When to Pay for 'Clear' Over TSA PreCheck

When to Pay for ‘Clear’ Over TSA PreCheck


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With airports jammed with travelers, you might be thinking about signing up for the airport security fast-track program TSA PreCheck. But what about Clear, a privately-run line-skipping service? It’s more expensive and works a bit differently, but it will also get you through lines faster. In fact, signing up for both of these complementary services is your best bet for skipping lines—especially if you’re a frequent flyer willing to spend the money.

How TSA PreCheck works

TSA PreCheck offers a separate, shorter line through airport security (usually five minutes or less), run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. To use this line, you apply online and in-person to register as a “trusted traveler,” which gives you pre-approval to get through security faster. In addition to a shorter line, with a PreCheck membership you don’t have to remove your shoes or belt, or laptops or TSA-approved liquids from your carry-on. Available in 200 domestic airports, TSA PreCheck costs $85, and your TSA PreCheck enrollment status remains valid for five years.

How Clear works

Like TSA PreCheck, Clear offers a separate, shorter line through airport security, although it also works for events at stadiums or other concert or sports venues, and it has the capability to share your COVID-19 vaccination status. While it’s a privately-run service, it’s run with the approval of the Department of Homeland Security. Like the TSA PreCheck program, signing up is a two-part process that’s online and in-person, although Clear requires scans of your eyes, face, and fingerprints.

The advantage in using these biometrics is that you can verify your identity at a kiosk at the beginning of the line, which means that a TSA representative doesn’t need to review your boarding pass and photo ID. Clear is available at more than 50 airports and other venues across the United States, and an annual subscription will cost you $179 per year, or $15 per month—much pricier than PreCheck.

Which line-skipping service is better?

Since Clear and TSA PreCheck offer two separate lines to choose from, it’s not so much a question of “better” as it is about flexibility. PreCheck has 10 million members compared to Clear’s 1.5 million members, which means that PreCheck is more likely to have longer lines (it happens, especially at peak travel times). That means Clear could be a good back-up option if TSA PreCheck is busy or not available, and vice versa.

That said, at $15 per month, Clear is much more expensive than PreCheck, although it has some additional advantages:

  • It can be used for other venues.
  • Unlike PreCheck, you won’t be randomly selected for additional security screening.
  • Unlike PreCheck, Clear works for all airlines, provided it’s available at a given airport.

Bottom Line

In this case, two services are better than one―whether the additional $15 a month for Clear is worth the expense depends on your distaste for lines and how often you travel. If you’re not a frequent flyer but still want to skip lines, you might want to sign up for TSA PreCheck first, as it’s much cheaper and available at more airports.

Before you sign up for either Clear or PreCheck, make sure they’re actually available at your local airport (here and here, respectively), as that will affect whether the program is worth it for you. Also consider paying for these services through an existing perk on a travel reward credit card, as many offer free memberships for TSA PreCheck, and, to a lesser extent, Clear.

   



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