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.
clear vs. tsa precheck

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

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 even 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

The main differences between Clear and TSA PreCheck can be boiled into three areas:

  1. Bypassing security waits vs. shortening it. 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 for five years while Clear costs $189 per year.

  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.

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 80 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, more than 97% of PreCheck-eligible passengers waited five minutes or less in June 2021.

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.

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 the boarding pass with the necessary TSA PreCheck information.

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 (good for five years and easy to renew online for $70 per renewal after five years). After applying online and receiving conditional approval, your final application step is to visit an enrollment center for a brief interview.

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.

Credit cards with TSA PreCheck

Some cards will reimburse you for the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry enrollment fee when you use the card to pay. These include:

Terms apply.

🤓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.

What is Clear?

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.

How to apply for Clear

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. You can apply in minutes online or via an airport Clear kiosk by showing valid government-issued identification.

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.

Clear offers a free two-month trial if you want to test it out, and 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.

Cards that offer Clear membership

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 it is available at more airports and provides expedited security wait times as well as an easier screening process, the winner is TSA PreCheck. 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.

59 locations.

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.

TSA PreCheck or Clear, recapped

TSA PreCheck is the best option for frequent travelers. If you can apply for and afford both TSA PreCheck and Clear, 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?

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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