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Person placing their shoes and personal items into a security bin at the airport security check
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How To Skip To The Front Of The Airport Line…Every Time

SmarterTravel

As air travel approaches pre-pandemic levels and airports become more crowded, security lines are getting longer. But there is a guaranteed way to make sure you get to the front of the line…every time you fly. That means less stress figuring out how far in advance to get to the airport, and less time actually waiting in line. 

In this article, I cover the benefits of CLEAR and explain how it is different from TSA PreCheck. I’ll also teach you how to get free or discounted CLEAR membership so you can save both time and money!

Note that this article is not sponsored by CLEAR. I’ve been using CLEAR for the past four years and just want to share how useful it can be to frequent travelers.

What’s the Difference Between CLEAR and TSA PreCheck?

CLEAR

Both CLEAR and TSA PreCheck are expedited security programs that travelers can join for a fee. However, CLEAR will get you to the front of the line more quickly. 

At most major U.S. airports, there are two main security lanes: one for TSA PreCheck (usually shorter) and one for regular processing (usually longer.) TSA PreCheck is a popular program that many travelers are already members of. It costs only $85 for five years, which is great value. After a background check and quick interview, most people get approval. However, so many travelers are now enrolled in the program that the TSA PreCheck line can often get long.

CLEAR goes a step further. It is a third lane—complete with dedicated customer service agents and actual red carpet—that allows you to skip ahead.

CLEAR uses biometrics, i.e. facial recognition and fingerprints, to identify you at a kiosk. Then you’ll scan your boarding pass and a CLEAR representative will escort you to the front of the line. From there, you’ll go one of two ways…

If you have TSA Pre-Check in addition to CLEAR, then you’ll go to the front of the Pre-Check line. However, if you do not have PreCheck, then you will go to the front of the regular lane instead and have to do the usual screening, including taking off your shoes and removing any devices from your bags.

Why Should I Get CLEAR?

Basically, you don’t have to worry about how long the security line is going to be. You can leave home (or your accommodation) knowing that you just need to allow enough time to check-in, drop bags (if needed), and go straight to the front of the security line.

Given CLEAR is significantly more expensive than TSA PreCheck, this program is best suited to frequent travelers.

Which Airports Have CLEAR?

CLEAR is available at 30+ airports in the U.S., including 19 of the top 20 (Charlotte is the only one missing.) It covers most of the major airport hubs, as well as secondary airports like Baltimore, New Orleans and Sacramento.

It’s worth checking the CLEAR locations page to see if CLEAR operates at your home airport and/or destinations that you often fly to. You’ll also want to check the operating hours as well as in which terminal/s a CLEAR lane is available.

For example, at my home airport of Austin, the CLEAR lane closes at 6:30pm. That means if I were to fly out on a 9pm flight, I’d want to know that I would not be able to access CLEAR before my flight.

CLEAR has also expanded to operate at sporting and entertainment venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden and Dallas’ Globe Life Field. Finally, it is increasingly becoming common to find a CLEAR lane at one-off events and festivals like Chicago’s Pride In The Park.

How Much Does CLEAR Cost?

The base membership fee for CLEAR is $179/year. However, no one should pay full price (see next section.) If you compare the two expedited security programs, CLEAR will cost you a total of $895 over five years compared to TSA PreCheck’s $85 (less than 10% of the cost of CLEAR.)

Up to three family members can be added for $50/year each. However, children under 18 years old who are traveling with you do not need a membership.

How Can I Get a Free or Discounted CLEAR Membership?

Through a Frequent Flyer Program

The most common way to save money on a CLEAR membership is to apply using your Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus frequent flyer number. (Both of these programs are free to join if you’re not already a member.) Base members of these two programs get a discounted rate of $119, saving you $60.

If you have Silver, Gold or Platinum status with either program, the price drops to $109. Top-tier Delta Diamond Medallion and United Premier 1K members get a free CLEAR membership.

Through a Credit Card

Alternatively, you can get discounted membership rates if you hold a specific credit card. If you have a Delta- or United-branded credit card, you get a discounted $109 rate.

American Express Platinum and Business Platinum Card Members get a $179 statement credit each calendar year when using their card to pay for a CLEAR membership. American Express Green Card Members get a $100 statement credit.

By Being a Student

Students can get a four-year membership to CLEAR for only $50, coming out to only $12.50/year. This is a great deal and a no-brainer in my opinion!

Through a Trial

CLEAR offers a free two-month trial. If you do not want to continue to use the service, just make sure you cancel before the trial ends.

How Do I Apply For CLEAR?

  1. Click through a cashback portal (up to $6 extra value)
  2. Enroll for a free two-month trial; or click through the Delta, United or student page for discounted membership
  3. Take your ID to a CLEAR kiosk next time you fly (no appointment needed)
  4. An agent will help you take your biometric information

Note that if your application is denied by CLEAR for any reason, you are entitled to a refund of your membership fee.

Bottom Line

If you are a frequent traveler and value your time, then CLEAR may be worth enrolling in. You can try out the service before you commit by signing up for a free two-month trial. You can also save money on the membership fee by either applying through Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus, or holding a specific credit card. Students get a hefty discount too.

On the other hand, if you are not a frequent traveler, getting TSA PreCheck may instead offer you better value. You’ll still save time compared to the regular line but do be aware that the PreCheck line can still be long, especially during peak travel periods.

Finally, CLEAR also offers expedited security screening at a growing number of sporting and entertainment venues and events, which will become more useful as the world opens back up.

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