Clear expedited airport security program — Is it worth it?

Jul 10, 2021

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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.

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The security line at SFO.( Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
The security line at SFO was a legendary nightmare pre-pandemic. ( Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Before the pandemic, here’s what travelers could typically expect from the security line at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). And now that more people are traveling after being vaccinated, the long security checkpoint lines are back — but with fewer screeners. Plus if you think that TSA PreCheck is always enough to get in a short security line, it’s never guaranteed.

Related: This summer may be the perfect storm for long airport security lines — here’s how to avoid them

When airports are a regular part of your life, you need multiple ways to get through security quickly. Enter Clear.

This expedited security program has made its way to more than 50 locations nationwide in airports, stadiums and other mass venues. Chances are, you’ve likely seen the kiosks for yourself, with casually uniformed agents escorting Clear members to the front of the line when going through airport security.

The iconic American Express® Green Card emerged from a serious refresh in 2020 and cardholders receive up to a $100 annual credit when they use their American Express Green Card to purchase a Clear membership. American Express Centurion cardholders will receive an annual statement credit for Clear membership, including up to three family members.

(The information for the Amex Green Card and the Centurion card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.)

The Platinum Card® from American Express cardmembers now receive up to $179 annual credit back per year  to cover a Clear membership as part of a recently announced overhaul to offer more lifestyle-focused benefits.(enrollment required)

Here’s what you should know about Clear, including the benefits and potential drawbacks.

Related: Here’s how Clear’s airport precautions will keep you safer when traveling

In This Post

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 iris scan) at a kiosk rather than wait for a TSA agent to inspect your government 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, since you’re just following the Clear representative through the process.

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.

Clear CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker spoke with TPG about Clear’s plans to expand to more stadiums and airports, the importance of biometric technology and membership pricing.

Related: Clear discusses expansion plans on TPG’s Talking Points podcast

United has added Clear checkpoints throughout the U.S., including here at Newark's Terminal C. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)
United has added Clear checkpoints throughout the U.S., including here at Newark’s Terminal C. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Where Clear works

At this time, Clear is available at the following airports:

  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
  • Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
  • Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE)
  • Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
  • George Bush International Airport (IAH)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)
  • McCarran International Airport (LAS)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
  • Nashville International Airport (BNA)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
  • San Antonio International Airport (SAT)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  • St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL)
  • Westchester County Airport (HPN)
  • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • William P. Hobby Airport (HOU)

Additionally, Clear is available at select entrances to the following stadiums during some events:

  • Atlanta — Truist Park
  • Austin — University of Texas
  • Baltimore — Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  • Cleveland — Progressive Field
  • Dallas — Globe Life Field
  • Denver — Coors Field
  • Detroit — Comerica Park
  • Los Angeles — Banc of California Stadium
  • Los Angeles — Staples Center
  • Miami — American Airlines Arena
  • Minneapolis — Target Field
  • New York — Citi Field
  • New York — Madison Square Garden
  • New York — Yankee Stadium
  • Oakland — Oakland Coliseum
  • San Antonio — AT&T Center
  • San Francisco — Oracle Park
  • San Francisco — RingCentral Coliseum
  • San Jose — Avaya Stadium
  • Seattle — Lumen Field
  • Seattle — T-Mobile Park
  • Washington, D.C. — Capital One Arena

At the Seattle stadiums, you can also use Clear to make some alcohol and concession purchases with just your fingerprint. You’ll also find Clear in other places, such as some Hertz car rental lanes.

Clear vs. TSA PreCheck

At my home airport in Denver, I ignored Clear at first, since my entire family is enrolled in Global Entry, which offers access to TSA PreCheck. However, a Clear representative explained to me that one program is not a substitute for the other and that Clear offers some distinct — and complementary — advantages.

First, keep in mind that TSA PreCheck members are not guaranteed access every day, as they can be randomly excluded and sent to the standard line. However, Clear has no randomized exclusion of passengers. Also, 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 non-member 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 entering at the front of the line. 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.

The lines at the Denver airport can get very long (Photo by Jon Bailey/The Points Guy)
The lines at the Denver airport can get very long. (Photo by Jon Bailey/The Points Guy)

Clear vs. the elite security line

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.

Related: Best credit cards for earning elite status

Clear vs. 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.

Related: TPG’s guide to Clear airports and stadiums

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.

How to save on Clear

The normal rate for Clear membership is $179 per year. However, there are many ways to save and avoid paying that full retail price. Clear members who refer friends to the program receive two months of free membership apiece.

Clear and both Delta and United have also partnered to offer the following special membership rates for their members:

Delta SkyMiles discounts

United MileagePlus discounts

To take advantage of these rates, simply apply your SkyMiles or MileagePlus number during enrollment or link your SkyMiles or MileagePlus account after enrolling. Since it’s free to join Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus, this means any U.S.-based passenger can access the $119 per year membership rate by linking their SkyMiles or MileagePlus accounts to their Clear account.

As part of a major overhaul of The Platinum Card® from American Express — with a new $695 annual fee (see rates and fees) — cardmembers now receive up to $179 annual credit back per year to cover their Clear membership. (enrollment required)

Related: Amex revamps Platinum Card with new ‘lifestyle-focused’ benefits, higher annual fee and big welcome offer

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.

Related: Guide to using Clear with a family

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 must be completed at a Clear location, and 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.

To enroll, you must (1) be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, (2) be at least 18 years old and (3) have one of the following forms of photo identification: U.S. driver’s license, U.S. passport, U.S. passport card, U.S.-issued permanent resident card, state-issued ID or U.S. military ID.

Once you enroll in Clear or Clear Sports, you should link your U.S.-based Hertz Gold Plus Rewards account to your Clear or Clear Sports account here. Once you have a valid U.S. 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.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bottom line

If Clear is available at your home airport or one you visit frequently, the program could be a big time-saver for your future travels, 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.

When it comes time to pay for Clear, keep in mind that the Amex Platinum Card now comes with an up to $179 annual credit. The American Express Green Card gives you an up to $100 statement credit toward Clear. For your PreCheck or Global Entry membership, you can leverage statement credits (up to $100) from the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Amex Platinum Card.

If you highly value a predictable travel experience and lots of options when it comes time to get through security, then Clear is well worth your consideration.

For additional reading, check out our picks for the best credit cards.

Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson

Featured image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy

For rates and fees for the Amex Platinum, click here

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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