TSA PreCheck vs. Clear: Which Should You Choose?

Everything you need to know before applying for TSA PreCheck and Clear.

Before boarding an airplane, airport security takes you on a journey: Find the right line, show your ID, take out your laptop, and remove your shoes. It’s poetic in a perverse way that these often-confusing airport security rules are simplified and sped up by two similarly bewildering programs: TSA PreCheck and Clear. They each have dedicated queues and reasons for existence. What are those reasons, and which one is best?

There are two primary components of airport security: ID verification and luggage-and-body screening. Clear speeds up the former, and TSA PreCheck speeds up the latter. They are complementary. Let’s dig in. 

People in line for TSA Precheck

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What is TSA PreCheck?

Sign pointing towards entrance of PreCheck

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Run by the government’s Transportation Security Administration, TSA PreCheck aims to quickly get you and belongings through security at 200-plus airports in the U.S. More than 85 airlines participate, and they will indicate TSA PreCheck on your boarding pass, which grants you access to the dedicated lane. Once a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) verifies your ID, you can leave your shoes, belt, and jacket on, and keep your laptop and liquids in your carry-on luggage. You can also walk through a metal detector rather than the full-body scanner

The program doesn’t guarantee you’ll get through security faster, and, indeed, so many people are now clued into TSA PreCheck that the line can sometimes be as long as (or even longer) than the general public queue. But generally, you’ll have a smoother experience than if you had nothing. 

What is Clear? 

Passengers using CLEAR kiosk

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Clear is a private membership program that expedites document and identity screening. Available at more than 50 airports, the program allows you to quickly verify your identity at biometric security kiosks using fingerprints and eye scans. When your ID is confirmed, a Clear representative escorts you directly to the luggage and body scanner line, skipping over everyone waiting for an agent to check their physical IDs. It’s not limited to airports — you can bypass parts of security at stadiums and arenas (think Barclays Center, Yankee Stadium, and the BMO Center) at Clear kiosks. Sports and music fans might find this perk compelling. 

How much does TSA PreCheck and Clear cost?

TSA PreCheck costs $78 every five years, which the TSA recently lowered from $85. (It’s also automatically included with Global Entry approval, another program entirely.) Clear costs $189 per year. Some credit cards offer one or both for free or for a discount, so look into your perks to see if they tip the scale one way or the other.

Do you need TSA PreCheck if you have Clear?

If you want to keep your shoes on, Clear won’t help you. Clear is only for speeding up identity verification. There’s no one stopping you from applying for both, though.

Can you use Clear and TSA PreCheck together?

Yes. If you’re a frequent flier, it might make sense to get Clear so you can zip through identity verification and then get placed on the TSA PreCheck luggage screening line, where you can keep your shoes on, leave your laptop in your bag, and skip the scanner.

How do you apply for TSA PreCheck and Clear?

For TSA PreCheck, you’ll need to fill out an online form, pay the application fee, and go for an in-person interview — which includes a background check — at one of the hundreds of enrollment centers. You receive a Known Traveler Number when approved, which you’ll add to reservations. Anyone over age 12 can join; children under 12 can use the lanes with a parent or guardian who is a member. 

Clear similarly requires online enrollment and an in-person element. You can finish the application at a Clear airport location, where an ambassador will help you answer a few identifying questions; scan your fingerprints, eyes, and identification documents; and take a profile picture. Children under 18 can use the Clear lane if they’re traveling with a member.

Is TSA PreCheck better than Clear?

While TSA PreCheck and Clear both have separate queues that can help cut down on the time you stand in line (and Clear has some added benefits for sports and music fans), TSA PreCheck exists at more locations, is less expensive, and allows you to skip the rigamarole of removing your shoes, belt, and laptop in front of a TSO who is seemingly tired of telling people to put their belongings in a bin.

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