Clear expedited airport security program — is it worthwhile?
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Two decades ago, going through airport security was a simple process. You simply got into THE line, put your stuff through the X-ray machine and walked through the metal detector. Today, the situation is much more complex, with as many as four different security lines at some airports, various levels of identity verification and screening offered, and a shifting array of rules and guidelines for each. Here’s what the security line at SFO looked like just a few days ago. That’s when you need a strategy to get through security quickly. Enter Clear.
This expedited security program has made its way to more than 30 airports — and 20 stadiums — in the United States, so you’ve likely seen the kiosks and uniformed agents at airports or stadiums — not to mention a Clear member escorted ahead of you when going through airport security. In fact, in early November it opened at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH).
In addition, the iconic American Express® Green Card just emerged from a serious refresh, cardholders will receive up to a $100 annual credit when they use their American Express Green Card to purchase a Clear membership. Better yet, American Express Centurion cardholders will receive an annual statement credit for Clear membership, including up to three family members.
Here’s what you should know about Clear including the benefits and potential drawbacks.
How Clear Works
As Clear’s representative explained to me, today’s airport security consists of passing through two steps: identity verification and security screening. Travelers who have enrolled in Clear have their own separate lane for the first step, where you can utilize biometric authentication (fingerprint or eye scan) at a kiosk rather than wait for a TSA agent to inspect your ID and scribble something on your boarding pass. And with Clear, no one will bark at you for “approaching the podium” before they’re ready for you.
After your identity has been verified, a Clear representative will escort you to the actual security screening, bypassing everyone waiting in the first line. If you’re also enrolled in TSA PreCheck, then you’ll be taken directly to the PreCheck line. Finally, children under 18 may use the Clear line for free when traveling with a paid member.
The Clear program that operates today is actually its second iteration. Clear first began in 2004, long before TSA PreCheck was available. That company went bankrupt in 2010, and its assets were purchased by the current founders. The present Clear is an entirely separate organization, with no remaining staff from the old company. According to the representative I spoke to, the old Clear expanded too aggressively and was spread too thin, while the new Clear is taking a more conservative approach.
TPG himself recently talked with Clear CEO, Caryn Seidman-Becker, about Clear’s plans to expand to more stadiums and airports, the importance of biometric technology and membership pricing. Click here for the podcast.
Where Clear Works
At this time, Clear is available at the following airports:
- Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) in Austin, Texas
- Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) in Baltimore, Maryland
- Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) in Birmingham, Alabama
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) in Boston, Massachusetts
- Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) in Hebron, Kentucky
- Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) in Cleveland, Ohio
- Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL) in Dallas, Texas
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in Dallas and Tarrant counties, Texas
- Denver International Airport (DEN) in Denver, Colorado
- Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
- Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Washington, D.C.
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- George Bush International Airport (IAH) in Houston, Texas
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in Atlanta, Georgia
- John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York, New York
- LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in New York, NY
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California
- Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) in New Orleans, Louisiana
- McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada
- Miami International Airport (MIA) in Miami, Florida
- Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) in Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in Newark, New Jersey
- Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) in San Jose, California
- O’Hare International Airport (ORD) in Chicago, Illinois
- Orlando International Airport (MCO) in Orlando, Florida
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) in Phoenix, Arizona
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia
- Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) in Salt Lake City, Utah
- San Antonio International Airport (SAT) in San Antonio, Texas
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) in Seattle, Washington
- Westchester County Airport (HPN) in White Plains, New York
- William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) in Houston, Texas
Additionally, Clear is available at select entrances to the following stadiums during some events:
- Atlanta — SunTrust Park
- Austin — Univerity of Texas
- Baltimore — Oriole Park at Camden Yards
- Cleveland — Progressive Field
- Dallas — Globe Life Park
- Denver — Coors Field
- Detroit — Comerica Park
- Los Angeles — Banc of California Stadium
- Los Angeles — Staples Center
- Miami — AmericanAirlines Arena
- Minneapolis — Target Field
- New York — Citi Field
- New York — Madison Square Garden
- New York — Yankee Stadium
- Oakland — Oakland Coliseum
- San Francisco — Oracle Park
- San Francisco — RingCentral Coliseum
- San Jose — Avaya Stadium
- Seattle — CenturyLink Field
- Seattle — T-Mobile Park
At the Seattle stadiums, you can also use Clear to make some alcohol and concession purchases with just your fingerprint.
Clear Versus TSA PreCheck
I’ve noticed the Clear lane at my home airport in Denver, and hadn’t given it much thought, since my entire family is enrolled in Global Entry, which offers access to TSA PreCheck. However (as it was explained to me), one is not a substitute for the other, and Clear offers some distinct, and complementary advantages.
