They say it’s the journey, not the destination, but as most of us know, the “travel” part isn’t always easy — especially if you’re flying. If you frequently travel for work or pleasure, you might consider a few ways to make flying easier. You’ve probably heard of services to get you through security faster, and you might wonder which option is best for you. Here is a breakdown of the top security programs — Clear, TSA Precheck, and Global Entry — so you can compare them.
TSA Precheck is the (usually) shorter line you’ve seen at the airport security checkpoint. If you often fly in the US, the $85 fee for five years is well worth it. Most TSA Precheck travelers get through security in only a few minutes. You don’t need a special ID to use Precheck. If you enroll in Precheck, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN). When you buy airline tickets, you’ll enter in that KTN, and your boarding pass will indicate you have Precheck. You can then take the shorter line!
Enrolling in Precheck requires an online form, ID, and fingerprinting at a local office. We recommend that you make an appointment to go through this process; it only takes 5-10 minutes. However, if you show up without an appointment, you may be waiting for awhile. Your KTN arrives within four weeks, and you can then add it to any flights you have already booked.
Our Vacation Manager, Felicia, recently went through the Precheck process and said, “It was so quick and easy. I can’t believe I didn’t do it earlier! I’m looking forward to my next flight to skip the often long security lines.”
Bottom line: Sign up if you often fly in the US but rarely fly internationally. If you fly internationally, you might as well get Global Entry.
Like precheck, Global Entry is a program run by US Customs and Border Protection that helps make your airport experience a bit smoother. Pre-approved travelers can use kiosks and get through customs faster when traveling internationally. Plus, Global Entry includes TSA Precheck. The reduced wait time mainly occurs as you re-enter the US, but Global Entry also has benefits in other countries. To apply for Global Entry, you fill out an online form and pay a non-refundable $100.
You’ll then have to go through an in-person interview process during which you’ll be fingerprinted and photographed. The tricky part is getting that interview set up; it may take time, and in North Carolina, our nearest location for that interview is in Charlotte. We’ve heard the waiting list for those interviews can be several months. But once you’re done, your Global Entry pass is good for five years. If you’re want to learn more about Global Entry, here are the FAQs.
Bottom line: If you fly internationally even once per year, you might find it helpful, especially because it includes Precheck for domestic flights. However, be prepared for a process here.
Clear is a private company that works at some airports as well as stadiums, some car rental centers, and other places. At airports, Clear’s benefit is to skip the line altogether. First, you skip the TSA identity check — the part where you hand your ID and boarding pass to a TSA agent — by checking in at a Clear kiosk. Then, a Clear ambassador will accompany you straight to the front of the TSA line, whether it’s the Precheck line or regular. The cost of Clear is much higher: $179 per year as of this writing, though some credit cards are offering reimbursement for part of that cost. Clear has also partnered with Delta’s Skymiles and United Airlines’ frequent flyer program to offer discounts or reimbursement.
Signing up for Clear is relatively easy; visit any Clear station and show your ID. You’ll submit your fingerprints and an eye scan at the kiosk. You don’t need an interview; the process takes about five minutes. One caveat: you must be a US citizen or legal permanent resident.
If you’re traveling out of RDU often, you might not find a lot of use for Clear because we don’t have the kiosks here as of this writing. Whether you choose Clear depends on your budget and your travel frequency.
Bottom line: Business travelers will find the most use for this. You might sign up for Clear if you often travel at large airports, and you can snag a discount on the fee via your credit card or airline miles program.
Comparing Precheck, Global Entry, and Clear
Whether you choose Precheck, Global Entry, or Clear depends on how you travel and your preferred price tag. Obviously, Clear is the most expensive, so many people prefer to just stick with Global Entry or Precheck. However, there are pros and cons:
- Global Entry will take longer to set up.
- Even with Precheck, you may be asked to step into the regular line or be pulled for a random screening; Clear boasts you can avoid that with their program.
- If you’re an elite or business flyer, you have another line that expedites your process, but some travelers report that Clear will still save you time.
- More people are signing up for Precheck due to its affordability, meaning that line is starting to become longer.
- Clear is not yet available at all airports.
- TSA Precheck doesn’t work with all airlines, though it does with most.
- If you travel with kids, consider carefully. Clear allows you to add children under 18 for free, while TSA Precheck requires you pay for and enroll any children over age 13.
- As one blogger observed, Clear wasn’t saving him time at his home airport, so really, it boils down to whether it’s available to you and how you travel.
If you have questions about security programs and getting through the airport, our travel advisors are happy to help!