Clear expedited airport security program — Is it worth it?
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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 the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) looked like on a recent trip through the city. And if you think that TSA PreCheck is always enough to get in a short security line — sadly, it isn’t a guarantee.
When airports are a regular part of your life, you need multiple ways to get through security quickly. Enter Clear.
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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 the last few months, Clear has continued expansion into Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH), Chicago (ORD) and St. Louis (STL).
In addition, the iconic American Express® Green Card recently emerged from a serious refresh and now cardholders will 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 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.)
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 since you’re just following the Clear rep 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.
The Clear program that operates today is 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
- St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) in St. Louis, Missouri
- 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 — University 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 — 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 — Ring Central 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. 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 (as it was explained to me), one is not a substitute for the other, and 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.
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.
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.
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. 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 both Delta and United have also partnered to offer the following special membership rates for their members:
Delta SkyMiles discounts
- Delta Diamond Medallion members: complimentary membership
- Delta Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion members: $109 per year
- Basic cardmembers of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card: $109 per year
- General SkyMiles members: $119 per year
United MileagePlus discounts
- United 1K members: complimentary membership
- United Platinum, Gold and Silver members: $109 per year
- Basic cardmembers of the United co-branded credit cards such as the United Explorer Card, United Business Card, United Club Infinite Card: $109 per year
- General United MileagePlus members: $119 per year
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.
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, 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.
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.
If Clear is available at your home airport or one you visit frequently, which it very well may be given the recent expansion, 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.
When it comes time to pay for Clear, keep in mind that the American Express Green Card can give you a $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 The Platinum Card® from American Express. If you highly value a predictable travel experience and lots of options when it comes time to get through security, 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
Additional reporting by Summer Hull
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