Although a few months may have passed, I still remember the long, snaking TSA PreCheck lines at Seattle’s airport at the beginning of 2019.
The regular TSA security lines were even worse.
The cause of these ire-inducing delays? The Federal Government shutdown. There were only a handful of TSA agents who showed up to work, so no one was going anywhere fast.
One harried airport employee let me know that it would take an hour to clear security from where I was standing.
With my flight boarding in 45 minutes, I made a snap decision. I got out of the line to sign up for a service that I had heard so much about–CLEAR.CLEAR is a for-profit service that uses your biometric information (fingerprints and iris scans) to speed you through the travel document verification process.
Within 10 minutes, a CLEAR representative:
- Started my application
- Verified my photo identification and credit card details
- Had my irises and fingerprints scanned
- Escorted me to the front of TSA security screening
I received a lot of angry stares from the hundreds of people stuck in the TSA PreCheck line, but it didn't bother me. I made my flight with time to spare, and I’ve been a convert ever since.
What Is CLEAR?
CLEAR is a for-profit company that uses your biometric information to speed you through the travel document verification process at the airport.
It pairs with TSA PreCheck to expedite you through the security screening. It also lets you keep your liquids and computer in your bag, and your light jackets and shoes on.
As quick as TSA PreCheck can be for document verification, CLEAR is even faster, usually by at least 10 minutes. But as shown by my experience during the shutdown, it is sometimes way faster than that.
Here's a video to give you a better sense of how CLEAR works.
You can get a free 2-month trial to help you decide if it's right for you! Sign up for that here.
Apply for the trial a few days before your next flight, then complete the application at the airport. A CLEAR representative will walk you through the verification process, which usually takes less than 10 minutes.
If you wish to bypass the trial and sign up right away, you get a $30 discount, which knocks the price down to $149 for the first year. Sign up for that here.
How Much Does CLEAR Cost?
CLEAR does come at a fairly high price tag of $179 per year. But, if you often fly through one of 45 airports that offers CLEAR, it might be worth it. As you can tell from my story above, CLEAR is there even when TSA or Global Entry is overcrowded.
However, it's important know that the Global Entry (which includes TSA PreCheck) is only $100 a year, and many credit cards reimburse you for the cost. And TSA PreCheck on its own is only $85.
CLEAR Airport Locations
Although CLEAR's popularity is increasing, it is currently available at only 45 airports. Fortunately, most of those are in major cities.
Here's a full list of CLEAR airport locations:
- Fort Lauderdale
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- New Orleans
- New York
- Salt Lake City
- San Antonio
- San Francisco Bay area
- San Jose
- Washington D.C.
The Advantages Of CLEAR
You Can Use It Anywhere That Has CLEAR
The nice thing about CLEAR is that it is not tied to airline participation, so it’ll work no matter what carrier you are flying with, even international airlines.
You Can Use It Other Places Besides Airports!
CLEAR is also used at many sports stadiums around the country, so you get to skip the lines when you go support your favorite team.
Kids Are Free
Another bonus is that children 18 and under can use the CLEAR lane for free when accompanied by a parent with a CLEAR membership. In contrast, TSA PreCheck required kids 13 and up to have their own credentials, which can be a chore to get.
If you have CLEAR at your local airport, a membership makes a lot of sense.
If you're a Delta SkyMiles member, CLEAR offers you even more than non-SkyMile customers.
For SkyMile members who are Diamond Medallion members, CLEAR is free. For Platinum, Gold, and Silver Medallion members and Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express members, the CLEAR membership is $109. And finally, for general SkyMile members, CLEAR is $119, which is still a $60 savings.
The Disadvantages Of CLEAR
It's Not Available In Every Airport
The biggest current drawback of CLEAR is that's it's limited to the above airports. If you don't travel through those locations fairly frequently, there's really no point in getting a CLEAR membership. TSA or Global Entry would serve you better since they're in many more locations, including international ones.
