TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry vs. CLEAR: What’s the Difference?

Quick Answer

TSA PreCheck lets you go through security at domestic airports without removing your shoes, liquids or laptop. Global Entry membership expedites customs processing when entering the U.S. CLEAR membership helps you skip a long ID check line.

Travelers with luggage using smart phones while waiting in line for boarding at airport. Focus on wheeled luggage.

Document verifications and security checks at airports are tedious but necessary parts of traveling. The good news is gaining membership to certain trusted traveler programs can make your airport experience less of a hassle.

TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR are programs that can help frequent travelers speed through airport security or U.S. customs. Read on to learn how each program works and how they compare head to head.

What Is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a government-run program that expedites the physical screening process at an airport's security checkpoint. The program works by prescreening travelers with a background check. If you're found to be a low-risk traveler, you'll get a Trusted Traveler number to include on your flight bookings (in the Known Traveler Number field). That identifier lets you go through a faster security screening line where you don't have to remove your shoes, liquids, laptops or jacket.

TSA PreCheck is available at over 200 airports nationwide and costs $78 for a five-year membership. Applications for TSA PreCheck start online, after which you'll visit an enrollment center in person to do the background check which includes fingerprinting.

What Is Global Entry?

Global Entry is another government-run program for trusted travelers, but its purpose is to expedite entry into the U.S. after traveling internationally. If you get approved for Global Entry, you can use your passport or U.S. permanent residence card at an automated Global Entry kiosk to verify your identity and complete the customs form. This can help you bypass the long line for customs upon arrival.

Global Entry is available at 77 airports, and a one-time $100 fee covers five years of membership. The application process includes an in-person interview with a background check. If you qualify for Global Entry, the membership also comes with the benefits of TSA PreCheck.

What Is CLEAR?

CLEAR is a private program (not run by the government) that expedites the document verification process at an airport security checkpoint by using biometrics.

Instead of getting in the standard line where TSA physically checks your boarding pass and identification, you go through a faster CLEAR Plus lane for verification using eye or fingerprint scanning at a pod. After your information is checked, you get escorted to a security lane to go directly through the physical security screening as normal (in other words, you'll still have to remove your shoes and follow other usual screening, unlike TSA PreCheck).

CLEAR is currently available at 51 national airports. CLEAR membership costs $189 per year, so it's pricier than other trusted travel programs on this list. To join, you can sign up online and visit a participating airport to complete enrollment.

Which Frequent Traveler Program Should You Choose?

Below is a breakdown of the features, costs and important details of each traveler program to help you decide which is right for you.

TSA PreCheck Global Entry CLEAR
Benefits Allows you to go through a faster airport security line without removing liquids, shoes, jackets or laptops Allows you to go through U.S. customs faster by verifying your identity and customs forms at a Global Entry kiosk Allows you to go through a faster line to verify your ID and boarding pass at the security checkpoint; afterward, you can go directly through the physical security screening
How often do you have to renew? Every five years Every five years Every year
What it costs $78 for five years $100 for five years $189 per year
Where it's available Over 200 airports nationwide 77 airports 51 airports
Eligibility requirements

Available to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and permanent residents

Available to U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents and select international travelers

Available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents 18 and older with a valid government ID

For domestic travel, TSA PreCheck is the most affordable and beneficial way to make your airport travel process less cumbersome since it's cheap and widely available nationwide. If you travel internationally, even just occasionally, Global Entry can be worthwhile because it's affordable and comes with the benefits of TSA PreCheck.

CLEAR is expanding its reach to new airports; however, it's still a fairly limited service and expensive at $189 per year. Choosing CLEAR might make sense if you frequently pass through participating airports and you're willing to invest a bit more money to skip the security ID check line. However, you would need to pair CLEAR with TSA PreCheck or Global Entry to speed through customs or airport security without taking off personal items.

How to Save Money on TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR Fees

If you're a frequent traveler who uses travel rewards cards, you may not have to pay for travel security programs fully out of pocket. That's because certain credit cards provide a credit to cover the cost of TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or CLEAR when you apply or renew your membership. The rebate or credit often works by reimbursing the program fee after you charge it to your credit card account. Before paying for a travel program, check the cards in your wallet to see if paying with a certain one can save you money.

The Bottom Line

While security checkpoints at airports are necessary, they can still be inconvenient when traveling regularly or running late for a flight. Overall, TSA PreCheck is the lowest-cost way to breeze through security on domestic flights, while Global Entry will get you TSA PreCheck benefits and speed you through U.S. customs when you travel internationally.

Using CLEAR is an investment that could make sense if you spend a significant amount of time commuting or traveling for work at airports with CLEAR pods. In this scenario, the fee could be worth the extra convenience if it reduces your stress when getting from Point A to Point B.