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Going through security at the airport is a necessary part of travel, but it can be a headache if you're running late for a flight. Two options that can get you through security faster are CLEAR and TSA Precheck. The biggest difference between CLEAR and TSA Precheck is that TSA Precheck is offered through the U.S. government, while CLEAR is a private company. We'll outline what CLEAR and TSA Precheck are and how to apply for both.
What Is TSA Precheck?
TSA Precheck is a program that lets you go through security faster at airports throughout the country because you're considered a low-risk traveler. If you're a prechecked traveler, your boarding pass will get a special precheck mark, and you'll be able to go through the TSA Precheck screening lanes.
In this lane, you don't have to remove your shoes, belts or laptops from bags, which helps the line move faster. In December 2022, TSA Precheck reported that 91% of prechecked travelers got through lines within five minutes, a significant time savings for some. To qualify for TSA Precheck, you must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or permanent resident.
How to Apply for TSA Precheck
The process for applying for TSA Precheck starts online but does involve an in-person element.
- Apply online. Complete the online application at TSA.gov/Precheck. You'll need to provide information like your name and address for the background check.
- Go for an in-person appointment. Schedule and attend an appointment where you provide your fingerprints for a background check.
- Add your Known Travel Number (KTN) to airline reservations. If approved, you'll get a Known Travel Number for expedited security screening. Adding this number to airline reservations puts the TSA Precheck mark on your boarding pass.
The TSA Precheck application costs $78 to cover you for five years. However, you may be able to apply for TSA Precheck for free since some travel reward cards will give you a statement credit to reimburse you if you pay for the application with your card.
What Is CLEAR?
CLEAR offers an airport membership service that provides a quicker airport identity verification process. Instead of showing documents like your driver's license or passport to a TSA agent before moving to the physical screening, your identity is verified by eyes or fingerprints in a kiosk. This way you can skip the document verification line and go straight to the security screening.
How to Apply for CLEAR
You can apply for CLEAR at the airport, and it involves stepping into a kiosk to add your eye or fingerprint biometrics to the CLEAR profile. You can start the process of signing up for CLEAR online, but you'll still have to finish setup at an airport kiosk. CLEAR Plus membership costs $189 per year. However, some credit cards will offer cardholders free membership to CLEAR Plus by giving you a $189 statement credit per year.
Differences Between TSA Precheck and CLEAR
The goal of TSA Precheck and CLEAR Plus membership is to make security at the airport less cumbersome, but there are differences in price and how both work. Here's what you need to know in a nutshell:
|Cost||$78 for five years||$189 annually|
|Who runs it?||U.S. government||Private company certified by the Department of Homeland Security|
|How it works||You go through an expedited security screening line where you don't have to take off your shoes or take your laptop out of your bag.||You get expedited identity verification that gets you past the document check faster, then you get ushered directly to the security check.|
|Availability||Available at over 200 U.S. airports||Available at over 40 airports|
Source: TSA Precheck, CLEAR
Is CLEAR Better Than TSA Precheck?
CLEAR isn't necessarily better than TSA Precheck, but it could significantly reduce your wait time. Often, the document check line is what holds you up in airport security, and breezing past that security line bottleneck after going through CLEAR could help you get to your gate faster.
However, the CLEAR service is currently limited to just over 40 airports, and after using the CLEAR kiosk, you'll still have to go through the regular check that involves taking off your shoes and taking out your laptop. On the other hand, TSA Precheck puts you in a faster, less hectic security line where you don't have to remove all of your belongings. Plus, TSA Precheck is the cheaper option and more widely available in over 200 airports.
The Bottom Line
After being held up a few times at the airport, you may be ready to find a solution to make getting through security less of a headache. Whether to choose TSA Precheck or CLEAR comes down to which perk you prefer—faster bag checks or faster document checks. However, if you have the budget for it, using TSA Precheck and CLEAR could make for the speediest security experience when you book trips through airports that offer both services.