You'll Need To Have Your Fingerprints And Irises Scanned
For some, this seems like a major invasion of privacy and you may not want to give out such personal information. If you're concerned about privacy, CLEAR may not be for you. However, they do assure customers that they are SAFETY Act Certified.
In short, what that means is your information is protected in the event of a terrorist breach. The SAFETY Act contains a lot more than just that, and you can learn more about the SAFETY Act here if you're interested.
What's The Difference Between CLEAR, TSA PreCheck, And Global Entry?
The biggest difference between these three services is that CLEAR lets you skip past the other two lines. So technically, CLEAR does not compete with TSA and Global Entry.
But to give you a better sense of the differences between the three, and which will work best for you, let's break down each one.
TSA PreCheck stands for Transportation Security Administration PreCheck. That's a mouthful, but what it means is you get to go through a different security line because you've already been “pre-checked” in.
Why do people care about having TSA PreCheck? Primarily, it makes traveling and going through security less of a headache.
For instance, you do not have to do the following:
- Remove your shoes
- Take your laptop out of your carry-on baggage
- Take your 3-1-1 liquids bag out
- Remove your belt
- Remove light outerwear such as a jacket
You also don't have to listen to someone behind you complain about how terrible airport security is now that we have to do all of these things. If you travel frequently, TSA PreCheck is definitely appealing.
Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, plus some additional benefits. Since Global Entry focuses on international travel, it makes your journey back to the U.S. a lot easier. It allows you to skip the lines at Customs and Immigration by providing a kiosk where you can check in by scanning your passport and fingerprints.
Cost-wise, Global Entry isn't much more expensive than TSA, and remember, Global Entry includes TSA. Global Entry is $100 for five years, while TSA is $85 for five years. If you travel internationally, Global Entry is definitely worth it.
Several credit cards offer credits for Global Entry which allow you to get this perk for free.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
- Citi AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard
What Makes CLEAR Different?
With CLEAR, you go to a completely separate line that moves a lot faster. When you get CLEAR, you need to give them access to much more sensitive information–your fingerprints and irises–so there's no need for you to go through security.
Other Ways To Get Through The Airport Faster
Airline Elite Status
In most cases, airline elite status lets you move to the front of the security line. Often times, certain credit cards can help you earn elite status. The Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select Elite Mastercard and the United Explorer Card are just two cars that offer airline elite status.
The Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select Elite Mastercard has an annual fee of just $99, and the United Explorer Card has an even lower fee of $95, making both well worth looking into!
If you don't have a credit card that offers elite status, you can always sign up for the program separately through your favorite airline. Here a few airline elite status programs to consider:
- American Airlines: American has one of the most flexible programs, offering a number of tiers for those who fly a lot to those who only fly once or twice a year.
- Alaska Airlines: This airline has a surprising amount of flexibility built into their Elite Status program. They offer four status tiers, so there's one for every kind of traveler.
- Delta: Delta offers a host of benefits for every tier of flyer. You can earn more points as you advance tiers, have access to priority check-in, and much more.
Check Wait Times
Yes, there's even an app for security wait lines. In fact, there are multiple apps! Here's a few of the most reputable:
This one was created by the TSA and runs off crowdsourced data. Passengers in line are encouraged to report their wait time within the app. The app also tells you how busy the airport may be on any given day.
They get their data from past data.
Download this app:
Kayak doesn't just help you book flights and lodging, they also have an app that can tell you how long you'll be waiting in the security line.
They get their info from other passengers and TSA.
Download this app:
Like My TSA, MiFlight bases its information on crowdsourcing. Their app is a simple, easy-to-use app that tells you right on your dashboard how long the wait will be.
CLEAR has been a game changer for me. Although I still feel a little guilty about bypassing all the folks stuck in security screening lines, I don’t think I’ll ever give it up. The benefits, from shorter security lines to availability at sports stadiums to their Delta partnership, are too great.
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If you really want to maximize your travel rewards check out ChooseFI's free travel rewards course.