Over the years there have been several innovations that have made the travel experience easier for road warriors. These range from government programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, to private programs like CLEAR.
In this post I wanted to take a closer look at CLEAR. First we’ll take a look at the basics of the program, then we’ll take a look at how to get the best deal on a membership, and then we’ll talk about whether it’s worth it (and my answer there might surprise some).
The basics of CLEAR airport security program
Let’s start with the very basics of CLEAR. CLEAR is essentially a technology company that stores biometric data to expedite clearing security at airports, and at select stadiums and other venues. Interestingly both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines own a stake in the company.
The way CLEAR makes your life easier is by allowing you to bypass the ID check at airports. While you still have to go through security, you simply go up to a CLEAR checkpoint at an airport, then your fingerprints or eyes are scanned, and then you bypass the ID check (though in some cases you may still be asked at random to show your ID).
It doesn’t matter whether you have TSA PreCheck or just “regular” security, as the CLEAR associate will direct you past the ID checker and into the appropriate line.
At what airports is CLEAR available?
CLEAR is currently available at 50+ airports, as well as at some stadiums and other venues. The list of eligible CLEAR locations is always changing, so you can check this link to see the up-to-date locations.
Note that not all terminals at eligible airports have CLEAR, and in some cases CLEAR is only open for select hours. So you’ll want to check that before heading to the airport.
How do you sign up for CLEAR?
The process of signing up for CLEAR is super easy. You can initially register online, which should take just a couple of minutes. Your payment will already be processed when you register.
Then the next time you’re at an airport with CLEAR you can simply see a company representative, and they’ll walk you through the registration process, which consists of them taking your biometric data. Unlike with Global Entry, there’s no interview required here. CLEAR is essentially just verifying your biometric data, so the company isn’t assessing how “risky” of a passenger you are.
How does CLEAR compare to TSA PreCheck?
CLEAR, TSA PreCheck, and Global Entry, are complements and not substitutes:
- CLEAR gets you expedited ID checking at eligible airports
- TSA PreCheck gets you expedited security screening at eligible airports, as you don’t have to take off your shoes, or take liquids or laptops out of your bags
- Global Entry gets you expedited immigration when entering the United States, allowing you to go straight to a kiosk and skip the main lines
When it comes to memberships:
- A Global Entry membership gets you Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, but not CLEAR
- A TSA PreCheck membership just gets you TSA PreCheck
- A CLEAR membership just gets you CLEAR
The ideal situation is to have a Global Entry membership and a CLEAR membership, as you’re then covered for all three programs.
How much does a CLEAR membership cost?
A CLEAR membership ordinarily costs $189 per person annually. However, nobody should be paying even nearly that much. Literally nobody. Let’s talk about why.
Why you should pay no more than $119 for CLEAR
Since both Delta and United own a stake in CLEAR, loyalty program members with both airlines can receive discounts on a membership:
Signing up for Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus costs nothing, so everyone should at least be able to unlock that pricing. Find the Delta SkyMiles CLEAR registration link here, and find the United MileagePlus CLEAR registration link here.
Add people to CLEAR for $60 with family plan
CLEAR memberships are individual, so you can’t bring friends or family along with you, aside from children under 18, who can tag along for free without registering.
The good news is that CLEAR also offers family plans. With CLEAR’s family plans, you can add up to three people to your account for $60 each per year. The people you add don’t even have to be immediate or biological family. As CLEAR describes it, you can even add “chosen family, or friends that feel like family.”
There are no tricks here — you can just sign up for an individual membership, and then later can add people to your family plan, and it’s a great way to reduce how much you’re paying for extra people.
Get CLEAR for free with Amex card credits
American Express and CLEAR have a partnership, offering CLEAR credits as a perk for select cardmembers. Specifically:
What are the restrictions associated with these CLEAR credits?
- The credits are per calendar year (based on when the transaction appears on your card)
- The credits can be used across multiple transactions, if you’re in a situation where you’re being charged the maximum credit amount by CLEAR
- The credits apply to purchases directly with CLEAR
- Purchases by the primary cardmember and additional cardmembers are eligible, though additional cardmembers don’t get additional credits
- You can buy a CLEAR membership for anyone (including friends and family), as long as you pay with your card
- The statement credits will post within two to four weeks of an eligible purchase
As you can tell, a $189 credit could cover CLEAR for two people. That’s because you’ll pay at most $119 if you’re a member of Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus, and then you can add a second person for $60.
Is a CLEAR membership worth it?
I won’t bury the lede. I get CLEAR for free thanks to the Amex cards that I have, so it’s costing me nothing out of pocket. If I didn’t get it for free, I wouldn’t pay $109-119 for this, at least based on my current travel experiences.
When I first signed up for CLEAR over five years ago, it was kind of awesome. Not many people had it. There was almost a cool factor to having it, as you felt like you were being escorted to the front of the line.
However, much like metal credit cards and Priority Pass memberships, the situation has kind of changed — when everyone has CLEAR, no one has CLEAR. 😉
As a general rule of thumb, you can expect a huge number of passengers at Delta and United hubs to have CLEAR, given that both airlines have a close partnership with CLEAR, and encourage their frequent flyers to sign-up. The great benefit of CLEAR used to be that you were more or less assured that you’d never have to wait in line at security, but that’s no longer the case.
Now you have to wait in line to use CLEAR, in order to not have to wait in line to go through security. 😉
Maybe I’m just really lucky, but the other thing is that I often find that there’s almost no wait at TSA PreCheck. So there aren’t actually any time savings if you wouldn’t otherwise have to wait. For example, the last two times I used CLEAR, it took longer than it would have taken to just go in the PreCheck lane.
The last issue is that I am primarily an American flyer, and American isn’t a fan of CLEAR, and tries to block the company from expanding at some of its airports. For example, as a Miami-based American flyer, there’s no CLEAR checkpoint at the D Concourse.
I wish I could report back about some amazing time savings, but unfortunately that just doesn’t reflect my typical experience. Either I find there’s a long line to use CLEAR, and it’s not actually much faster than TSA PreCheck, or I find that there’s no line at TSA PreCheck, in which case there are no time savings.
Based on my own situation, I’d say it’s only maybe 10% of the time where CLEAR saves me more than a few minutes compared to the standard TSA PreCheck lane. And ultimately that’s something that I’ll take for free, but isn’t something I’d otherwise probably pay for.
CLEAR is a private company that lets you expedite clearing security at select airports using your biometric data. While this can cost up to $189 per year, no one should be paying more than $119, and you can even get it at no cost thanks to Amex cards offering CLEAR credits.
While I’m a CLEAR member, I can’t say that it actually saves me all that much time. Either I find the TSA PreCheck line is short to begin with (in which case there are no time savings), or I find that CLEAR is extremely popular at some airports (in which case there are no time savings).
Even as a CLEAR member, I skip using CLEAR most of the time. It’s still useful to have for those rare situations where there’s a long TSA PreCheck line but not a long CLEAR line, especially since I’m not paying anything out of pocket.
If you’re a CLEAR member, what has your experience been? What do you make of the value proposition?