Category: Travel Tips
Author: Michael DeFranceschi • Updated

CLEAR Airport Security: Is It Worth It? Yes! Here's Why.

No more having to show your ID! Screening can take less than 90 seconds!
People at the airport in the line for CLEAR to get through airport security.

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**NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Starting on 11/30/2023, much of the information presented in this article will no longer be accurate, as CLEAR is rolling out changes to their program. The article will be updated after 11/30/2023 to reflect these changes!**

Ever hear of CLEAR? I enjoy rhyming... and I also enjoy this program! I've been a CLEAR member for about two years now and it's made going to the airport so much easier. Even... fun! So, what is it?

CLEAR is an expedited screening program currently available at 53 U.S airports. To verify their identity, members use a kiosk to scan either their eyes or fingerprints. Starting on November 30, 2023, CLEAR members will be able to use their face.

Following the futuristic methods of identity verification, CLEAR members then advance to a much quicker security line, where many members are done in less than two minutes.

CLEAR is easy to sign up for! You can register for it in person at an airport. It takes only a few minutes to become enrolled and you can begin using CLEAR that very day.

The biggest perk to using CLEAR is having to rarely show a physical form of ID. I say 'rarely' because as of August 2023, the U.S Transportation Security Administration has been doing more random checks where they will ask for a valid form of identification.

Once you begin using CLEAR (and combine it with TSA PreCheck®), you will feel like a pro. Like a seasoned traveler who knows what they're doing. It's an incredible feeling!

In this comprehensive article, I will go more into detail about what CLEAR is, where it can be used, the cost, how to save on the cost, how it relates to other trusted traveler programs, and wrap up with my personal thoughts.

IN THIS ARTICLE...

CLEAR Airport Security: Is It Worth It? Yes! Here's Why...

Where CLEAR works

Let's be honest-- if CLEAR isn't available at your home airport, you're not going to read any further about it.

At the time of this writing, CLEAR is available at 53 airports in the US. Below is the list of all the airports, in alphabetical order, where you can use CLEAR. Airport codes included:

  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
  • Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM)
  • Boise Airport (BOI)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Bradley International Airport (BDL)
  • Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)
  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
  • Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE)
  • Dallas Love Field (DAL)
  • Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
  • Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
  • Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
  • Houston's William P. Hobby Airport (HOU)
  • Kansas City International Airport (MCI)
  • Las Vegas' Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)
  • John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH)
  • Long Beach Airport (LGB)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
  • Nashville International Airport (BNA)
  • New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • New York's LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)
  • Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport (OKC)
  • Ontario International Airport (ONT)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Palm Beach International Airport (PBI)
  • Palm Springs International Airport (PSP)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
  • Sacramento International Airport (SMF)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
  • San Antonio International Airport (SAT)
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  • St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL)
  • Tulsa International Airport (TUL)
  • Westchester County Airport (HPN)

Quite a lengthy list!

Is your home airport included? Or perhaps an airport you fly to frequently included? If so, great! Let's move on!

In addition to airport, CLEAR can also be used at certain sports stadiums and large entertainment venues. Since this article is tailored toward airport security, I am choosing to omit the list of stadiums & venues where it is available. But I won't leave you hanging-- that info can be found here!

What is CLEAR?

Even though the purpose of CLEAR is to substantially shave off time you spend going through airport security, it is not a program provided through the U.S government. CLEAR is a private company that has partnered with many airlines throughout the country.

In particular, CLEAR is a private company who specializes in using biometric data to verify people's identities. Today, the company has over 16 million users nationwide.

The company's userbase is strongest in the U.S, however, the company has limited presence in Canada and parts of Europe.

At airports, CLEAR members walk to a designated line away from the standard TSA security lines. Here's further information how it all works...

How does CLEAR work?

When you first sign up for CLEAR, you will scan your fingerprints as well as take a close picture of your face. This is the biometric data CLEAR will use from now on to verify your identity at airport security.

