If you're looking to get through airport security lines faster, you've got a few options. And many travelers come to the same dilemma: TSA PreCheck vs. CLEAR?
No, these two programs aren't the same. While both promise to get you through the airport faster, there are some key differences between them. From how they work to the cost to where you can use them, there's a lot to consider when weighing your options. And in some cases, could it even make sense to have them both? It sure could.
Keep reading to see for yourself.
A Straightforward Primer on TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck is run by the Transportation Security Administration, the federal government agency, as a trusted-traveler program. You've seen those lanes at the airport, right?
Only members of this program are eligible to hop in the TSA PreCheck lanes, which means lines are generally much shorter than the standard screening lines. And once you’re in it, there’s no need to remove your coat, shoes, or belt, nor do you need to remove electronics or liquids from your bag. That means the line moves much faster, too.
In short, TSA PreCheck can shave a ton of time off your wait in the security line. Your first time using it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t join the program sooner.
The one catch is that TSA PreCheck only partners with specific airlines, so you may not always get that quick pass through security. However, all of the major domestic airlines and even many small U.S. carriers are included. More international airlines are joining the program each year, too. All told, more than 90 airlines currently participate in PreCheck – and that number is constantly growing.
Applying for PreCheck starts with a fairly easy application process and background check and ends with an in-person interview. If all goes well, you can get signed up for PreCheck within just a week or two. Some airports even let you sign up for PreCheck on-site the day you fly – no appointment necessary.
You can also get TSA PreCheck by enrolling in Global Entry, which doubles as a fast pass through customs and immigration when you return from an international flight. Once you've got PreCheck, you just need to enter your Known Traveler Number (KTN) in your airline frequent flyer account and you'll be set to hit the TSA PreCheck line for your next flight.
Read our full guide with everything you need to know about TSA PreCheck!
The 101 on CLEAR
Like TSA PreCheck, CLEAR promises a faster trip through the airport security line. You've likely seen the dedicated lanes and CLEAR kiosks at the airport, too. But it works much differently than PreCheck.
For starters, CLEAR isn't run by the government: It's a privately run trusted traveler program. CLEAR uses biometrics – like your fingerprints and iris scans – to verify your identity. That allows you to cut to the front of the airport security line.
And that brings us to an important distinction between TSA PreCheck vs. CLEAR: The two programs really aren't related at all. If you have CLEAR but not TSA PreCheck, you'll cut to the front of the standard security line, where you'll need to take off your coat and shoes and remove any electronics in your bag. If you have both, you'll go to the front of the PreCheck line and make your way through even faster.
That means CLEAR can certainly shave some time off your trip through security. Sometimes the time you save can be substantial – especially when security lines are particularly bad. In other cases, the time savings can be negligible – and at particularly busy airports with many CLEAR members like Atlanta (ATL), it can even cost you more time.
Another big difference between the two programs is that CLEAR members don't typically need to show ID when they make it to the front of the TSA lane. But that's changing: The TSA has been increasing the frequency of random ID checks for CLEAR members. And eventually, all CLEAR Plus members will be subject to the same TSA ID checks as all other travelers, including those also enrolled in TSA PreCheck, a TSA spokesperson previously confirmed to Thrifty Traveler.
It's unclear when mandatory ID checks will become part of the CLEAR process. But when it does, it could negate the service's major selling point of speedy, touchless travel.
Signing up for CLEAR isn't nearly as cumbersome as TSA PreCheck, though. You can apply online at home, and then wrap up your enrollment at the airport in about 5-10 minutes. From there, you just waltz to the CLEAR lane, scan your fingerprints or iris scans in one of the machines with an agent, and head to the front of the security lane.
Read our master guide to CLEAR and how it works!
But just because it's easy doesn't mean it's free.
How Much Do They Cost?
This is easily the biggest difference you'll find between these two time-saving airport programs.
TSA PreCheck costs just $78 for a five-year membership. And whether you get PreCheck outright or through a Global Entry membership, you can cover that cost with a growing number of credit cards.
CLEAR, on the other hand, starts at a whopping $189 each year. That's right: Each year of CLEAR will cost you more than double what you'd pay for a five-year TSA PreCheck membership. The sticker shock alone can make it an easy decision.
Luckily, there are a handful of ways you can reduce the cost of CLEAR – just not by as much as before.
Just by having a frequent flyer account with either Delta or United, you can drop the cost to $179 per year. And because creating a frequent flyer account with either airline is free, there is really no reason to ever pay full price for CLEAR.
