TSA PreCheck vs. Clear: What to Know

TSA PreCheck speeds up the luggage screening portion of airport security and is more widely available than Clear.
Elina Geller
Ramsey Qubein
By Ramsey Qubein and  Elina Geller 
Updated
Edited by June Casagrande
clear vs. tsa precheck

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TSA PreCheck and Clear can both get you through airport security faster. But which is better?

You may not have to choose anymore, as Clear and PreCheck can now be purchased as a bundle at some airports.

Regardless, here’s a look at the benefits, requirements and price of TSA PreCheck versus Clear to help you decide which will work best for you — and whether you should get both. Plus, learn all the ways you can get one (or both) for free.

The difference between Clear and TSA PreCheck

Here are three main differences between Clear and TSA PreCheck:

  1. Bypassing security vs. shortening the wait. TSA PreCheck allows you to go through a shorter security line and undergo less strict screening requirements (i.e. don’t need to take off shoes). Clear allows you to skip the security line completely because instead of waiting in line, you approach a Clear kiosk where your ID and boarding pass are verified through biometric technology. Once that quick process is complete, a Clear agent escorts you right to the front of security. No waiting required.

  2. Cost. TSA PreCheck costs $78 (when applying through Idemia) or $85 (when applying through Telos) for five years while Clear costs $189 per year. Apply for both TSA PreCheck and Clear as a bundle (only available at certain airports) and the whole package will cost $199.95, with Clear membership only lasting one year, but PreCheck lasting for the full five.

  3. Organization type. Clear is owned by a private company while TSA PreCheck is a government program.

One program doesn’t replace the other. They are complementary to one another.

TSA PreCheck and Clear aren’t available at every airport, so many frequent travelers find it best to have memberships to both. This improves the odds of faster and smoother airport experiences.

Luckily, there are many credit cards that completely cover the cost of both programs, allowing you to pay nothing out-of-pocket for both benefits.

Get a reimbursement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry with our favorite cards
Check out our nerdy picks for the best cards for travelers that want TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck, managed by the Transportation Security Administration, is available to low-risk travelers who undergo an advance screening process. Open to U.S. citizens and certain foreign citizens, this includes a background check to determine eligibility for passing through airport security without having follow certain protocols.

Examples include removing your shoes and belt, taking out liquids or electronics (like laptop computers), and taking off outer garments, like a light jacket.

How does TSA PreCheck work?

Once you’re approved for TSA PreCheck, you’re issued a Known Traveler Number, which you provide to your airline by storing it in your frequent flyer account or entering it into your reservation. Your boarding passes will henceforth include a TSA PreCheck designation that authorizes you to use an expedited security screening lane in more than 200 domestic airports. More than 85 domestic and international airlines participate in the program.

TSA PreCheck members pass through a traditional metal detector rather than a full body scanner (which some people find invasive). And you’ll usually get through security much faster: According to the TSA, about 99% of PreCheck-eligible passengers waited ten minutes or less.

TSA doesn't guarantee expedited screening with PreCheck. Occasionally, you may have to go through a random secondary check of your bags by security personnel.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If the TSA PreCheck designation doesn't appear on your boarding pass, you can ask an airline agent to reenter your information. This usually fixes the problem, and an agent can reprint your boarding pass. Get more advice on adding PreCheck to your airline ticket.

How to apply for TSA PreCheck

U.S. citizens and foreign citizens who meet particular residency requirements are eligible to apply online and pay the $78 fee when paid for through provider Idemia (good for five years and easy to renew online for $70 per renewal after five years). If you apply through provider Telos, the initial application fee is $85. After applying online and receiving conditional approval, your final application step is to visit an enrollment center for a brief interview.

If you'd like to skip the enrollment center, you can apply for TSA PreCheck online through Clear (whether on its own or as a package with Clear) and complete your application at a Clear kiosk in an airport currently supporting this service.

Families with children under 12 can also apply, but if you travel with them, they can also access the TSA PreCheck line with you without paying to be a member. Children 13-17 years old can also accompany TSA PreCheck member parents/guardians but must have the TSA PreCheck indicator on their boarding pass to do so.

What is Clear at the airport?

Using biometric data to identify travelers (rather than manually checking photo identification), Clear machines allow flyers to bypass long security queues and get to a TSA screening point faster.

Clear does not include the membership features of TSA PreCheck, however.

After passing through a Clear kiosk, if you have PreCheck, you can go directly to the PreCheck lane (ahead of other passengers waiting in line); if not, you must use the regular screening line (also ahead of other passengers waiting in line).

The real benefit of Clear is saving time.

This means that if you value not having to remove shoes, electronics, liquids and outerwear, you will also want to apply for TSA PreCheck. If you only want to bypass the line, but don't mind removing items and passing through a body scanner, then Clear may be worth it on its own.

Unlike TSA PreCheck, Clear is only available at a few dozen domestic airports. Members use a faster line to scan their fingerprint or iris before moving directly to the security lane. Clear is also available at other venues that require lining up for a security check, like stadiums.

As an added perk, Clear membership will also get you complimentary Avis Preferred Plus status with Avis's loyalty program. Avis Preferred Plus status includes perks like:

  • A free, single-car class upgrade upon availability.

  • The ability to earn additional bonus points on each rental.

  • Access to exclusive offers and promotional discounts.

