Review: CLEAR Airport Security Clearance. What is it? Should you get it?
Mile Addict Note: I am excited to have a guest contribution from my good friend Chris on his experience with CLEAR. Hoping that he becomes a regular contributor on the blog!
Back in January I was making my way to the TSA Pre-Check line in Terminal 1 at the Las Vegas airport, when I was pulled aside by a woman wearing a sport coat. She asked me if I traveled a lot, to which I answered, yes. She then walked me over to a nearby computer terminal and began to sign me up for CLEAR. She explained to me that this would allow me to breeze through the security lines, to include TSA Pre-Check. I thought this was a TSA initiative to help expedite things, but before I knew it I was swiping my credit card for an annual membership of $179. Worth noting is that the first three months is a free trial. I quickly realized that this was a commercial venture and was intrigued to see how it played out. Before I tell you what I think about the program, let me explain the program and the signup process.
What is CLEAR?
Let me tell you how the program works as a passenger. You show up to the security area at the airport and make your way to the TSA pre-check area. You will see a couple of computer terminals off to the side of security, outside of the roped off lanes with a CLEAR sign. They look much like any of the standalone terminals you would use to check-in with an airline at the airport. Next to those terminals will be one or two CLEAR representatives in a sports coat. You walk up, scan your boarding pass and provide a fingerprint at the computer, and the rest is like magic. That CLEAR representative escorts you to the front of the TSA Pre-Check line bypassing all other passengers, gets the attention of the TSA agent, at which point they clear you through to the x-ray machines without even showing your ID!
How to sign up?
You can either sign up at the link here, or even easier, do it at the airport like I did. The women who pulled me out of line to sign me up took care of everything. All I did was provide my driver’s license, boarding pass and credit card and answered a few questions. The questions were very similar to ones, which would be asked while confirming your identity to complete a credit check. Such as, verifying an address that and phone number from a list that you previously had. Following that, I input my fingerprints directly at the machine, and the whole process was done in about 7 minutes.
The CLEAR experience
So at this point you might be saying to yourself, I already have Pre-Check, that’s good enough. I will admit, Pre-Check is quite convenient and can save you considerable time, especially during peak travel times. However, in case you haven’t noticed, those TSA Pre-Check lines are getting longer and longer as more people catch on to the service and realize they are eligible.
Three weeks ago I was traveling back from Las Vegas with a couple of colleagues. One had just received his American Express Platinum and was excited to use his Centurion Lounge access privileges for the three of us. Both of my colleagues had TSA Pre-Check, and when we showed up to security, there was about 35-40 people in the Pre-Check security line. I watched them come to a halt as they entered the back of the line. At the same time, they watched me spend about 20 seconds at the CLEAR computer terminal before I was escorted in front of everyone in the security line. I was curious to see how much time it saved me, so I hacked my watch as I retrieved my backpack from the x-ray machine. 8.5 minutes was the grand total.
That may or may not be worth the value of $179 a year for you, and at the end of the year I will see if I will continue my membership. For now, I happen to travel a lot through Las Vegas airport. So CLEAR is convenient for me. And, at a savings of 8.5 minutes through security, that leaves me time for an extra tasty beverage at the lounge. But before you run out there and sign up, take a look at what airports it is offered. While it is expanding, it is currently limited to 13 airports:
- Austin, TX (AUS)
- Baltimore, MD (BWI)
- Dallas/Fort Worth, TX (DFW)
- Denver, CO (DEN)
- Houston, TX – George Bush (IAH)
- Houston, TX – William Hobby (HOU)
- Las Vegas, NV (LAS)
- Miami, FL (MIA)
- Orlando, FL (MCO)
- San Antonio, TX (SAT)
- San Francisco, CA (SFO)
- San Jose, CA (SJC )
- Westchester County, NY (HPN)
If you find yourself traveling with your family a lot, family members over the age of 18 can be added to your membership for $50 per year, while family members under the age of 18 are free.
CLEAR is a fast way to get through airport security, especially if the TSA Pre-Check line is longer than normal. However, this convenience does come at a price. At $179 per year this may be a worthwhile program if you find yourself traveling through the 13 airports listed above frequently. However, if you are only traveling through these airports every once in a while, the cost is likely not worth the time savings.
As CLEAR expands to more domestic airports, and as TSA Pre Check continues to add more people to its lines, it may become a “clear” value to frequent travelers.