Additionally, if you’ve got one of Delta or United's co-branded credit cards like the United℠ Explorer Card or a *delta skymiles gold card*, that price falls to $149. And finally, top-tier elites on both airlines can sign up for free.
And there's a way to make CLEAR even cheaper. After a major refresh last summer, *amex platinum card* now provides up to a $189 annual credit to cover the cost of a CLEAR Plus membership. The card also provides up to a $100 credit to cover the cost of either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every 4 1/2 years for the application fee for TSA PreCheck® and every 4 years for Global Entry.
But it doesn't end there. Because you can get CLEAR Plus membership at a reduced cost through either Delta or United, you can actually use the CLEAR Plus credit provided by *amex platinum card* to cover the cost of CLEAR Plus membership for up to two people!
Learn more about *amex platinum*.
Lastly, the *amex green* also offers an annual credit of up to $189 towards the cost of CLEAR Plus membership.
Clear Isn't Everywhere … Yet
TSA PreCheck is available at 200 airports nationwide. That means you can use PreCheck at almost any airport in the country, big and small.
That's not the case with CLEAR – at least not yet. CLEAR has expanded drastically over the last several years. It's available at more than 50 U.S. airports and counting, with more locations at even small airports added seemingly every month. Scan the list, and you'll see that it's primarily the nation's largest hubs.
|Atlanta (ATL)||North & South Domestic Terminals|
|Austin (AUS)||Checkpoints 1 & 2|
|Baltimore (BWI)||Checkpoints A,B,C, D & E|
|Birmingham (BHM)||Main Terminal|
|Boise (BOI)||Main Terminal|
|Boston (BOS)||Terminal A|
|Chicago-Midway (MDW)||Main Terminal|
|Chicago-O'Hare (ORD)||Terminal 1 & 2|
|Cincinnati (CVG)||Main Terminal|
|Cleveland (CLE)||Center & South Checkpoints|
|Columbus (CMH)||Main Terminal|
|Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)||Terminal E|
|Dallas-Love Field (DAL)||Terminal 1|
|Denver (DEN)||North & South Entrances|
|Detroit (DTW)||North & McNamara Terminals|
|Fort Lauderdale (FLL)||Terminals 1 & 2|
|Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP)||Main Terminal
|Houston-Intercontinental (IAH)||Terminals A, B, C and E|
|Houston-Hobby (HOU)||Main Terminal|
|Kansas City (MCI)||Main Terminal|
|Las Vegas (LAS)||Terminals 1 & 3|
|Long Beach (LGB)||Main Terminal
|Los Angeles (LAX)||Terminals 1 - 7|
|Miami (MIA)||Checkpoints E & H|
|Milwaukee (MKE)||Main Terminal|
|Minneapolis−Saint Paul (MSP)||Terminal 1|
|Nashville (BNA)||Central Checkpoint|
|New Orleans (MSY)||Concourse D|
|New York City-John F. Kennedy (JFK)||Terminals 2 & 4|
|New York-LaGuardia (LGA)||Terminals C & D|
|Newark (EWR)||Terminal C|
|Oakland (OAK)||Terminal 2|
|Oklahoma City (OKC)||Main Terminal
|Ontario (ONT)||Terminal 2 & 4|
|Orlando (MCO)||East & West Security|
|Palm Beach (PBI)||Terminal A/B & C|
|Palm Springs (PSP)||Main Terminal|
|Phoenix (PHX)||Terminals 3 & 4|
|Raleigh-Durham (RDU)||Terminals 1 & 2|
|Sacramento (SMF)||Terminal A & B|
|Salt Lake City (SLC)||Terminals 1 & 2|
|San Antonio (SAT)||Terminals A & B|
|San Diego (SAN)||Terminal 2|
|San Francisco (SFO)||Terminals 1-3, International Terminals A & G|
|San Jose (SJC)||Terminal A & B|
|San Juan (SJU(+)||Terminals A, B & C|
|Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)||Checkpoints 1-5|
|St. Louis (STL)||Terminal 2|
|Tulsa (TUL)||Main Terminal|
|Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD)||Main Terminal & East Security Checkpoint|
|Washington, D.C.-Reagan (DCA)||Terminals A, B & C|
|Westchester County (HPN)||Main Terminal|
Also note that even at the airports where CLEAR has a presence, it's not available at each and every terminal. CLEAR has partnered with both Delta and United, so their emphasis is on those airlines' hubs and focus cities as the service continues to expand.
