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On our way back from a recent trip to Sedona, we flew through Phoenix and I happened to notice a person entering the CLEAR security line. I had heard of the program, but to be honest, it never caught my attention since I already have Global Entry, which includes TSA PreCheck. However, after seeing someone actually use the service, I thought I’d review the details of the CLEAR airport security program. After doing some research, I realized that I had several misconceptions about the program.

What is CLEAR?

Logo for CLEAR
CLEAR is often confused with TSA PreCheck, though they are two completely different programs

If you’ve never heard of CLEAR, you’re not alone. It’s available in about 40 locations, so it’s possible that you may not have seen it or even been aware that it exists. CLEAR is a private service, so it’s not managed by TSA or Homeland Security. Though you’ll often see the lines next to the entrance of TSA PreCheck, so it can be a bit confusing.

CLEAR allows you to get past the initial checkpoint where the TSA agent checks your ID and boarding pass. What happens with CLEAR is that you’ll scan your boarding pass and use biometrics to verify your identity. Typically that means using your fingerprints, and in some cases, your irises. Once you’re enrolled, you technically can pass the initial domestic US airport security checkpoints that have CLEAR without carrying any form of ID.

CLEAR vs TSA PreCheck

CLEAR airport process flow from ID check to screening
CLEAR only bypasses the initial security ID checkpoint (i.e., you still have to go through the TSA physical screening process)

While you’ll bypass the initial security ID checkpoint with CLEAR, you still have to go through the normal physical screening process. In fact, once you use CLEAR to verify your identity, you’ll either be placed in the normal baggage screening area or the TSA PreCheck area (if you’re enrolled in the program).

CLEAR enrollment

CLEAR Ambassador helping with enrollment at a CLEAR airport kiosk
CLEAR Ambassadors are available at the kiosks to assist with enrollment

Enrolling in CLEAR is easy. All you need to do is speak with a CLEAR representative. You’ll see them hanging out near the airport kiosks. The process takes about five minutes and involve scanning your irises and fingerprints. You can also start the process online and finalize the enrollment when you visit the kiosk.

The cost is $179 for the program per year, which is pricey. The program allows you to add three additional adults for $50 extra per person. Children under the age of 18 can also be enrolled for free.

CLEAR pricing for Delta SkyMiles members
Delta SkyMiles members can get significant discounts on the CLEAR membership fees

However, if you happen to be a Delta SkyMiles member, you are eligible for significant discounts. Even general SkyMiles members without any status only pay $99 for the service. Since it doesn’t cost anything to join Delta’s SkyMiles program, it doesn’t make sense to pay the full $179 for the service when all you have to do is join Delta’s loyalty program to get the $99 pricing.

Who would benefit from getting CLEAR?

Uniformed TSA agent checking IDs at the airport with three male passengers in line
Many travelers have noticed that the TSA PreCheck lines are getting longer as more people enroll in the program (photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

So what are my thoughts on the service? It’s definitely not a replacement for TSA PreCheck, but more of an add-on. I can understand the appeal of bypassing the initial ID check using CLEAR, especially if you’re a road warrior that’s constantly traveling during peak hours. TSA PreCheck used to be a very exclusive service, but like the Priority Pass lounge program, a lot of people have enrolled over the years. This means that the lines can be long, especially during peak travel times like Monday morning and Thursday evening. For folks who regularly face long lines with TSA PreCheck, it might be worthwhile to enroll in CLEAR.

I personally don’t think I would gain much value for the service. I’m currently not traveling for work, so the extra few minutes in line doesn’t bother me. Plus, since TSA PreCheck is $85 for five years, it works out to less than $20 per year. CLEAR is $79 to $179 per year, so it requires a lot more use in order to get value from the service.

Additional tips and considerations

If you are wondering whether CLEAR might be right for you, here are a couple of additional tips and considerations to keep in mind.

1. More than just airports:

CLEAR location details for Banc of California Stadium
In Los Angeles, you can use CLEAR at the Banc of California stadium

While most people are familiar with CLEAR at the airport, they work with other venues too. For example, in Los Angeles, CLEAR is available at LAX and the Banc of California Stadium, which is home to the Los Angeles Football Club team.

2. Check the availability:

Map of CLEAR locations
As of January 2019, CLEAR is available in 40+ airports, stadiums, and other venues around the country

Make sure to check the CLEAR program map to see what locations and venues are serviced by the program. The list seems to be growing, but you want to make sure that you can actually use the program, especially if you’re paying the large enrollment fee.

3. Consider an American Express Delta Card:

Comparison of American Express Delta cards
American Express Delta SkyMiles credit cards can help with earning elite loyalty status. Learn more about American Express cards.

Since CLEAR is free for Delta SkyMiles members with Diamond Medallion status, you might want to consider an American Express Delta card that can help you obtain additional status. Though I wouldn’t do it unless you are a frequent Delta flyer and interested in getting CLEAR since you can get a significant discount by simply enrolling as a general SkyMiles member. However, if you’re close to getting an elite status level, it might be worth getting a credit card to help boost you into the next tier.

Another option is to consider a status match if you have elite loyalty status with another airline.

4. Understand the data privacy implications:

Biometric scan of retina
Biometric data is sensitive, especially if it gets in the wrong hands

If you have any concerns about your personal data, then you might want to think twice about using CLEAR. You’re providing sensitive personal data in the form of biometrics. While I don’t think that CLEAR is going to willingly sell your personal information, it is a risk that you need to weigh. This concern is especially relevant given all the data breaches we’ve seen in the past few years.

5. Consider Global Entry:

Global Entry Logo
Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck and costs only $15 more to enroll

Since CLEAR doesn’t affect the security baggage screening, you may be considering getting TSA PreCheck. However, if you are planning to apply for TSA PreCheck, I highly suggest enrolling in Global Entry. Global Entry is only $15 more and it includes TSA PreCheck.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Also, if you have a premium travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express Platinum, and Capital One Venture Rewards Card, you’re often eligible for areimbursement of your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment fee. Keep in mind that CLEAR is typically not covered under these reimbursement programs.

6. Check your American Express offers:

American Express Offers for Gold Card
CLEAR was featured as an AMEX offer in the past, so it’s worth checking before applying. Learn more about American Express cards.

About a year ago (January 2018), there was an American Express offer for CLEAR. While there’s no guarantee that the offer will appear again, it’s worth checking your offers, especially if you have an American Express card.

Have you used CLEAR? If not, are you thinking of getting it? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.

If you’re interested in applying for a new credit card, we encourage you to compare credit card offers. We do get a commission if you use our link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it helps us to continue building content for our site and channel.

Trip Astute has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Trip Astute and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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