As a road warrior (aka. a person who travels all the time/lives “on the road”), I spend a significant amount of time in airports, especially in security lines waiting to board my 2+ flights per week. When TSA announced they were rolling out a program to expedite the security boarding process, I immediately asked, “Where can I sign up?”
A little over 5 years ago, I took the plunge and signed up for my first program and haven’t looked back since. I can now tell you exactly how long it will take me to go through security at the airports I most frequent at any given time of day and can plan leaving my house with just enough time to grab a smoothie and walk on the plane (aka. get as much beauty sleep as possible) on Monday mornings.
Since there is a lot of confusion around the main 3 programs, I wanted to break down each of them and give you my perspective on whether TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or CLEAR is the right option for you.
Overview: TSA PreCheck was the first program to be rolled out to expedite security screenings for frequent flyers and leisure travelers. The PreCheck program is run by the Department of Homeland Security and upon successful completion of an application, background check, and interview, you are able to go through the traditional metal detector, leave electronics and liquids in your bags, and not take off your shoes when going through security. Most airports in the US have TSA PreCheck programs and can save you a significant amount of time and energy when going through security.
Duration: 5 Years
My Thoughts: TSA PreCheck is an extreme time saver for flights that leave from a city in the US. Over the past 6 years of traveling every week, I have probably saved over 100 hours not waiting in the regular security line. Plus, I don’t have to take off my shoes, take my liquids or electronics out of my bag, and I can go through the traditional metal detector. If you are planning to travel more than 2-3 times a year, I would recommend the investment.
Overview: Global Entry is also run by the Department of Homeland Security and offers participants the ability to expedite the customs process when returning to the United States from abroad. In addition to expediting the customs process, you are given the s into the TSA PreCheck program which expedites the security screening process at most US airports.
Duration: 5 Years
My Thoughts: Honestly, if you are going to do any international travel over the next 5 years, spend the extra $15 to invest in Global Entry over TSA PreCheck. Not only will it give you PreCheck for the flights originating in the US, but you will also have the ability to breeze through customs. When I was coming back from Amsterdam a few days ago, it took me all of 5 minutes to clear customs – most of which was spent filling out the form at the kiosk and then waiting for 3 people to hand their completed form to the customs agent. It probably saved me a good 30 minutes based on the line that was formed that day. Plus, you never have to fill out a paper customs form again – it’s all on the kiosk!
Overview: CLEAR is a privately owned company which offers customers the ability to expedite the security process without the need of a physical ID as it uses your finger prints or iris to confirm your identity using biometrics. They are currently in over 30 airports and other venues, including stadiums and Hertz rental car pickup locations. CLEAR can be used in combination with your TSA PreCheck status, but PreCheck is not required to sign up with CLEAR .
While I don’t personally have CLEAR , I have witnessed the use of it hundreds of times while in the Atlanta airport. If you have TSA PreCheck, you check into the CLEAR kiosks and confirm your identity using your eye or fingers. Once you have been confirmed, the Ambassador (CLEAR agent) will escort you to the TSA agent (they have to escort you so they can validate to the TSA agent that you are the person on your boarding pass). The TSA agent takes a quick peek at your boarding pass to confirm it’s for today and you go through the expedited security process. If you don’t have PreCheck, I believe the process is very similar with the exception of the security process where you will go through the traditional security screenings.
Duration: 1 Year
My Thoughts: As a frequent traveler (2+ times per week), I have highly considered investing in CLEAR because it’s even more expedited than TSA PreCheck and when you are traveling at peak business traveler times (i.e., Monday morning, Sunday night, Thursday evening), you can often spend a decent amount of time (by my expedited standards, but more like 15-20 minutes) waiting in the PreCheck line. The only thing that keeps holding me back from applying is that they do not currently operate in the United terminals (C & E) in Houston, so I would only be able to use it when traveling through other airports that may have it. Given the fairly expensive monthly fee, I personally don’t think it’s worth it unless I could use it on both legs of my trips.
Pro Tip: Make sure to check the benefits of the credit card you are currently holding or one you are thinking about opening. A lot of the cards available now will reimburse you for the cost of your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership as a part of your standard perks. Then the only cost to you is the time it takes to complete the application and interview.