If you're a sports fan, there's a silver lining. CLEAR is also available at a handful of professional sports stadiums and venues, too.
|Sports Venue||City||Where to Access|
|SunTrust Park||Atlanta, GA||Chop House, First Base & Third Base Gates|
|Oriole Park at Camden Yards||Baltimore, MD||Gate C|
|Progressive Field||Cleveland, OH||E. 9th Street Patio Gate|
|Globe Life Park in Arlington||Arlington, TX||First Base Gate|
|Coors Field||Denver, CO||Gates C & D|
|Comerica Park||Detroit, MI||Gate A|
|STAPLES Center||Los Angeles, CA||Figueroa Street Entrance
|Banc of California Stadium||Los Angeles, CA||Northwest Plaza & Northeast Gate|
|AmericanAirlines Arena||Miami, FL||Gates 1 & 2|
|Target Field||Minneapolis, MN||Gate 34|
|Yankee Stadium||New York, NY||Babe Ruth Plaza, Suite Entrance, & Gate 6|
|Citi Field||New York, NY||Jackie Robinson Rotunda & Seaver Gate|
|Madison Square Garden||New York, NY||7th Ave South Entrance|
|Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum||Oakland, CA||Gate C & D|
|Oracle Park||San Francisco, CA||Willie Mays Gate & King Street Gates
|Avaya Stadium||San Jose, CA||Main Gate|
|T-Mobile Park||Seattle, WA||Home Plate & Left Field Entrances|
|CenturyLink Field||Seattle, WA||North Plaza & Southwest Entrance|
How Does It Work For Families?
If you're traveling with a spouse, partner, or kids in tow, there are more differences in store based on whether you've got TSA PreCheck vs. CLEAR.
In a recent family-friendly move, TSA regulations now say an adult’s TSA PreCheck membership will apply to minors who are 17 or younger and are booked on the same reservation. Just be sure that the TSA PreCheck holder books the tickets, and it should almost always work for kids on the same reservation. For teens 13 to 17, their boarding pass needs to have the PreCheck indicator check mark or they won't be able to accompany you into the PreCheck lanes.
But what about spouses, other family members, or friends? In theory, those benefits won’t be passed down. But in practice, airlines will sometimes pass it on to an entire reservation. Airlines just have some discretion in deciding whether or not to pass on these benefits to everyone.
In short: Airlines often give the rest of your traveling party your TSA PreCheck benefits. But you can’t always count on it.
With CLEAR, it's a different story. One of the best, little-known features of CLEAR is its Family Plan.
When you enroll in a CLEAR membership you can add up to three adults to your Family Plan for only $70 per adult, per year. After you add them, all they need to do is head to a participating location and finish their enrollment. It will only take a few minutes and they can start using it right away. They can use CLEAR anytime, whether or not they’re traveling with you.
So if you often travel with a companion, there's no need for both of you to sign up for CLEAR separately. Just let them piggyback on your account for less. And remember, Amex Platinum cardholders can cover the cost of CLEAR for two people with the annual credit.
And it's even better for kids. For kids or any family members under the age of 18, you can bring them along through the CLEAR line with you for free. They don’t need to be added to your Family Plan.
TSA PreCheck vs. CLEAR … Or Could it Make Sense to Have Both?
It just sounds extra, doesn't it? Do you really need both of these traveler programs?
Well, probably not. But there's no denying that these two programs work well in tandem. You can use CLEAR to cut to the front of the TSA PreCheck line, and then get through without having to worry about shedding your shoes or taking things out of your bag. It's a nice experience – especially with CLEAR's touchless process in the age of COVID-19.
For what it's worth, I have both TSA PreCheck and CLEAR. My wife only has TSA PreCheck. When we travel together, it isn't uncommon for her to beat me through the security line when the lines are not long.
So is it worth having both? That depends on a few things.
- How much are you paying for each service? If you're getting steep discounts by holding the right credit cards, then why not? But if you're paying the full sticker price, it's hard to fathom.
- Do you frequently fly in and out of airports with CLEAR service? If so, ponying up for both memberships could be worth it. But if your home airport doesn't have CLEAR, why bother?
At the end of the day, if you are going to go after one service, our suggestion is TSA PreCheck. It is a much better value at $78 for a five-year membership and it will drastically cut down your wait times in airport lines.
While they both bill themselves as being your ticket to a quicker trip through the security line, TSA PreCheck and CLEAR are drastically different.
Whether it makes the most sense for you to get PreCheck, CLEAR, or both depends on how much you travel, where you live, and your appetite for spending big bucks to make your next trip through the airport a little bit faster.