When it comes to getting through airport security faster, there are a few options. There's TSA PreCheck, a government-run program, and then there's CLEAR®, a privately operated service. And they serve drastically different purposes.
CLEAR® allows you to cut to the front of the line: On its own, you can skip to the front of the standard security line. In tandem with PreCheck, you can skip to the front of that shorter, faster line – keeping your coat and shoes on and keeping electronics inside your bag, too.
So what's not to love about CLEAR®? For one thing, the price: It starts at a whopping $189 a year, though fortunately there are a handful of ways to drastically drop that cost (or even make it free). Even so, that can be a tough price tag to swallow.
While getting CLEAR® won't make sense for each and every traveler, there's no question it can get you through security faster. And in the new age of touchless travel with the COVID-19 pandemic, CLEAR® can be more valuable than ever for those who cherish it.
From signing up to getting through security, here's our review of using CLEAR® at the airport.
CLEAR vs TSA PreCheck: The Basics
CLEAR® is a privately run trusted-traveler program that takes both your fingerprints and iris scans to confirm your identity before security screening. Once you've signed up (more on this shortly) and finalized your registration, you simply head to the CLEAR® lane, confirm your identity at a kiosk, and get whisked away to the front of the TSA line by a CLEAR® ambassador.
There's no need for another ID check once you make it to the front of the TSA lane: Just flash your boarding pass to the TSA agent and you're on your way. If you've got TSA PreCheck too, you'll head to the front of that line – otherwise you'll cut to the front of the standard TSA line.
Read our full guide on how CLEAR works!
The one hitch with CLEAR® is that it's not available at every airport – but its presence is growing fast. It's available at more than 40 U.S. airports and counting, with more locations added seemingly every month. Scan through the list and you'll find plenty of Delta and United hubs, thanks to close partnerships between the companies.
|Atlanta (ATL)||North & South Domestic Terminals|
|Austin (AUS)||Checkpoints 1 & 2|
|Baltimore (BWI)||Checkpoints A,B,C, D & E|
|Birmingham (BHM)||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|
|Houston-Intercontinental (IAH)||Terminals A, B, C and E|
|Houston-Hobby (HOU)||Main Terminal|
|Las Vegas (LAS)||Terminals 1 & 3|
|Los Angeles (LAX)||Terminals 1 - 7|
|Miami (MIA)||Checkpoints E & H|
|Minneapolis−Saint Paul (MSP)||Terminal 1|
|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|
|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 2,3 & 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|
|Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)||Checkpoints 1-5|
|St. Louis (STL)||Terminal 2|
|Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD)||Main Terminal & East Security Checkpoint|
|Washington, D.C.-Reagan (DCA)||Terminals A, B & C|
|Westchester County (HPN)||Main Terminal|
There's also a growing list of professional sports venues offering CLEAR®, too, helping you get into the stadium or arena faster.
|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|
Signing Up For CLEAR Airport Screening
Signing up for CLEAR® at the airport is easy. It's the price tag that's scary.
Head to CLEARme.com to register for your membership. At $189 per year, it's a steep cost – especially considering a TSA PreCheck membership costs just $85 for a five-year membership.
But there are easy ways to drastically cut that cost.
For starters, all Delta SkyMiles members can enroll in CLEAR® for just $119. So even if you're not flying Delta, you can quickly sign up for a free SkyMiles account to capitalize on this lower cost. But if you've got status with Delta or hold one of the co-branded Delta SkyMiles American Express, that drops to $109. And the lowest pricing of all is reserved for top-tier Delta Diamond status holders, who can select an annual membership as a free perk.
United has also partnered up with CLEAR® to offer similar pricing to its own members.
Not sold yet? CLEAR® occasionally offers free two- to three-month trials, which allows you to give the program a test-run before ponying up for a full membership.
But it can potentially get even cheaper … or even free.
The Platinum Card® from American Express got a huge overhaul last summer, with a higher annual fee and a slew of new benefits – some better than others. But one great new benefit is an annual credit of up to $189 a year that covers CLEAR® enrollment. It's the only travel credit card that currently covers the entire cost of signing up for the security program.
Just pay for your membership with your card and voila: A statement credit will kick in automatically to cover the cost.
Related reading: How to Use the Amex Platinum Card's CLEAR Credit…For Two!
Click Here to learn more about the Platinum Card from American Express
Click Here to learn more about the American Express Green Card.
All information about The American Express Green Card has been collected independently by Thrifty Traveler. The Amex Green Card is no longer available through Thrifty Traveler.
After signing up, you'll need to finalize your enrollment at the airport before your flight.
Finalizing CLEAR Enrollment at the Airport
Don't worry – it's not hard.
After you've signed up and received a confirmation email from CLEAR®, you're all set. Just head for the designated lanes at security checkpoints – with bright neon signs, they're hard to miss – as if you're ready to go through security. Tell a CLEAR® ambassador you need to finalize your enrollment, and they'll guide you toward a kiosk.
You won't need anything but your boarding pass and an ID. A CLEAR® ambassador will help you finish everything up. That includes getting fingerprints, thumbprints, and an iris scan. They'll take a quick snapshot of your face and scan your driver's license. And that's it. The whole process of finalizing enrollment takes about five minutes.
Using CLEAR to Cut to the Front of TSA Security
Once you've finalized your enrollment – or if that's already taken care of – you're off.
Just head for the CLEAR® lane at the security checkpoint with your boarding pass in hand. An agent will once again bring you to a kiosk for a quick scan of your eyes or fingerprints, glance at your boarding pass (or, in some cases, scan it at the kiosk), and then escort you to the front of the TSA line. CLEAR® members don't need to show their ID – that's the point of the service.
From there, you're ready to go through TSA security.
Over the course of the last few years I've used CLEAR® about 30 times. While security checkpoint lines have grown as travel rebounds, CLEAR® and TSA PreCheck lines have frequently fairly been short – or sometimes even nonexistent. Without fail, I've made it through security in less than five minutes every single time at every airport. Sometimes, that's more like just two to three minutes total.
Prior to the pandemic, I was more skeptical of CLEAR® and its value. And let's be clear: Some airports are better than others. Atlanta (ATL), for instance, is notoriously awful for CLEAR® members with bloated lines that mean heading straight for TSA PreCheck is almost always a better yet.
But when it works well, a quick, touchless trip through security is paramount these days.
Is that worth it for everyone? It depends on how much you travel – and how much you'd wind up actually paying for CLEAR. At $189 a year, it's hard to make sense of paying for CLEAR® if you travel just once or twice a year. But if you're flying five-plus times a year, you may be able to easily justify the cost – especially with such an easy way to drop that to at least $119 a year with a free Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus account.
And if you can cut that cost even further using credits from the Amex Platinum or Amex Green Card? Well, why not?
There's no denying that CLEAR® airport screening is expensive. But considering how easy it is to substantially cut that cost, it could easily be worth it.
In our experience, CLEAR® can cut your time waiting in airport security lines in half or more. With both CLEAR® and PreCheck, I regularly get all the way through security in five minutes or less. And that, to me, is worth the extra cost.
Lead image credit to Career Employer