TSA PreCheck vs CLEAR: What’s the Difference?

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One of the most stressful and time-consuming parts of flying is going through the security check, but the Digital Age has once again transformed the way we live, this time changing how we travel. With new systems and technology like TSA PreCheck and CLEAR, security can be a breeze and can save you time at the airport.

For example, the Transportation Security Administration estimated that the average wait time for TSA PreCheck lanes was 10 minutes, compared to a 30 minute average wait time in standard lanes.  TSA PreCheck and CLEAR are both effective ways to expedite your travel that can be beneficial to both the frequent and casual travelers alike. 

Here’s a detailed look at each program along with tips on how to decide which is right for you.

What is CLEAR?

You may have seen the CLEAR signs before, either at the airport or at a stadium. CLEAR is available not only in airports across the country but also in sports stadiums, with over 50 locations in total. 

Its exclusive security system uses biometrics to automate and expedite the security process. CLEAR allows you to move through the security process using a touchless ID system, so you no longer have to fumble for the traditional paper and plastic documents. The technology is safety certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for extra legitimacy and peace of mind. 

What is TSA PreCheck?

There is a reason why TSA PreCheck is so insanely popular with over ten million subscribers. TSA PreCheck makes the security process a walk in the park. No longer do you have to worry about removing things like your shoes, jacket or your belt – even computers and liquids are safe from physical inspection. While it does not guarantee that you get to skip the line every time, it is surprisingly consistent and can save you a ton of time and trouble in the future.

TSA PreCheck works for users of all ages, although children 12 and under do not require their own membership since they can accompany an eligible parent or guardian for free. 

How does CLEAR work?

Signing up for CLEAR is a fast, painless process that can be completed in just a few minutes. The application is digital, so you have the option of applying online through the website or via the exclusive CLEAR app. You will still need to add your biometrics, but no appointment is required because you can use any of its kiosks at any time. However, membership isn’t cheap at $179 each year.

Once your membership is approved, you will then have access to its own dedicated CLEAR security lanes at participating locations. That said, CLEAR is not a substitute for TSA PreCheck, and they should be used in conjunction with one another for the most efficient travel.

How does TSA PreCheck work?

TSA PreCheck is a convenience now available for U.S. citizens, in addition to U.S. nationals and legal permanent residents (LPRs). The service is widespread, too, working at over 200 airports and with 73 total airlines.

A five-year membership costs just $85 – well worth it for the frequent traveler. But before you sign up, check to see if one of your travel credit cards or rewards credit cards will reimburse you for the registration fee.

Applying is a two-step process. First, you need to complete the online application, which is a simple process that collects basic personal details. It will give you conditional approval, but to finish the process, you will need to schedule an in-person appointment at an enrollment center.

There you will have your fingerprints taken and undergo a background check. Your membership gets you a Known Traveler Number, which you link to your travel documents for seamless travel. 

Should you get one or both?

While TSA PreCheck is its own standalone service, CLEAR is designed to work in conjunction with TSA PreCheck, so you don’t have to bother with your clothes or belongings. It’s that extra convenience that can save you precious minutes when you’re late for your flight and need to get to your gate ASAP. 

CLEAR is especially relevant today, given the many restrictions in place to combat the spread of coronavirus. CLEAR’s biometrics eliminates the need for touch, so you can confirm your identity without risking your health. 


The first thing you should do is see whether you’re eligible for a discount on your CLEAR  membership or whether your TSA PreCheck application fee is covered by one of your credit cards. Even basic credit cards can sometimes carry these kinds of perks. 

Here’s a rundown of the best credit cards for TSA PreCheck. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers one TSA PreCheck (or Global Entry) application fee credit every four years.

And check out this guide to CLEAR that includes how to save on your membership fee. American Express® Green Card cardholders, for example, will receive up to a $100 annual credit when they use their American Express Green Card to purchase a CLEAR membership.

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.          

Bottom line

Though frequently mentioned together, these are not interchangeable services. While CLEAR relies upon biometrics to confirm your identity, TSA PreCheck still requires an in-person check of your identity.

Regardless of which you choose, both offer you a simpler, faster and more convenient way to move through security.

When deciding which services to use, it all depends on your personal travel habits and which venues you frequent. With just 50 locations, CLEAR may not make sense for you if you don’t have a participating location near you. However, if you are a frequent traveler, we recommend both services for the ultimate efficiency. 

Featured image by tigristiara/Shutterstock.

Lena Borrelli is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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