Global Entry, Pre-Check or CLEAR?

Several programs are available to help speed travelers through airport security lines. Which provides the best bang for your buck?

Two of the programs are government programs: The Transportation and Security Administration’s (TSA) Pre-Check program and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry program. The third, CLEAR, is a private bio-metric screening service.

TSA Pre-Check line at SEA
The TSA Pre-Check program, which is currently available at more than 180 airports with 30 participating airlines nationwide, gives members access to the Pre-Check lines which allow them to keep their shoes and light outerwear on and does not require them to remove laptops or liquids. The result is faster screening than the general screening lines.

While there is an application process that can take several weeks, the application fee for TSA’s Pre-Check program is $85. If approved, Pre-Check authorization is valid for five years.

The CBP’s Global Entry program goes Pre-Check at least one better. Global Entry members can use dedicated kiosks when returning to the U.S. by air, and the NEXUS and SENTRI lanes when returning to the U.S. from Canada or Mexico. In addition, Global Entry members automatically have access to Pre-Check lanes, even when traveling domestically.

As with Pre-Check, there is an application process that can take some time but, when approved, Global Entry is good for five years. The application fee of $100, therefore, works out to just $20 a year. After initially enrolling in Pre-Check, I upgraded to Global Entry and have been very happy with its benefits.

By contrast, the normal rate for CLEAR membership is $179 per year, with an additional $50 per family member. At present, CLEAR is available at around 20 airports across the country.

CLEAR does provide one benefit not offered by either government program: expedited access to several entertainment venues, including Coors Field in Denver, AmericanAirlines Arena and Marlins Park in Miami, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium in New York, and AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Those who travel regularly to airports served by CLEAR may find the service allows them to clear security more quickly than using the Pre-Check lines. However, given the far greater number of airports with Pre-Check lines, the additional benefits of the Global Entry program and the significantly lower cost, either government program will provide expedited security screening for a more modest financial outlay than CLEAR.

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Photo by Carl Dombek
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