So moving forward, when you arrive at the airport, you head over to a designated line for travelers who have CLEAR. You will see kiosks and signs for CLEAR. You have to wait for a CLEAR representative to walk you over to use a kiosk. Before using the kiosk, you will have to show your boarding pass, whether it be printed or digital.

Prior to November 30th 2023, the CLEAR kiosks gave members the options to either scan their fingerprints or take an image of their eyes. CLEAR recently announced their new NextGen Identity+ program which will eliminate the kiosk entirely and use a member's face instead of their fingerprints or retinas.

With the exception of some rare random checks from TSA, CLEAR allieves you from having to show a physical form of identfication, such as a driver's license or passport.

You'll have to show your boarding pass again to an agent who will grant you entry to the security line. Since CLEAR costs money and a lot of people don't know about it, the lines are much, much shorter.

There is a lesser known feature called CLEAR Reserve where you and up to 10 others can manually set an appointment with TSA. There is good news and bad news with this feature.

The good news is that you do not have to be a member of CLEAR to use it. It is available to everyone. Additionally, it costs nothing to use this feature.

The bad news is: it is currently only available at 8 U.S airports. Below is the list of U.S airports CLEAR Reserve is available at:

  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport York (JFK)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

CLEAR Reserve is a tremendous feature for those traveling in large groups (like for churches or schools) who do not want to get separated at any airport throughtout the airport.

The last aspect about CLEAR Reserve I should mention is that, of course, you will have to show photo identification, as the system would not have your biometric data (unless you signed up with CLEAR on your own).

How much does CLEAR cost?

A membership for an individual costs $189 a year.

Given the price and the fact it only lasts up to a year, CLEAR may not be worth it for people who only fly a couple times a year.

However, there are several ways you can get CLEAR for free, which will be elaborated on below.

How to save on CLEAR

Just like how there are several ways for a traveler to get free flights, there are a number of ways a traveler can get CLEAR either for free or at a discounted rate. In fact, some of the methods overlap!

Free trial

Like many subscription services these days, CLEAR does offer a free trial period lasting two months. So, if you rarely fly, you could sign up for the free trial, cancel it before the end of two months, and still get to experience the expedited screening at no cost.

Friends & family

After one year of having CLEAR, I was sent an email where I was able to gift five people a guest pass to try CLEAR. The free period was even longer than the free trial! My guests could use CLEAR for three months!

If you know someone who has CLEAR and they are willing to give you a guest pass, then you too can try out CLEAR for free for three months!

Individual CLEAR members can add up to three members for an additional $70 each. So if you are one of those three members, this is a way for you to get a discounted rate of $70 per year versus the $189.

If you are under 18 and have a family member who has CLEAR, you can use CLEAR for free.

Delta Skymiles

While fliers of any airline can take advantage of CLEAR's benefits, travelers who fly Delta (like me!!) will have opportunities to get a discounted fee, or in one scenario, a waived fee.

The first way to get a reduced CLEAR membership is to simply join the Skymiles program. Instead of paying $189, you can get it for... $179.

Ten dollars saved a year? Yeah-- that isn't a huge save. If you are a Silver, Gold, or Platinum Medallion member, then the fee is $149. This is what I paid for my CLEAR membership.

Forty dollars saved a year. A little better. But wouldn't completely free be the best? Delta fliers who hold Diamond Medallion status or are in Delta 360° can get the CLEAR membership fee waived.

United MileagePlus

Like Delta, fliers whose preferred airline is United Airlines can also get discounts on CLEAR.

If you are enrolled in United's frequent flier program known as United MileagePlus, you can get CLEAR for $179 instead of $189.

Only ten dollars saved a year? You can make it 40 dollars saved a year if you hold a credit card with United and/or you have Premier Silver, Premier Gold, or Premier Platinum status.

For a completed waived CLEAR fee, you will have to be a Premier 1K member.

Travel credit cards

American Express offers some credit cards, such as the Platinum Card, the Business Platinum Card, the Green Card, and the Centurion Black Card (invite only though) that will waive or reduce the CLEAR membership fee.

