Which Program Is Better, TSA Precheck or Clear

by joeheg

If you don’t travel often, your familiarity with Trusted Traveler programs may be limited to signs you’ve seen at the airport. You may be curious about TSA Precheck and why there is a separate line for it. You may also be wondering about CLEAR and what the futuristic kiosk does.

Each program serves a different purpose, and some are more beneficial to infrequent travelers than others. Here’s a brief overview of each program and who should consider obtaining or renewing them.

TSA Precheck

TSA Precheck is a program managed by the US Department of Homeland Security. US citizens and lawful permanent residents can enroll by paying a $78 fee for a membership that lasts 5 years. After participating in an in-person interview, getting fingerprinted, and passing a background check, members can enjoy various benefits at the TSA Checkpoint.

  • No need to remove shoes, laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, belts or light jackets
  • Expedited security screening. Most travelers get through Security in 5 minutes or less.

Although it may seem like a small list, having TSA Precheck can greatly improve your travel experience. I can’t recall the hassle of taking off my shoes and belt at the security checkpoint. Moreover, not having to unpack your carry-on to remove liquids and laptops decreases the likelihood of leaving something behind.

TSA Precheck also speeds up the security process as passengers only need to pass through a metal detector. The advanced imaging technology scanner is only necessary for those who fail or are randomly selected for additional screening.

Finally, the TSA Precheck line is almost always shorter than the regular security line. TSA’s claim about getting through security in 5 minutes is questionable because it depends on the airport and when you’re traveling. Even so, it’s a shorter wait that the regular line.

For $78, a 5-year membership costs $15.60 per year. Even if you travel once or twice a year, it’s worth it to avoid waiting in a 30-60 minute queue at the TSA checkpoint. This one is a no brainer for almost all travelers.


CLEAR is an external company that uses biometric data to speed up the identity check process. Membership costs $179/year. During enrollment,  your eyes and fingerprints will be scanned and matched to your ID. Once registered, you won’t need to present your ID during subsequent flights, saving valuable time and making the process smoother.

Or that’s how it’s supposed to go.

CLEAR lines aren’t always shorter than the TSA Precheck line. Depending on the airport and the number of CLEAR members, The CLEAR line might be as long or longer, as we found out on a recent trip through Atlanta.

In addition, CLEAR is having some trouble with the government about how they register travelers. This has resulted in passengers needing to show ID at the TSA checkpoint, eliminating one of the biggest advantages of the program.

While we still use CLEAR, I can’t recommend it to everyone. It is only at 50+ airports, and then not necessarily at every terminal or checkpoint. If you travel regularly and your airport has a CLEAR lane, then it might make sense to apply, but don’t pay full price for CLEAR.

Final Thought

When comparing the two programs, I looked at what’s the biggest hassle of the airport TSA security process. I think it’s having to get partially undressed and having to unpack items. That’s even more of a pain than standing in a long line. And both of those are a larger issue than having to show my ID.

Therefore I’ll gladly pay $16 a year for TSA Precheck. When it comes to CLEAR, I’m not sure.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


derek August 6, 2023 - 2:17 am

Nexus is better than PreCheck and cheaper except the initial interview is in only a few US cities, like Buffalo and Detroit and in most major Canadian cities.

Philip Cave August 6, 2023 - 2:46 pm

I travel at least eight times yearly, within the U.S. and internationally. I have both Precheck and Clear. (Certain credit cards have a free Clear membership as a benefit.) At DCA, my hub, it’s a toss-up in which lane–Precheck or Clear–to pick; it depends on the time of day. IAD is always the Clear lane. I recently came through SAN, and any money for the passes was money well spent. I am noticing that the TSA/C lines are getting longer–the more who use the pass, the longer the lines, and the longer time to clear security. I joked with another traveler that we might expect a SuperClear lane soon. Also, before entering the lane, I always do a last personal precheck. It can be frustrating to watch people put their bags on the scanning machine table and fumble around getting stuff out of their pockets. Have a zipped bag strong enough and large enough to hold the wallet, passport, keys, cell phone, etc., etc., which can be clipped to the briefcase, carry-on, or purse. That practice minimizes the need to use trays and the occasional forgetting of something when you walk away.


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