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Frequent travelers know that one of the most frustrating parts of transiting the airport can be long lines waiting in airport security. Regardless of how you feel about the efficacy of airport security or the whole check-in process, there’s no doubt that it’s here to stay. There are a few different programs available that can help shorten the airport security lines and therefore, the time that it takes to make it into your favorite airport lounge.

So since navigating airport security screening is likely to be a part of any frequent traveler’s journey, let’s take a look at two of the most common programs that provide expedited airport security screening. In this article, we will compare TSA PreCheck vs. Clear and look at which might be right for you.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a program run by the US government and first started in 2013. It allows passengers who have been deemed “low risk” to skip the longer “general security” screening line at most airports. TSA PreCheck is available to US citizens, nationals, and lawful permanent residents. TSA PreCheck costs $85 and is good for 5 years. You’ll get an online background check and then have a brief (10 minute) interview at a Department of Homeland Security enrollment center. Once you’re approved, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) which you will then add to all your airline reservations. This generally (though not always) will print out the TSA Pre logo on your boarding pass, allowing you to skip the general airport security screening lines.

If you’re approved for TSA Precheck, you will no longer have to:

  • Remove your shoes, belt or light jacket
  • Separate your liquids from the rest of your luggage
  • Remove your laptop or other electronics from your luggage

What is the Clear program?

Unlike TSA PreCheck, Clear is run by a private company and not the U.S. government. Clear gathers biometric data (fingerprints and iris scans) on its members, and then you can use the Clear kiosks to bypass the line for identity verification. Once you’ve been verified, a Clear representative will immediately take you to the front of the line to scan your bags and person. If you have TSA PreCheck as well, you’ll be taken to the TSA PreCheck line – otherwise, you’ll go to the front of the general screening line.

The retail cost of Clear is $179 annually, though there are a few ways to get discounts on Clear (see below). You can also add additional family members for an additional annual fee of $50 a person, and children under 18 can use Clear for free with a paid Clear member.

How is Clear different from TSA PreCheck?

While you might think of Clear vs TSA PreCheck as an either-or program, the two programs can be viewed as complements to each other. Standard airport security screening has two parts – an identity verification followed by the screening of you and your luggage. With TSA PreCheck, you get access to a (hopefully!) shorter line for identity verification. This is the part where the TSA officer checks your boarding pass and identity document. Then TSA PreCheck has a separate screening process, with different protocols for screening, including the fact that you don’t have to remove liquids, electronics, or shoes.

Clear is a replacement for the identity verification part of airport security screening. Clear uses the biometric data that they’ve gathered to immediately verify identity. You’ll also scan your boarding pass at the Clear kiosk to ensure that it’s really you who’s taking the flight. This combination allows you to skip the line for verification. True, you won’t get a beautiful signature on your boarding pass from your friendly TSA officer, but hopefully you’ll still survive! 🙂

Cost of TSA PreCheck versus Clear

There’s no question that Clear is a more expensive proposition than TSA PreCheck. In addition to costing over twice as much ($179 vs. $85), a Clear membership is only good for one year, while you can use your TSA PreCheck membership for five years before you have to renew! Another thing to mention is that if you are going to get TSA PreCheck, you might also consider signing up for Global Entry instead. Global Entry costs $100 for a five-year membership and includes TSA PreCheck. For only an additional $15, you’ll be allowed to use the Global Entry kiosks when returning back to the U.S. from another country.

Clear does offer the ability to add additional family members for a reduced cost, something that is not available with TSA PreCheck. So that could be an option if you are trying to sign up multiple people. With both programs, children under 18 are able to use the program at no additional cost.

Credit cards that offer TSA PreCheck discounts

There are ways that you can get TSA PreCheck membership at a discount, or even for no cost. Almost all premium travel credits (the ones with annual fees of $400 or more) offer a credit of up to $100 that you can use for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. In addition, the following cards that have lower annual fees also offer these $100 credits

  • IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card – $89 annual fee
  • Capital One® Venture® Rewards card – $95 annual fee
  • Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Card – $95 annual fee

Credit cards that offer Clear discounts

There are also a few ways that you can get Clear membership at a discount, or even for no cost. Cardholders of the following cards can purchase a Clear membership for only $109 annually:

  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card
  • United Club℠ Card
  • United Club℠ Business Card
  • United℠ Explorer Card
  • United℠ Explorer Business Card

In addition, cardholders of the Amex Green Card receive a $100 statement credit each year when paying for a Clear membership.

Another option for free or discounted Clear membership is for frequent fliers of certain airlines:

  • For Delta Air Lines SkyMiles members: Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Medallion members get free Clear membership, while Delta Platinum, Gold or Silver Medallion members can sign up for a Clear membership for only $109. If you’re not an elite member, anyone can sign up for a free SkyMiles membership and get Clear membership for $119 per year.
  • For United MileagePlus Members: United Airlines MileagePlus Premier 1K Elite Status members get free Clear membership, while United Platinum, Gold, or Silver elite members can sign up for a Clear membership for only $109. If you’re not an elite member, anyone can sign up for a free MileagePlus membership and get Clear membership for $119 per year.

Eligible students can get a discounted membership of $50 for four years.

Hopefully, this guide to TSA PreCheck vs. Clear can help you decide which option might be right for you and your family. Do you have TSA PreCheck or Clear? Which do you think is best? Leave your thoughts in the comments


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