If you travel often, you probably daydream about how to make the airport experience quick, easy, and frictionless. Because when it comes to navigating airport security, there can be a lot of unanticipated hiccups—long lines, misplaced IDs and boarding passes, extra security checks—that slow you down.
That’s where expedited screening programs come in.
But knowing which program meets your needs can be tricky. To help, we’ve taken a closer look at the two programs available—TSA PreCheck and CLEAR—their benefits and costs, plus how they work together if you’re interested in joining both.
Here’s what you need to know to make a decision.
What is TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program that allows you to quickly move through airport security. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Once you’ve been approved as a low-risk traveler, you gain access to an expedited security line where you don’t have to remove or separately scan your laptop, liquids, shoes, or jackets.
A five-year membership costs $85 for initial enrollment and is available to all U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents. Becoming a member of TSA PreCheck involves a five minute online application followed by a ten minute in-person interview at an enrollment center (such as your local airport), which includes a background check and fingerprinting.
Supplemental reading: Skipping Airport Security Lines Is a Matter of Biometrics
More than 200 domestic airports participate in the program—check to see if your home airport does here—as well as 80 international and domestic airlines. (Note: You need to fly on an airline and via airports that participate to access the PreCheck lane.) Once you’re approved, all you have to do is enter your Known Traveler Number (KTN) when booking a flight.
Note that you are not guaranteed TSA PreCheck for every flight. If you have TSA PreCheck and your boarding pass isn’t marked as such, it’s worth mentioning this at the airline check-in counter to see if the designation can be added to your travel documents. In the future, make sure all of your frequent flyer accounts have your KTN listed and in the appropriate field. This will make booking easier and passing through security lines faster.
DYK? With TripIt Pro, you can find out security wait times—including those for TSA PreCheck lanes—for select airports before you even arrive at the airport. Armed with this intel, you can compare which lane is fastest and head straight there as soon as you arrive curbside. You can also use Interactive Airport Maps to locate amenities near each security checkpoint, like restrooms, restaurants, COVID-19 testing sites, and more.
Many travel credit cards offer complimentary TSA PreCheck membership as a statement credit. Check to see if yours does. Likewise, if you’re interested in joining the program, that perk alone might help you decide which credit card to sign up for.
What is CLEAR?
CLEAR is a registered traveler program that allows members to quickly verify their identities at dedicated security kiosks. Unlike TSA PreCheck, CLEAR is a privately owned program certified by the Department of Homeland Security. Instead of using traditional photo identification documents (such as a driver’s license or passport), CLEAR uses biometrics. Specifically, the program scans your fingerprints and/or the irises of your eyes to verify your identity.
The program replaces the need for a TSA representative to check your boarding pass and photo ID. After your identity is confirmed, a CLEAR Ambassador escorts you directly to the next step of security—the physical and luggage scanning stage.
CLEAR membership runs $179 per year. You can sign up online and then complete your application at an airport kiosk in just a matter of minutes. If you’re flying out of one of CLEAR’s 35+ airports, you can also sign up for the service on-site.
Ready for even more good news? With a TripIt Pro membership, you can try CLEAR on a four month free trial, plus you’ll receive a discounted annual rate of $149.
Can I become a member of both TSA PreCheck and CLEAR?
In short, yes! Since a CLEAR membership expedites the ID-checking part and TSA PreCheck expedites the security line part, you can use the two programs together to make navigating airport security as quick as possible.
Do you need both programs? Well, that’s entirely up to you, but here are a few things to consider:
- Cost: As a reminder, TSA PreCheck costs $85 for five years (many travel credit cards offer this as statement credit) and CLEAR costs $179 for one year (TripIt Pro members get a discount).
- Availability: TSA PreCheck is more widely available than CLEAR; 200 airports versus nearly 40 (at the time of publication). That said, CLEAR also helps expedite entry to other venues in the U.S., including sports stadiums and concert venues. Also bear in mind that while an airport has a TSA PreCheck line, it might not always be in service or you might not be selected for expedited screening by your airline. With CLEAR, you always have access to the CLEAR lane. CLEAR has also launched a Health Pass in their app to easily store and access your COVID-19 vaccination information, negative test results, and more.
- Your home airport: Given the availability of each program, be sure to check if your home (or most frequented) airport(s) offers one or both. One program might be more valuable to you than the other simply based on the likelihood that you’ll get to use it.
While some travelers opt for TSA PreCheck and others for CLEAR, both programs help you more quickly navigate your travel journey. As the travel landscape continues to evolve, you may find one program is a better fit than the other, or that their complementary benefits make your life on the road easier. What matters is choosing the program that suits your travel style best—and makes getting to your destination that much more enjoyable.