I love living so close to BWI Airport.
It's about a twenty-minute drive from our house and after I got TSA PreCheck, I know I can be through security in about ten minutes. I don't fly a lot, maybe a dozen times a year, but I'm always thankful to have PreCheck.
The TSA PreCheck at BWI (at least the one that is open) is at the B Concourse. Right next to the TSA PreCheck line is the CLEAR line. It never has a line. The TSA PreCheck line moves pretty quickly but nothing beats no line.
As soon as someone with CLEAR walks up, a representative helps them use the computers to authenticate, then they get ushered next in line to get their boarding pass checked by TSA.
It wasn't until recently that I learned how CLEAR works and what it offered.
What is TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is the expedited security screening service provided by the Transportation Security Administration. It is only available to U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents.
With TSA PreCheck, you must “apply” to the program. You'll then make an in-person appointment to provide your fingerprints, citizenship and ID documents, and pay the application fee ($85). The program will do a background check and if you are approved, issues you a Known Travel Number. You enter this Known Travel Number on your airline reservations and your tickets will indicate that you have TSA PreCheck.
When you arrive at the airport, find the designated TSA PreCheck lanes to speed through security. With TSA PreCheck, you don't have to take off your shoes, belts, or light jackets when you walk through. You also do not have to take out your laptops or 3-1-1 liquids. Any children under 12 that are traveling with you will also get TSA PreCheck when booked on the same itinerary.
TSA PreCheck is available in 200+ airports and partnered with 67+ airlines. It's essentially everywhere.
TSA PreCheck costs $85 and is valid for five years.
What is CLEAR?
CLEAR is similar to TSA PreCheck but it uses biometrics (your eyes and fingerprints) to identify you, instead of physical documents. They are certified by the Department of Homeland Security (SAFETY Act Certified).
With CLEAR, you find the separate check-in line and identify yourself using pod of the CLEAR pods. There are always CLEAR representatives, known as Ambassadors, to walk you through the process. Once you've been identified, they will escort you to the front of the security line so you get the next available TSA agent. They check your boarding pass and you can go through security. You never have to pull out a form of ID.
If you have TSA PreCheck, you can use the TSA PreCheck security line too.
CLEAR is available in 50+ airports, stadiums, and other venues.
As for airports, it's available in:
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
- Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
- Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport
- Boston Logan International
- Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
- Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
- Dallas Love Field Airport
- Denver International Airport
- Detroit Metro Airport
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
- William P. Hobby Airport
- George Bush Intercontinental Airport
- McCarran International Airport
- Los Angeles International Airport
- Miami International Airport
- Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport
- Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport
- LaGuardia Airport
- John F. Kennedy International Airport
- Westchester County Airport
- Orlando International Airport
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
- Salt Lake City International Airport
- San Antonio International Airport
- San Francisco International Airport
- Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
- Dulles International Airport
To get CLEAR, you can start the process online but eventually, you'll have to visit a CLEAR location to collect your biometrics. You can also start and complete the process at a CLEAR location, which takes about five or ten minutes. You enter your information, show your ID, and they collect your payment and biometrics.
It's available to U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful residents and you have to have a valid form of ID like a passport, driver's license, or state/military issued ID.
CLEAR costs $179 a year and you can add three family members for $50 per year. Anyone under the age of 18 who are traveling with you can travel through the CLEAR lane for free.
CLEAR vs. TSA PreCheck
You can think of the security screening process as two phases:
- Reviewing your documents and confirming your ID
- Security screening you and your carry-on
CLEAR speeds up the first step and TSA PreCheck speeds up the second step.
What I've found is that the CLEAR queue is always empty (it does cost $179 a year!) but the TSA PreCheck is never empty. What this means that with CLEAR, you can save quite a bit of time because you bypass the TSA PreCheck queue entirely. The question is whether it's worth it at $179 a year.
So it's less of a question of CLEAR vs. TSA PreCheck and more about how the two actually work in tandem. If you get CLEAR and do not have TSA PreCheck, you won't be waiting in the queue but you'll go through regular security screening. Regular security screening means you'll have to take out your liquids and laptop, remove your shoes, jacket, and belts.
If you have CLEAR andTSA PreCheck, you'll get the expedited security screening that we all have come to love with TSA PreCheck.
If you want to make it through security in the absolute fastest way possible, then you'll want to get both.
How to Get TSA PreCheck for Free
We maintain a list of credit cards that will reimburse you the cost of TSA PreCheck (and Global Entry) once every five years.
And it doesn't have to be for you. You can pay for someone else's fee and the card will still reimburse you (it just looks at the transaction).
If you go this route, don't use the perk on TSA PreCheck. Get Global Entry, which is the expedited traveler program offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. With Global Entry, you can skip the massive line in customs. It's more expensive at $100 for five years (instead of $85, but you're being reimbursed in both cases) but when you get Global Entry, you get TSA PreCheck too.
How to Get CLEAR for Free
If you are a SkyMiles Diamond Medallion member, which the highest tier in the SkyMiles program, you get complimentary CLEAR service. Below that (Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion), you can get it for just $109 a year. If you have a credit card issued by one of the SkyMiles partners, there's often a discounted rate of $109 a year too so check your benefits to see if your card has it.
General SkyMiles members get it for $119 per year. Since SkyMiles is free to join, it makes sense to join it before signing up for CLEAR.
(at this time, no credit cards offer statement credit for a CLEAR membership)
As for CLEAR promotional offers, the best offer you'll find is $30 off an annual membership or a 2-month free trial to see how the service works.
So, there you have it, that's the difference between CLEAR and TSA PreCheck. Before I started doing this research, I thought they were competitors but they are actually partners. CLEAR makes the identification process super fast and seamless, TSA PreCheck makes the screening part faster.