Long airport security lines may seem like a thing of the past, but they are coming back as more people begin to travel again. If you fly out of a major airport at peak times, lines can be an hour wait or more. You have been in a long line before and saw other travelers bypass the chaos in CLEAR or TSA PreCheck lines and wondered, “How can I do that?”
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) offers a variety of programs that can help expedite the process. Clear is a commercial company that provides a quicker identification security process at a limited number of airports. So, which one is right for you?
TSA actually has five Trusted Traveler Programs: Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, SENTRI, NEXUS, and FAST (for commercial truckers) are all programs that allow pre-approved travelers quicker access through security checkpoints in airports or at U.S. Border Control and Customs. All applicants are vetted through an application process and interview.
TSA PreCheck costs $85 and is good for five years. Apply online and then schedule an appointment at one of more than 380 enrollment centers. Once scheduled attend the in-person appointment, where you will provide fingerprints and proof of U.S. citizenship. Pay the $85 fee and once approved, your enrollment is good for five years. It is important to note when you purchase plane tickets to add your Known Traveler Number to your airline reservation. When you check in for your flight, your boarding pass will show you are TSA PreCheck.
TSA PreCheck will speed you through the security screening process. Benefits include no need to remove shoes, laptops, your quart-sized plastic bag with liquids, belts, or light jackets. Most travelers will be through security in five minutes or less. TSA PreCheck is available at more than 200 airports in the U.S. and on over 60 airlines that participate in the program.
Pro Tip: Check your credit card benefits. American Express Platinum offers a $100 credit toward TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.
The Global Entry enrollment process is similar to the TSA PreCheck process. The fee is $100 and Global Entry is good for 5 years. You apply online. You can then schedule an appointment at an Enrollment Center — usually at an airport or in border-crossing cities. If you are flying into the U.S. within the next 6 months, TSA encourages you to complete your Global Entry at an Enrollment on Arrival (EoA) location. In this case, you will complete your interview at the airport when you arrive, saving you a separate trip for an interview.
Global Entry members can use the Global Entry Customs Kiosks when returning to the U.S. from an international trip. These are available at more than 75 airports and provide a reduced wait time. Members also have the option to use E-Gates, which use facial comparison technologies. Another benefit is you don’t have to fill out customs paperwork. Global Entry also includes TSA PreCheck.
It took me quite a bit of research before I understood what CLEAR is and what the benefits are if you have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, especially since it is so expensive: $179 a year. (And the five-year cost is $895 versus $85 for TSA PreCheck.) That said, if you travel frequently and your home airport is a big, busy one, it may be worth it for you. CLEAR allows you to speed through the document check process by using fingerprint or eye scan technology to verify your identity. You won’t have to pull out your ID. Currently, it is available at 50+ airports, stadiums, and other venues.
How is CLEAR different from the TSA programs? CLEAR gets members through the travel document check process. TSA PreCheck speeds travelers through the physical screening. Global Entry expedites clearing U.S. Border Control and Customs when arriving on an international flight. You can use CLEAR alone or pair it with TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. According to Lori Dankers, a TSA spokesperson, “CLEAR is a private company that has a business relationship directly with airports. CLEAR would need to provide you information on that relationship and their processes since it is outside of TSA and the federal government. Note that CLEAR-enrolled travelers are not automatically eligible for TSA PreCheck. The traveler must independently have enrolled through a federal Trusted Traveler program (such as NEXUS, Global Entry, SENTRI, or with TSA directly.) It is important to note that all travelers enrolled in CLEAR must be screened through the security checkpoint.”
It takes about 5 minutes to enroll in CLEAR online, and there are no appointments required. Once enrolled, you can start using it immediately. When you arrive at the airport for the first time post-enrollment there is an in-person process you must complete which involves answering a few questions and providing a valid photo ID and a payment method. You will then be fingerprinted and have a picture taken of your irises. These are added to your account.
I personally don’t feel like CLEAR is worth the cost for me, but an informal poll a group of frequent travelers I follow seems to be divided in two. Those that travel a lot through large airports feel it is worth the cost whereas the other half feel TSA PreCheck or Global Entry is sufficient.
Pro Tips: If you are a member of the Delta or United Frequent Flyer programs, you can get a CLEAR discount. The American Express Green Card offers a $100 annual credit for CLEAR.
The CLEAR App is free and offers some features you can use without paying a membership fee. The Health Pass feature pairs your secure identity verification with health screening and records. I am not sure how this feature would be useful for me, but CLEAR is adding a COVID-19 vaccine validation and Integrated lab results, and I can definitely see how this would be useful as it could serve as a vaccine passport.
If you live near the Canadian Border (NEXUS) or the Mexican Border (SENTRI includes Mexico and Canada) and travel by air or land across the border, these programs are your best bet. NEXUS is $50 for five years and SENTRI is $122.50. The process is similar to TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. You enroll online, schedule an appointment, and pay the fees. With NEXUS at the U.S.–Canadian border, there are dedicated NEXUS lanes on both sides of the border making the crossing much quicker. There are also dedicated lanes on the southern border through SENTRI. With both NEXUS and SENTRI, because you are in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler Program, both TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are included. Note when you are traveling across the border by car, if you want to use NEXUS or SENTRI, every person in the vehicle must have NEXUS or SENTRI.
With airline travel picking up again, these programs are all worth a look to see which is the best fit for your travel. In my case, it is NEXUS, as we cross the Canadian Border frequently during ski season as well as fly to domestic and international destinations throughout the year. I will be able to access TSA PreCheck when I fly in the U.S. and I will use Global Entry upon return from international flights. I look forward to using NEXUS to cross into Canada. I have looked enviously at those lucky travelers accessing the NEXUS lanes as they drive by those of us stuck in the slow lanes at the border. CLEAR is not something I will use except maybe the app when CLEAR adds vaccine information on travelers.
Pro Tip: Before applying for any of these programs, review your frequent flyer airline programs and credit card benefits. Many of these travel programs offer discounts on the cost of CLEAR or credit card credits for the purchase of TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or CLEAR. Also check out the Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler Page, which has a questionnaire you can fill out to see which program would be best for you.