You would typically need to spend $4,000 on qualifying Avis purchases or complete 10 rentals in a calendar year to qualify for Avis Preferred Plus.

How to apply for Clear

You can apply for Clear online or at an airport Clear kiosk by showing valid government-issued identification. Unlike TSA PreCheck, there is no background check needed to apply for Clear, although you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident 18 or older.

Clear costs $189 for an annual membership (auto-renewals are possible and do not require any additional verification), and members can add up to three family members for an additional $60 per person. Children under 18 can use a Clear lane for free if they are traveling with a Clear member.

If you apply for Clear as a bundle with PreCheck (total cost of $199.95), you can effectively get your first year of clear for only $122.

If you are a United Premier 1K or Delta Diamond Medallion member, you get an annual membership free of charge. Other Delta and United elite members get a discount.

Credit cards with TSA PreCheck

A number of popular travel credit cards reimburse you for the application fee for Trusted Traveler Programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. (A TSA PreCheck fee waiver is also available as an optional reward for Platinum members of the Orbitz Rewards program.)

Among those cards:

Cards with TSA PreCheck
Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card
United℠ Explorer Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Bank of America's website

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $95.

$95.

$550.

TSA PreCheck Benefit

Statement credit of up to $100 as reimbursement when you charge the application fee for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or NEXUS to the card. Available once every 4 years.

Statement credit of up to $100 as reimbursement when you charge the application fee for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry to the card. Available once every 4 years.

Statement credit of up to $100 as reimbursement when you charge the application fee for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or NEXUS to the card. Available once every 4 years.

Horizontal scroll

Here's a closer look, for example, at how the Chase Sapphire Reserve®'s TSA PreCheck benefit works.

If your credit card offers reimbursement for the application fee for programs like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, you must pay the fee with the card. You cannot submit a claim for reimbursement if you paid with some other method. Reimbursement will usually appear as a statement credit in your account within two months.

Cards typically offer reimbursement of only one fee once every four to five years. Check the terms and conditions of your card for the specific rules that apply. Note also that these cards only reimburse the application fee for a trusted traveler program. They don't automatically enroll you in the program or guarantee that you'll be accepted by the program. You still have to apply and go through the required screening, which in the case of TSA PreCheck and Global Entry includes an in-person appointment.


🤓Nerdy Tip

If you have been approved for Global Entry, you do not need to apply separately for TSA PreCheck. It comes automatically with Global Entry, so do not double pay.

If you travel internationally often, applying for Global Entry would make more sense, but if you are a mostly domestic traveler, you should stick to TSA PreCheck as the application process is simpler.

Credit cards with Clear membership

The Platinum Card® from American Express
NerdWallet rating 

Several cards will reimburse you if you pay for Clear membership with the card. This includes The Platinum Card® from American Express, the American Express® Green Card and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. Each offers a statement credit up to $189 per year for purchasing Clear access.

Other cards offering a fee credit for the Clear application include the United℠ Explorer Card, United Club℠ Infinite Card and Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card.

Terms apply.

Is Clear better than PreCheck?

Since TSA PreCheck is available at more airports and provides expedited security wait times, as well as an easier screening process, TSA PreCheck is better than Clear if you want to only get one. Those with Clear membership only have access to faster security lanes. Without TSA PreCheck, Clear members must still remove their shoes, electronics, liquids and outerwear.

But the choice of TSA PreCheck versus Clear doesn't have to be an either-or proposition. Many TSA PreCheck members value having Clear, as it further expedites moving ahead of the occasionally long TSA PreCheck lane in dozens of airports.

Still, TSA PreCheck remains the best way to make your way airside without wasting time in lines.

The only real upside to having Clear alone, without TSA PreCheck, is if you plan to use it exclusively at stadiums, where it will get you to the front of the line faster.

Not all U.S. citizens will be approved for TSA PreCheck for various reasons, including problems with a background check. If that’s you, Clear alone can be worthwhile if you fly regularly from an airport that has Clear lanes.

TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry vs. Clear

Many travelers learning the differences between TSA PreCheck and Clear often have questions about another popular Trusted Traveler program, Global Entry. Here is a closer look at TSA PreCheck versus Global Entry versus Clear.

TSA PreCheck

Global Entry

Clear

Number of locations

200+ airports.

75 airports.

67 locations.

Number of enrollment centers

500+ enrollment centers.

116 enrollment centers.

50+ airports.

Membership length

5 years.

5 years.

1 year.

Cost

$78, then $70 to renew.

$100, then $100 to renew.

$189 annually.

Value proposition

Faster security lanes. Screening conveniences, such as no need to take off shoes, electronics and liquids can be left in bags.

Expedited immigration. Preclearance available at some international locations. Includes TSA PreCheck.

No wait ahead of security at multiple venues, ranging from airports to arenas. Hertz Fast Lane access.

Flaws, but not dealbreakers

Sometimes TSA PreCheck lines can be longer.

Requires fingerprinting and background check.

High cost. Doesn't include the screening conveniences of TSA PreCheck.

Final thoughts on choosing Clear or TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is the best option for frequent travelers. If you can apply for and afford both TSA PreCheck and Clear (especially as part of the cheaper, bundled product), you are even better off. Why waste time in line when you can be on your way to the gate or a comfortable airport lounge?

To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.
All information about the American Express® Green Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The American Express® Green Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.

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