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CLEAR vs. TSA PreCheck: Reduce time spent in airport security

There are few things that give us more polarizing feelings than traveling. While we love to see the world and experience new places, getting to the airport, to the gate, and on the plane on time before missing a flight causes so much anxiety. And, it’s no secret that getting through airport security has become a lot more painful over the last decade. Not only do these regulations affect how we pack our bags (liquids and laptops at the ready, people), but they’ve added long hours to an already arduous and stressful process.

For these and other reasons, several security programs have emerged to help fliers enjoy more relaxed and reliable travel: CLEAR, TSA PreCheck, and Global Entry.

While all aim to help you move through the airport security process more seamlessly, each addresses a different leg of the journey. Choosing the right membership for you will depend on step of the process you’re willing to pay to skip or expedite and how much you’re willing to pay to do so. The three programs also vary widely in terms of availability, with TSA PreCheck operating at 200 airports around the country while CLEAR is available at airports, sports venues and car rental lines, for example.

To determine which program (or programs) you might want to sign up for, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about the three services below. 

CLEAR

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What is CLEAR?

While CLEAR is not directed at getting you through security or customs more quickly, it is able to speed you past the initial ID check line that occurs before security. With CLEAR, you expedited past the usually long line in favor of a special lane. There, security will review your boarding pass and scan your iris or fingerprint, which takes you onward to security in less than five minutes.

CLEAR is popular because it allows you to move quickly and easily to the front of even the TSA PreCheck line, which has become more crowded in recent years. Members can also use CLEAR at participating sports stadiums.

In addition, CLEAR offers a touchless way to establish your identity and move you closer to your destination. By scanning your eyes and face, there’s never a need to hand over you ID or come in physical contact with a CLEAR rep.

What does CLEAR cost?

A CLEAR membership costs $179 per year. U.S. based Delta SkyMiles members can receive preferential pricing.

Which airports have CLEAR?

CLEAR is currently available in over 50 locations across the U.S. including airports in Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York, as well as sports venues such as Yankee Stadium, AT&T Park, and CenturyLink Field. It can also be used at to enter Delta Sky Clubs for those with Delta Sky Club access. You’ll find a full list of participating airports and stadiums here.

How to sign up for CLEAR

Like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, applying for CLEAR is fairly simple. Register online, then complete your application at a nearby CLEAR location. You can also complete the entire process in person. In that case, an agent will ask you questions to verify your identity, ask you to provide a valid photo ID and method of payment, and attach your biometrics (fingerprints and a picture of your irises) to your account. Once your account is set up, you can start using it the very same day. CLEAR is not necessarily an alternative to TSA PreCheck, but rather complimentary solving for the identity portion, while Pre-Check expedites physical screening.

TSA PreCheck

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What is TSA PreCheck?

This program lets eligible, low-risk travelers enjoy expedited security screening at participating U.S. airport locations. Travelers with TSA PreCheck can breeze through a shorter security line, making it especially advantageous for frequent fliers and business travelers. Because you’re considered low-risk, you’ll also be exempt from having to take your shoes off, remove gels and liquids from your bags, or pulling your laptop out of your bag — little things that can make air travel less stressful.

Travelers with PreCheck are given a “known traveler number,” or KTN, which you’ll need to present when traveling. You’ll know if you’re eligible for TSA PreCheck on a flight because participating airlines will print a TSA PreCheck indicator directly on your boarding pass.

What does TSA PreCheck cost?

It costs $85 to apply, and your clearance is good for five years. Certain credit cards or loyalty programs offer to cover some (or sometimes all) of their members’ application fee or let their members pay with frequent flyer miles.

Which airports have TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is offered at 200 airports around the country, and you can review at the TSA PreCheck website. There are about 500 airports in the country that serve commercial flights, and TSA PreCheck is available at a majority of the large and mid-sized ones. 54 airlines offer flights with TSA PreCheck, including American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines.

How to sign up for TSA PreCheck

The online application for TSA PreCheck takes about five minutes. Once you’ve applied, you’ll need to make an interview appointment at your closest application center. You’ll be subjected to a background check and fingerprinting at an enrollment center, and you must also bring your passport with you along with other important documents. Applicants should hear back within two to three weeks, with some successful applicants earning approval within days of their interview. You can review the status of your application on the TSA website.

Global Entry

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What is Global Entry?

Global Entry makes your arrival into the States more seamless, letting you skip the lines and paperwork and enter through automatic Global Entry kiosks instead. At the kiosk, program members present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for verification and complete a customs declaration. Global Entry also makes you eligible for TSA PreCheck. Just provide your KTN when booking your flight and you’re good to go.

What does Global Entry cost?

Global Entry costs $100 for a five year membership. Certain credit cards offer an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck if the purchase is made using that card.

Which airports have Global Entry?

Global Entry kiosks are available at 53 airports across the U.S., including O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, JFK and LAX. Many more are available internationally, and you can find the full list here.

How to sign up for Global Entry

Global Entry is available to citizens of the U.S. and lawful permanent residents, as well as many other countries like Canada, Germany and the U.K. To apply, create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account and fill out an application. If you’re conditionally approved, you’ll need to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Applicants must present a valid passport and one other form of identification at the interview. Conditionally approved applicants may also complete their interview upon arrival in the States at select airports. Once you have your Global Entry card, activate it by logging into your TTP account and clicking the “Activate Membership Card” button.

Leah Bjornson
Leah Bjornson is a writer and editor living on the West Coast. Because of her inability to ever stop moving, she enjoys…
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