What’s the Difference Between TSA PreCheck and Clear?

Difference between TSA PreCheck and Clear

Any traveler will agree: Being stuck in a long line to get through airport security is one of the biggest pitfalls of flying. While you're stuck fiddling with those gray plastic bins, it's impossible not to notice the line of travel VIPs, zipping through TSA security checkpoints with ease. Who are they, and how can we join them?

Luckily, there are a few options available to make the experience more streamlined: TSA PreCheck and a newer service called Clear. These both help expedite the screening process, but they're not exactly the same. If you're wondering what the difference is between TSA PreCheck and Clear, read on for the details.

The Difference Between TSA PreCheck and Clear

TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck
Photo via TravelWeekly

TSA PreCheck is a government-run program, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler Programs. Applicants must undergo and pass a background check to be approved. Travelers with TSA PreCheck can register Known Traveler Number with participating airlines when booking flights and gain access to the TSA PreCheck expedited security line.

As a result, passengers will be able to access shorter lines at the security checkpoint, and also have an easier time going through security. This is because if you are flying with TSA PreCheck, you:

  • Don’t need to remove shoes or belts if they won’t set off metal detectors
  • Can leave laptops and travel-sized liquids in your bag(s)
  • Can typically pass through a metal detector rather than a full body scanner

TSA PreCheck is available at more than 200 U.S. airports and a total of 80 airlines work with the program.

How to Apply for TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is available to all U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Travelers must submit an online application and pay a one-time fee of $85 and then schedule an appointment at one of the hundreds of enrollment centers where the background check will be completed. If approved, the membership is valid for five years and can subsequently be renewed online.

Several credit cards offer reimbursement or credits for TSA PreCheck membership. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express Platinum Card, or Capital One Venture Rewards, you should be eligible. Other cards and loyalty programs allow members to use miles to pay the membership fee; definitely do some research before applying to save some money!

Children under the age of 12 are permitted to join members in the TSA PreCheck line without paying for their own membership.

Clear

Clear airport
Photo via Skift

Clear is a privately-run program open to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents over the age of 18. It allows travelers to expedite the identity verification process at over 50 airports and other venues (such as Madison Square Garden) across the United States. Clear uses biometric data – such as eyes and face – to confirm your identity, rather than having an airport official check your ID.

Once verified, travelers are escorted by a Clear representative to the front of the TSA screening line. Essentially, Clear allows travelers to skip the line at security checkpoints (where available), but doesn't offer the same benefits of TSA PreCheck regarding removing shoes, belt, laptop, liquids, etc. However, if a person also has TSA PreCheck, they'd be able to use those special checkpoints and save time if the PreCheck line happens to be long.

Another benefit of using Clear is that it allows travelers to add a Health Pass, linking applicable COVID-19 vaccine status or test results. This definitely streamlines the process to verify both identity and digital health status where this information is required.

How to Apply for Clear

To apply for Clear, travelers must register online and then finalize the process at a Clear checkpoint. After answering a few questions, representatives scan fingerprints and eyes, and verify the applicant's ID. An annual Clear membership costs $179; up to three family members can be added to the primary account for $50 each. This is a nice perk because they can use the Clear lane even if everyone isn't traveling together.

Children under the age of 18 do not pay a fee and do not require separate enrollment, but they must be traveling with an adult member to access the Clear lane.

Members of Delta SkyMiles and United's MileagePlus programs access discounted rates for Clear, with the annual fee coming in at $119 for general frequent flyer members. Silver status flyers and above pay just $109, and top-tier elite members receive free membership.

Student discounts are available, paying just $50 a year by enrolling with a valid student email address. Additionally, American Express Green Card members receive a refund of $100; Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders receive a refund of $179. Students are also able to receive discounted rates of $50/year by enrolling with a valid student email address.

Currently, the only other way to get your fees reimbursed is if you hold the American Express Green Card, which refunds $100, or either the Platinum or Business Platinum Card from American Express, which both refund up to the total cost of $179.

Which is Better: TSA PreCheck or Clear?

Both services have their perks and their drawbacks. However, when considering overall cost and how useful/universal the program is, TSA PreCheck gives travelers more value for their money. The fee comes out to just $17 a year compared to Clear's $179 – a massive increase in price. If your main priority is maximizing the value of the program, TSA PreCheck is your best bet.

Additionally, TSA PreCheck can be used at hundreds more airports than Clear, and the actual security screening process is more efficient. Travelers that often fly internationally are recommended to get Global Entry, which includes TSA PreCheck.

This doesn't mean that travelers should remove Clear from the running, however. It's not a bad idea to become a member with both, especially if the fees can be covered or discounted through a credit card or other loyalty program. Clear's applications outside of airports, such as event venues and sports stadiums, offer broader perks to people who might spend a lot of their time as season ticket holders for their favorite athletic team.

Also, in the rare case that the TSA PreCheck security line is long (something that has been happening with the post-COVID travel boom), having Clear is a bit of an "ace in the hole" perk that would allow a flyer to skip to the front.

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