breeze.
First, you will enter the TSA PreCheck line at airport security. This is separate from the general screening line, and is typically much shorter. In addition to the shorter line, you won’t be required to take off your shoes, belt, or light jacket, or remove your laptop or compliant liquids from your bags. If you go through general security screening, you will need to remove these items.
You can get started today by applying on the TSA website, which only takes about five minutes to complete. Then, you will need to visit an enrollment center in person to complete a full background screen and fingerprinting. Once you complete these steps, you will receive your application decision in the mail and via email. If you are approved, you will have TSA PreCheck for five years.
In summary, this program can save you a substantial amount of time and hassle when you’re traveling. The cost is $85 for five years, which is a great deal. However, there are many travel credit cards with TSA PreCheck fee waivers, so consider applying for one of these cards to cover the cost of your stress-free security screening.
What is CLEAR?
CLEAR is a privately owned company that is on a mission to eliminate the need for a physical ID. Their technology focuses on using your biometrics, such as your eyes and fingerprints, to identify who you are. Anyone who is 18 or older and has valid ID can join CLEAR.
When you arrive at airport security, head to a CLEAR kiosk. The machine will check your biometrics to confirm your identity, then you will move through airport security as normal. If you have TSA PreCheck, you can head to that line. If you don’t, you’ll need to move through the standard security line.
The unique part of CLEAR is the variety of places you can use the program. It is available at more than 60 locations nationally, including airports and venues for sporting events and concerts. So if you travel domestically on a regular basis or attend events at major venues with CLEAR, this program could be of value to you.
You can start your application on the CLEAR website (try a 2-month free trial), which takes roughly five minutes to complete. Then, you can finish enrolling in person at any CLEAR location, where you’ll answer a few questions and an employee will record your biometrics. Once you complete these two steps, you will be able to use CLEAR at any of their locations.
CLEAR costs $179 per year, which breaks down to about $15 per month. However, there are several ways to lower the cost of CLEAR through their various programs. At the time of publishing, CLEAR is working with Delta Air Lines and United Airlines to offer their loyal customers discounted rates.
If you are loyal to Delta, the pricing for CLEAR is:
- General members of Delta SkyMiles program: $119/year
- Delta SkyMiles credit cardholders: $109/year
- Delta Silver/Gold/Platinum Medallion members: $109/year
- Delta Diamond Medallion member: Free
If United Airlines is your preferred airline, the cost of CLEAR is:
- General members of United MileagePlus program: $119/year
- United MileagePlus credit cardholders: $109/year
- United Premier Silver/Gold/Platinum members: $109/year
- United Premier 1K members: Free
In addition, college students can earn a discounted rate through the CLEAR Student program.
While all of these discounts are helpful to reduce the cost of CLEAR, there are credit cards that can reduce the price even further. For example, the newly refreshed American Express Green Card comes with a $100 annual statement credit for CLEAR membership. By using the American Express Green Card in combination with a Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus membership, you could reduce your cost to just $19 per year.
What airports are TSA PreCheck and CLEAR available in?
If expediting your airport screening process is your main concern, both of these programs can suit that need.
But keep in mind that not all airports in the United States have these programs implemented. The busiest US airports generally offer both TSA PreCheck and CLEAR, however TSA PreCheck is still much more widely available nationally.
|15 busiest US airports||TSA PreCheck||CLEAR|
|Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL)||Yes||Yes|
|Los Angeles International (LAX)||Yes||Yes|
|Chicago O'Hare International (ORD)||Yes||Yes|
|Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW)||Yes||Yes|
|Denver International (DEN)||Yes||Yes|
|John F. Kennedy International (JFK)||Yes||Yes|
|San Francisco International (SFO)||Yes||Yes|
|Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA)||Yes||Yes|
|McCarran International (LAS)||Yes||Yes|
|Orlando International (MCO)||Yes||Yes|
|Newark Liberty International (EWR)||Yes||Yes|
|Charlotte/Douglas International (CLT)||Yes||Yes|
|Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX)||Yes||Yes|
|George Bush Intercontinental/Houston (IAH)||Yes||Yes|
|Miami International (MIA)||Yes||Yes|
Should you choose TSA PreCheck, CLEAR, or both?
So with all this information, which program should you choose — or are both your best bet? Consider the following circumstances to decide which works best for you.
Review CLEAR first. CLEAR is available in fewer places. If you rarely visit locations where CLEAR is an option, you may not get your money’s worth from the program.
Are you a solo or family traveler? If you often travel solo, airport security may not be very stressful for you. That said, if you detest waiting in line, enrolling in both programs together will shorten your wait as much as feasibly possible.
If you frequently travel with your family, becoming a member of both programs could simplify things. Kids under 12 are welcome in PreCheck lines, and those under 18 can go through CLEAR lines with a parent at no cost. If you have small kids and are constantly juggling IDs, boarding passes, and luggage, membership in both TSA PreCheck and CLEAR could take the stress out of security screenings. (Your spouse will need a paid membership in both programs: $85 for TSA PreCheck and a discounted $50 family price for CLEAR.)
How often do you travel internationally? If you travel internationally on a semi-frequent basis, another expedited security program such as Global Entry may be a better fit for you. Both TSA PreCheck and CLEAR are only available domestically.
CLEAR use at stadiums. If you live near a stadium where CLEAR is available and often attend events there, it may be easier to justify the cost of CLEAR since you’ll get more use from it.
In summary, these programs are not competitors by any means. Many travelers, including myself, have memberships with both programs. The main goal of both is to avoid long wait times. So by having access to TSA PreCheck and CLEAR, you can give yourself a “double insurance” that you will be through security quickly and on your way to your gate.