Airport security screening has become easier with the implementation of programs like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Clear. Here’s how each compares to the other and which one is best for you.
Nothing increases travel time like waiting in long security lines at the airport.
For travelers who would rather avoid that delay, there are three options: TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Clear. Maybe one, or all, of them is right for you.
What is TSA PreCheck?
A Trusted Traveler program, TSA PreCheck allows you to move more quickly through airport security. That’s because if you have PreCheck, you get to stand in a shorter, faster line where you don’t have to take off your shoes, your belt or a light jacket, nor do you have to remove your laptop or carry-on liquids from your bag.
The federal Transportation Security Administration reports that in November 2021, 94% of PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in security lines.
Where can I use TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is available at most U.S. airports, and it can make a serious dent in airport wait time. Also, not only is it the least expensive of the three options, but if you have the right credit card, it could even be free (see tables below).
“I’m a fan,” says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Unless you’re traveling at peak hours out of an airport like DCA [Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C.], SFO [San Francisco International Airport] or JFK [John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City], it’s rare to see TSA PreCheck lines longer than a 60-second wait.”
If you’re still on the fence, TSA PreCheck is usually best if you only travel domestically (since it doesn’t require a passport) and fly at least one to two times a year.
What is Global Entry?
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program, Global Entry offers everything TSA PreCheck does – and more. When you return from travel abroad, Global Entry means no more waiting in long customs lines and filling out paperwork. One quick check-in at an electronic kiosk and you’re ready to head to baggage claim. Plus, TSA PreCheck is included in Global Entry.
Where can I use Global Entry?
Global Entry is available at several domestic and international airports, but it’s best for those who travel internationally. For only $15 more, you get both PreCheck and the ability to whisk through customs. Plus, as with PreCheck, many cards will refund the $100 fee on your statement.
“I have Global Entry and I love it,” says Adam Riemer, a marketing consultant and frequent flyer.
Global Entry has even saved Riemer from missing flights.
“One time, I was in Houston, coming back from Mexico, and there was a light storm that was delaying entry,” he said. “If I didn’t have Global Entry, I would not have made it through on time to get my connection.”
What is Clear?
Clear is a biometric secure identity platform that stores the personal information of its users – what it calls “biometric identifiers” – and uses this data to allow users to skip airport lines.
Unlike TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, Clear is operated by a technology company known as AlCLEAR, LLC – not the government. The program uses your irises and fingertips to prove that you are, indeed, you.
A Clear agent scans your eyes and hands, matches you with information you previously provided the company and presto – you’re sweeping right past the ID line at the stadium or airport. SAFETY Act certified, Clear offers a futuristic alternative to avoiding lines at airports and other venues.
Clear enhances PreCheck. With PreCheck, you can still be randomly excluded from the expedited line. Not so with Clear. After verifying that you are really you, a Clear agent will escort you directly to the security screening.
Where can I use Clear?
Clear is currently available in 37 U.S airports (as well as at select stadiums):
- 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)
The membership is best suited to those who are both frequent flyers and often fly out of airports that have Clear. For instance, in Southern California, there are Clear kiosks at Los Angeles International Airport. But there are four other airports serving the area: San Diego, Orange County, the Inland Empire and Burbank. None of them has Clear, so it might not make as much sense for someone who regularly flies out of San Diego International Airport, for example, to shell out close to $200 a year for a Clear membership.
Credit cards that offer membership credits
Many travel credit cards offer statement refunds for the two federal programs. However, American Express has two cards that offer deals on Clear membership. The Platinum Card® from American Express will cover the $179 cost of a Clear membership if you buy it using the card, and the American Express® Green Card* offers its cardholders an annual credit of $100 that can be used toward a Clear membership.
If waiting in airport check-in lines isn’t for you, choose from the three programs that will get you to the gate faster. Whichever one you opt to sign up for, you may have to take some time to apply, but it will be well worth it when you leave the long lines behind you.
*All information about the American Express Green Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card and the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.