Any travel credit cards offered through United Airlines will reduce the fee to $149 per year.

Vocational

Students can get CLEAR for $60. Active military members and veterans can get CLEAR for $99. If you are employed by the government, whether it be federal, state, or local, you may be able to get a discount on the fee.

CLEAR Reserve

The last way you can save on CLEAR was mentioned earlier in this article. If you are traveling with a large group up to 10 people at the airport, you can use CLEAR Reserve to set an appointment with TSA. This process will reduce times spent waiting in lines.

It may be obvious but I feel I should mention that, of course, you'll have to show a photo ID using CLEAR Reserve since CLEAR would not have any of your biometric data.

How does CLEAR compare to TSA PreCheck?

Even though CLEAR and TSA PreCheck® are separate programs, they are not like health insurance where you can only go with one and not the other. Many travelers, including myself, have both.

I'll first explain how the two programs are similar.

Both CLEAR and TSA PreCheck® aim to accomplish the same thing: to reduce the amount of time you spend in airport security. Even though one is provided through a private company and the other the federal government, they do not compete with one another, and can be used together.

There will be lines at the airport for members who have both CLEAR and TSA PreCheck®. These lines are the shortest.

With CLEAR and TSA PreCheck® combined, not only will you not have to show physical identification, you will also not have to remove your shoes, remove your laptop from its case, and can keep light jackets on.

Now, here are how CLEAR and TSA PreCheck® differ.

The cost of the two programs is drastically different. Assuming you pay full price for both, CLEAR costs $189 and renews annually whereas TSA PreCheck® costs $78 and lasts up to five years. TSA PreCheck® is drastically cheaper than CLEAR.

There is no free trial period with TSA PreCheck®. You have to pay the $78 fee right off the bat and the fee is collected even if you are denied. With CLEAR, you pay the $189 fee if you choose to keep the program after the two month free trial expires.

The enrollment process for both programs is different. With CLEAR, while you can apply online, you have to complete enrollment at an airport. Alternatively, if you sign up at the airport, you can complete the whole enrollment process in as little as ten minutes and use CLEAR that very day.

Enrolling in TSA PreCheck® takes a little longer. After you apply online and pay the fee, you then have to make a separate appointment at an enrollment center (usually the airport). This process of scheduling the appointment and then being approved can take a few weeks.

You can use TSA PreCheck® at far more airports than CLEAR.

CLEAR NextGen Identity+

On November 17th, I personally received an email from CLEAR notifying me of their exciting new program CLEAR NextGen Identity+. The program will be fully rolled out sometime in 2024.

The biggest change with the CLEAR NextGen Identity+ program is the elimination of verifying identity by fingerprint or retina and rendering the kiosks obsolete. Instead, CLEAR members will use their face verify their identity.

All CLEAR Plus members have to eventually upgrade to NextGen Identity+.

Members will receive an email with a unique link which will send a one-time code to verify their phone number. Commencing on November 30th, 2023, CLEAR members will then have to bring a valid physical form of identification to the airport only for the next time they fly. The company states that a passport will be the fastest way to upgrade.

You'll only need to bring the physical ID to upgrade to NextGen Identity+. Once you are upgraded, there will be no need to show the physical ID, as that would defeat the whole purpose of CLEAR!

Conclusion

CLEAR's impressive, borderline sci-fi experience of using biometrics may very well be the norm of airline travel in the next coming decades.

In 2024, CLEAR will certainly save you tremendous amounts of time at the airport, saving you from the burden of having to arrive 2-3 hours before your flight. And, the program only takes minutes to sign up for, and once you pay the fee, you can instantly began to use it!

So, let's re-answer the question: is CLEAR worth it? Yes-- assuming that CLEAR is available at your home airport and/or airports you frequently fly to. When used in tandem with TSA PreCheck®, CLEAR is even more worth it!

Sign up for CLEAR today and you'll soon feel like a pro as you breeze through airport security!


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