First, TSA PreCheck members are not guaranteed access every day, as they can be randomly excluded and sent to the standard line, but Clear has no randomized exclusion of passengers. In addition, everyone who enters the Clear line is a member of Clear and knows how to operate the system. On the other hand, TSA sometimes adds nonmember travelers to the PreCheck line who have no idea how it works and hold things up. Also, PreCheck only works when traveling with a participating airline. In contrast, Clear works when traveling with any carrier.
Other distinctions between Clear and PreCheck include the ability to reach screening more quickly by speeding up the verification process, and the fact that not everyone will be able to qualify for PreCheck. Also, keep in mind that having Clear doesn’t preclude you from using the streamlined PreCheck security screening process; it’s just designed to help you reach it faster than you would have otherwise.
Clear Versus the Line for Elite and Premium Passengers
The four security lines I mentioned above include the standard line, the PreCheck line, the Clear line and finally one for passengers traveling in first (or business) class and those with elite status. While this first-class/elite line is usually much shorter than the standard line, you may still find yourself waiting for the TSA agent to inspect your ID and boarding pass, while Clear automates this process and escorts passengers directly to either the standard or PreCheck screening. Clear is blind to status, so there’s no need to worry about being bypassed if you’re traveling in economy or lack elite status with any airline. Indeed, you may be the one doing the bypassing.
Clear Versus Clear Sports
You can use your paid Clear membership at select stadiums that have Clear lanes. But, there’s also a free Clear Sports membership that allows fans to enjoy expedited entry to games at participating stadiums. However, this membership doesn’t provide access to non-stadium Clear locations such as airports.
To register for a Clear Sports membership, simply arrive at an eligible stadium before an eligible event and visit the enrollment area outside the stadium. Clear Sports members may bring one guest with them through the Clear Lane at stadium Clear locations and can upgrade to a paid membership that’s valid at non-stadium locations anytime.
What Clear Costs
The normal rate for Clear membership is $179 per year. However, TPG readers can use the promo code TPG149 to get a discounted membership of $149 for the first year or can use the promo code TPG2M to get a two-month free trial membership. You can enter either code manually or use the above links to get the discount.
Clear and Delta have also partnered to offer the following special membership rates for US-based SkyMiles members:
- Diamond Medallion members: complimentary membership
- Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion members: $109 per year
- Basic cardmembers of the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card: $109 per year
- General SkyMiles members: $119 per year
In order to take advantage of these rates, simply apply your SkyMiles number during enrollment or link your SkyMiles account here after enrolling. Since it’s free to join Delta SkyMiles, this means any US-based passenger can access the $119 per year membership rate by linking their SkyMiles account to their Clear account.
Once you are a Clear member, you can log in to your account on Clear’s website and add up to three family members for $50 each per year. Remember that children under 18 can use the lane for free when accompanied by a Clear member and aren’t eligible to enroll in Clear themselves.
How to Enroll in Clear
You can either start the enrollment process online and finish at a Clear location, or you can do the entire process at a Clear location. The enrollment process takes about five minutes and no appointment is required. The final steps of enrollment, which must be done at a Clear location, include answering a few simple questions to verify your identity, providing a valid photo ID and method of payment and attaching your biometrics (fingerprints and a picture of your irises) to your newly created account.
In order to enroll, you must (1) be a US citizen or legal permanent resident, (2) be at least 18 years old and (3) have one of the following forms of photo identification: US Driver’s License, US Passport, US Passport Card, US-issued Permanent Resident Card, State Issued ID or US Military ID.
Once you enroll in Clear or Clear Sports, you should link your US-based Hertz Gold Plus Rewards account to your Clear or Clear Sports account here. Once you have a valid US Driver’s License as well as fingerprints and a photo associated with your Clear membership you’ll be able to use Hertz Fast Lane powered by Clear at select Hertz locations.
If Clear is available at your home airport or one you visit frequently, then it could be a big time saver regardless of whether you have TSA PreCheck. Even if you have PreCheck, the reality is that there’s often just a single TSA staffer checking IDs and boarding passes for the PreCheck line, alternating with other non PreCheck passengers and holding things up significantly. The idea is that Clear members enjoy more predictable access to security, which means those who check in online and don’t check bags can schedule airport arrivals even closer to departure than they would normally. Otherwise, you can still spend more time in your favorite lounge or restaurant, and less time waiting in line for the TSA.
On the downside, no credit cards offer a statement credit for Clear membership while you can get a statement credit for Global Entry membership with select credit cards including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express. Plus, Clear is only available in a limited number of cities. But if the footprint roughly matches your typical travel patterns, and you highly value a predictable travel experience, then Clear is worth considering.
Ready to enroll in CLEAR? Use code TPG2M to get a two-month free trial.
Featured image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy
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