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TSA PreCheck vs. Clear: Which is better?

Airport security
ROBYN BECK/Getty Images
Airport security
ROBYN BECK/Getty Images
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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 (TTP) that allows you to quickly move through airport security. But you may not be as familiar with Clear, an airport security technology and membership program.

Here are the three biggest differences between TSA PreCheck and Clear:

  1. TSA PreCheck is offered through the government while Clear is offered through a private company.
  2. Clear expedites the document/identity screening process and TSA PreCheck expedites the physical screening process.
  3. Clear membership costs $189 per year and TSA PreCheck membership costs $85 for five years.

But which is better: TSA PreCheck or Clear? Both programs have their advantages and disadvantages, and savvy travelers could use both programs to their advantage. Let’s take a look at TSA PreCheck vs. Clear to help you decide which program is better for you.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a Trusted Traveler Program administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA). TSA PreCheck is available at over 200 domestic airports and 81 airlines, all of which can be found on the official TSA website. Even though many airports and airlines participate in TSA PreCheck, there are some locations where TSA PreCheck is not available.

TSA PreCheck benefits

As a TSA PreCheck member, you’ll be able to access the expedited TSA 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.

Many people consider the designated TSA 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.

TSA PreCheck application process and cost

If you are a U.S. citizen or a lawful and permanent U.S. resident, you are eligible to apply for TSA PreCheck, and the application process is simple. First, fill out a short online application on the TSA PreCheck website; it 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. After completing the TSA PreCheck application process and passing a background check, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) that you can enter whenever you book a flight.

This two-step application process costs $85 — note that online renewals only cost $70 — and your TSA PreCheck enrollment status will remain valid for five years. However, many travel-focused credit cards and loyalty programs offer statement credits for TSA PreCheck application costs, which is one way to offset the cost of applying for TSA PreCheck.

Plus, top 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.

What is Clear?

Clear is a registered traveler program that allows members to quickly verify their identities at touchless, biometric security kiosks. Clear has been Safety Act certified by the Department of Homeland Security, and Clear kiosks are available at over 50 airports, stadiums and arenas across the U.S. In New York, for example, Clear is available at LaGuardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Westchester County Airport, Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium. Smaller cities and towns, on the other hand, may not have Clear locations. You can use Clear’s location guide to see if it’s available in your area.

Clear benefits

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 then be taken to the TSA PreCheck line, if you already have TSA PreCheck. Otherwise, you’ll use the regular screening line.

In addition to the $15.75 per month Clear membership that allows you to pass through expedited airport security, Clear also offers two free plans: a Sports and Events pass through the Clear app that helps shorten the time it takes to enter sports venues, and a Health Pass that allows you to share both your COVID-19 vaccination status and any recent negative test results with airport, arena and venue personnel.

Clear application process and cost

If you are a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident over the age of 18, you are eligible to apply for Clear. The Clear application process is similar to the TSA PreCheck application process. You’ll start by filling out a quick online application. Then, visit one of the 50-plus 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 $189 per year, which makes it more expensive than TSA PreCheck. And while a statement credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry applications is a common perk among luxury travel cards, Clear credits are much less common. However, members of Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus are eligible for discounted or free Clear memberships.

In addition, there are American Express cards that offer Clear benefits. For example, the American Express® Green Card offers up to a $100 Clear statement credit each year to help you cover part of the membership cost. There’s also The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers up to $189 in Clear statement credits each year.

Which is better: TSA PreCheck or Clear?

When it comes down to Clear vs. TSA PreCheck, many travelers will automatically assume TSA PreCheck is better. TSA PreCheck is less expensive, is available at more airports nationwide and has the advantage of being backed by the federal government. Plus, many travel credit cards offer a statement credit that covers the cost of a TSA PreCheck application.

That said, Clear also has a few advantages, like the ability to use the free Clear Health Pass to quickly share your COVID-19 vaccination and test statuses with airports, sports arenas and concert venues. If you plan to travel or attend certain events in 2022 and beyond, adding the Clear Health Pass to your phone could be a huge help.

Should you get 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 TSA 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 TSA PreCheck security line. However, Clear passengers will always have access to 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.
  • Clear’s Health Pass allows you to share your COVID-19 vaccination status and any recent negative test results, which might reduce or eliminate any required quarantine time after travel.

Also, it’s worth noting that TSA PreCheck isn’t the only recommended TTP. If you’re curious about the difference between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry — another Trusted Traveler Program designed to help people get through U.S. customs more efficiently — check out our guide on how to decide between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.

The bottom line

If you want an affordable way to shorten the time it takes to get through airport security, TSA PreCheck might be the better choice for you. It’s also currently available at more locations than Clear. However, Clear provides access to expedited security lines at stadiums and arenas as well as airports, and it will never put 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. Either way, you’ll be able to spend your next trip breezing through airport security — a major plus.

All information about the American Express® Green Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.

Written by
Nicole Dieker
Personal Finance Contributor
Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012—and a personal finance enthusiast since 2004, when she graduated from college and, looking for financial guidance, found a battered copy of Your Money or Your Life at the public library. In addition to writing for Bankrate, her work has appeared on CreditCards.com, Vox, Lifehacker, Popular Science, The Penny Hoarder, The Simple Dollar and NBC News. Dieker spent five years as writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money. Dieker also teaches writing, freelancing and publishing classes and works one-on-one with authors as a developmental editor and copyeditor.
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