If you’ve been in an airport recently, you’ve probably noticed two types of security lines: One for TSA PreCheck® and one for CLEAR. Many of us already know of TSA PreCheck — a Trusted Traveler Program that allows you to quickly move through airport security — but you may not be as familiar with CLEAR (an airport security technology and membership).
Here are the three biggest differences between TSA PreCheck and CLEAR:
- TSA PreCheck is offered through the government while CLEAR is offered through a private company.
- CLEAR expedites the document/identity screening process and TSA PreCheck expedites the physical screening process.
- CLEAR membership costs $179 per year and TSA PreCheck membership costs $85 for five years.
Both programs have their advantages and disadvantages — and savvy travelers might want to use both programs to their advantage. Here’s a look at what TSA PreCheck and CLEAR have to offer to help you decide which program is best for you.
TSA PreCheck is a Trusted Traveler Program administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration. After completing the TSA PreCheck application process and passing a background check, you’ll receive a known traveler number that you can enter whenever you book a flight.
As a PreCheck member, you’ll be able to access the expedited PreCheck security line and complete airport security without going through the hassle of removing your shoes, belt or light jacket. You’ll also be able to leave laptops and TSA-approved liquids and gels in your carry-on.
Occasionally, passengers are randomly selected for traditional airport security screening and are unable to use the TSA PreCheck expedited security line for that flight. For more information on how PreCheck works, read Bankrate’s complete guide to TSA PreCheck — and if you’re curious about the difference between PreCheck and Global Entry (another Trusted Traveler Program designed to help people get through U.S. customs more efficiently), read this guide on how to decide between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.
The availability of TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck is available at over 200 domestic airports and 73 airlines that can be found on the official TSA website. Even though many airports and airlines participate in TSA PreCheck, there are some locations at which PreCheck is not available.
Am I eligible for TSA PreCheck?
If you are a U.S. citizen or a lawful and permanent U.S. resident, you are eligible to apply for TSA PreCheck.
TSA PreCheck application process and cost
The TSA PreCheck application process is simple. First, fill out a short online application that should take no more than five minutes to complete. Then, schedule an appointment at a TSA PreCheck enrollment center to receive a background check and fingerprinting.
This two-step application process costs $85, and your TSA PreCheck enrollment status remains valid for five years.
Many top travel credit cards offer statement credits for TSA PreCheck application costs, which is one way to offset the cost of applying for TSA PreCheck. Travel credit cards often come with other cost-saving benefits like travel insurance and airport lounge access, so if you’re a frequent traveler, you might want to consider adding a travel card to your wallet.
Benefits of TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck offers a number of benefits, including an expedited airport security screening process, the comfort of not having to remove shoes, belts or light jackets before clearing airport security and the ability to leave laptops and TSA-approved liquids and gels in your carry on luggage.
Many people consider the designated PreCheck security line and faster security clearance to be the primary benefit of TSA PreCheck — but being able to keep your shoes on during the process is a huge plus.
CLEAR is a registered traveler program that allows members to quickly verify their identities at touchless, biometric security kiosks. CLEAR passengers can use the CLEAR lane to speed up the first half of the airport security process, instead of waiting in line for a TSA representative to check their boarding pass and photo ID. After getting through the biometric screening, a CLEAR Ambassador will escort you directly to the next stage of the screening process so that you can complete the physical/luggage scanning. You’ll be taken to the TSA PreCheck line if you already have PreCheck; otherwise, you’ll use the regular screening line.
CLEAR has been SAFETY Act certified by the Department of Homeland Security, and CLEAR kiosks are available not only at airports, but also at stadiums, concert venues and arenas.
The availability of CLEAR
CLEAR is available at over 65 airports, stadiums and arenas across the United States. In New York City, for example, CLEAR is available at LaGuardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Westchester County Airport, Citi Field, Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium. Smaller cities and towns, on the other hand, may have no CLEAR locations. You can use CLEAR’s location guide to determine whether it’s available in your area.
Am I eligible for CLEAR?
If you are a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident over the age of 18, you are eligible to apply for CLEAR.
CLEAR application process and cost
The CLEAR application process is similar to the TSA PreCheck application process. Start by filling out a quick online application, then visit one of the 65+ CLEAR locations to finish the process. You do not need to make an appointment before visiting a CLEAR location, but you do need to bring a photo ID that matches the name on your application and be prepared to share your biometric information.
CLEAR costs $179 per year, which makes it more expensive than TSA PreCheck — but the American Express® Green Card offers up to a $100 CLEAR statement credit each year to help you cover the cost. Travel sites like The Points Guy also regularly share discount codes that can help you save on your CLEAR application, and Delta SkyMiles® and United MileagePlus® members are eligible for discounted or free CLEAR memberships.
One more tip: If you just want to use your CLEAR membership to shorten the time it takes to enter sports venues, you can sign up for a free CLEAR Sports pass.
Benefits of CLEAR
CLEAR allows you to quickly verify your identity with a touchless biometric scan, which saves you from the hassle of waiting in line for a TSA representative to review your boarding pass and photo ID.
CLEAR also gives you the opportunity to speed up the security process at non-airport locations, like stadiums and arenas, and is continuing to expand its reach. Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® members, for example, can use CLEAR to access the Hertz Fast Lane and shorten the time it takes to rent a car.
Advantages of having both TSA PreCheck and Clear
While it might seem odd to consider enrolling in both TSA PreCheck and CLEAR, there are advantages to being a member of both programs. The biggest advantage is the way the programs work together to ease your trip through airport security. You can streamline your travel document screening process through CLEAR, then enter the TSA PreCheck screening line and walk through security with your shoes on.
Here are a few more advantages to having both PreCheck and CLEAR:
- TSA PreCheck only allows you to expedite your airport security experience, but CLEAR can speed up your entry into airports, stadiums and venues.
- Occasionally, TSA PreCheck passengers will be randomly selected for traditional airport screening and will not be able to use the PreCheck security line; CLEAR passengers always get to access the dedicated CLEAR lane at security.
- Not all airlines allow you to use your TSA PreCheck membership to get through security, but CLEAR works no matter what airline you’re flying.
If you want an affordable way of shortening the time it takes to get through airport security, TSA PreCheck might be your best choice. But if you want to maximize your experience at airports, stadiums and concert venues, CLEAR might be a good option.
TSA PreCheck is currently available at more locations than CLEAR, but CLEAR gives you access to expedited security lines at stadiums and arenas, as well as airports. Plus, CLEAR never puts you through the hassle of random security screening.
In the end, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons and decide whether you’d like to apply for TSA PreCheck, CLEAR or both. That way, you’ll be able to spend your next trip breezing through airport security.