CLEAR vs. TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry - What's the Difference?

If you're like most people then chances are you have heard of these three programs before. You probably know that they have something do with expedited airport security but are confused on the differences between them and if they are worth the cost. This article is for you.

Not Competing Services
The first proper perspective I need to cast is that these programs are actually not competing with each other. There are reasons to have all three, there are reasons to have only one. This depends on your travel routines and security preferences. So with that said, let's dig into the lush details, shall we.

TSA PreCheck

With PreCheck your boarding pass will say "PreCheck" on it which allows you to enter an alternate security screening line. The PreCheck line is virtually always much shorter than the regular queue. From there the best perks of the program are experienced at the security checkpoint:

  1. You don't need to remove your shoes.
  2. You don't need to take your laptop out of your carry-on baggage.
  3. You don't need to take your 3-1-1 liquids bag out.
  4. You don't need to remove your belt.
  5. You don't need to remove light outerwear such as a jacket.

So not only is your security screening less cumbersome it's also a huge time saver due to not having to repack and items and retie shoes.

Why Choose TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck is the most frequently chosen traveler program of the three and the reasons for that are clear:
1. At $85 every 5 years, it's the cheapest of the three.
2. With over 200 participating US airports, it provides the most opportunities to be used.
3. It's the only program that reduces your physical security screening requirements.

So what's the catch?
Other than paperwork (which results in a background check), the $85 fee, and a short interview, you would be hard put to find any negatives to the program. Don't let the thought of an interview startle you, many members report that their interview was just a few questions and the whole thing was over in less than 5 mins (this is community sourced reporting, your experience may differ.)

Global Entry

If you liked the perks I listed about TSA PreCheck, and travel internationally, then you'll love Global Entry. First of all, you need to know that Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, so everything listed above is also a benefit you'll receive with Global Entry. Technically speaking, by enrolling in Globel Entry, you are automatically enrolling in both programs.

With Global Entry your immigration and customs processing time is shortened when you reenter the US. After leaving the plane and before getting your baggage, you'll head for the Global Entry kiosks, skipping the notoriously long winding lines for immigration screening.

Global Entry in Non-US Airports
One rarely mentioned advantage of the program is that Global Entry kiosks do exist in a few non-US airports. At the time of this writing (Fall 2017) there are 57 international airports with Global Entry kiosks, 16 of them are non-US or in US territories.

The non-US airports are:

  • Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH)
  • Aruba - Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA)
  • Calgary International Airport (YYC)
  • Dublin Airport (DUB)
  • Edmonton International Airport (YEG)
  • Guam International Airport (GUM)
  • Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ)
  • Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL)
  • Nassau - Sir Lynden Pindling International Airport, Bahamas (NAS)
  • Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW)
  • Saipan International Airport (SPN)
  • San Juan-Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport (SJU)
  • Shannon Airport (SNN)
  • Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
  • Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
  • Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport (YWG)

Why Choose Global Entry?
Global Entry is the most popular choice for frequent international travelers because:

  1. It includes TSA PreCheck.
  2. At $100 for 5 years, it is only $15 more than PreCheck.
  3. It can reduce your total travel time by hours per international flight, depending on airport congestion.

So what's the catch?
The enrollment process is very similar to TSA PreCheck. Expect to have your interview questions be more geared around your international travel intentions and be sure to have a valid US passport before applying.

Government and Non-Government Programs

At this point, you should have a good understanding of these two popular government programs available to you. The third program, CLEAR, is run by a private company, obviously with the blessing of the airport authorities. Let's take a look.

CLEAR

CLEAR is often the most misunderstood program for the three, which is unfortunate because its benefits are straightforward and worthwhile. The confusion arises because CLEAR does not work in parallel with PreCheck and Global Entry (remember these are not competing services). CLEAR works in partnership with the airport security authorities. For $179 per year, CLEAR escorts you to an alternate dedicated screening lane (which one might say is even hard to call a line, because there is virtually no wait time), skipping past both the regular TSA screening line and the TSA PreCheck line.

After the CLEAR lane you arrive at the TSA physical screening checkpoint. If you have PreCheck then you will go to the PreCheck screening section, if you do not then you'll go to the regular screening section. So you can see the benefit of having both PreCheck and CLEAR. Obviously CLEAR can not have its own physical screening section because that task must be completed by the airport authorities, not a 3rd party.

CLEAR users regularly praise the service for getting them from ticketing to post-security in around 5 to 10 mins max. For frequent travelers, especially routine business flights, that's a very attractive benefit.

Where You Can Use CLEAR
CLEAR, at the time of this article (Fall 2017), is currently operating at about 20 US airports with more openings coming soon. Here's where you will find CLEAR security lanes today:

  • Austin (AUS)
  • Baltimore (BWI)
  • Dallas (DFW)
  • Denver (DEN)
  • Detroit (DTW)
  • Houston (IAH and HOU)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • New York (LGA and JFK)
  • Orlando (MCO)
  • San Antonio (SAT)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • Seattle (SEA)
  • Washington, D.C. (DCA and IAD)

Why Choose CLEAR?
CLEAR is a popular choice for frequent flyers for these key reasons:

  1. It works in conjunction with TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, so members of those programs still utilize the benefits.
  2. It allows you to skip the manual boarding pass + ID check step via the use of the CLEAR kiosks.
  3. You're almost guaranteed to be past security in 5-10 mins. No more worries that you arrived at the airport a little late (however be aware of baggage check-in time cut-offs).

What's the Catch?
With CLEAR the main issue for travelers is the cost. The $179 per year price tag could be unappealing to infrequent flyers. The signup and enrollment process is much faster and painless though when compared to PreCheck and Global Entry.

So Which to Choose?

I hope it has become clear (no pun intended) that you can't go wrong with any program, and to decide to choose one or all three are both valid conclusions.

Everyone's travel routines are very different. Obviously, if you won't use the benefits enough, it may not be worth the investment of time applying and fees. I personally have a family member that choose both TSA PreCheck and CLEAR because both programs work at the Las Vegas McCarran Airport where he travels monthly to frequent the Vegas dispensaries and order medical cannabis from Hytiva. I also have a friend that decided to enroll in Global Entry because he was traveling to lecture at Andhra University in India quarterly, and the time saved at immigration made the choice a no-brainer.

Think about your current and potential future travel routines and check your home airport for participation in the three programs. Safe travels.