Expedited Airport Security Programs: Are They Worth It?
As a frequent traveler, I like to spend the least amount of time possible sitting in the airport. I give myself enough time to get through security without feeling rushed, which usually amounts to arriving at the airport just over an hour before the boarding time. I had often wondered if expedited security programs like TSA PreCheck or CLEAR were really helpful. While I don’t endorse any specific program, I thought I would share my experiences to help fellow traveling planners.
If you also travel frequently, you know wait times to get through the standard security lines can vary quite a bit. PreCheck is well-known for saving you time and hassle by allowing you to keep your belongings in your bag, and keep your shoes and light jacket on while going through security. While TSA PreCheck is available in over 150 airports, the lesser known option, CLEAR is available in only 13 locations so far. CLEAR members are escorted to the front of the standard security screening lines (via their own designated lane), but can only go through a PreCheck lane if they are a member of that program as well. To join either program, you must complete an application process and pay a fee. The TSA PreCheck program costs $85 for 5 years. CLEAR is over ten times as expensive, at $180 annually.
In Houston alone (at IAH), either program would save me between 5-45 minutes depending on my travel times, so recently I tried CLEAR to see if it was worth it compared to or in conjunction with PreCheck. Here are a few things I’ve seen so far.
The application process for each program is simple. The check-in is even easier.
Once approved for PreCheck, you will receive a known traveler number (KTN) and can associate it with your reservations made with select airlines. CLEAR membership is valid regardless of the airline you fly, but at noticeably far fewer airports. I signed up for CLEAR online and completed the process in person in just a few minutes. Check-in requires a scan of your fingers on a digital pad, and a scan of your iris. PreCheck is indicated on your ticket (no need for an additional check-in at the airport), and verified at the entrance to the security screening lanes. My first time using CLEAR, the standard security line at IAH (George Bush Intercontinental Airport) extended past the check-in and I was escorted right to the front in the designated CLEAR lane.
Every time I’ve traveled through an airport with CLEAR, the designated lane has been open and it has taken me less than 5 minutes to get through security. There have been several occasions where my travel companions have gone through the PreCheck lanes instead, and I’ve beat them through in the CLEAR lane. If you prefer PreCheck over standard security, you can still go into that lane if you have your known traveler number associated with your airline ticket. On a recent trip, traffic was much worse than I expected and I arrived late to the airport. Had I not been a CLEAR member, I would have missed my flight. That in itself paid for the membership this year!
Snacks on the Go is available at select locations now.
No more waiting in line to get food and drinks before your flight! You can order while you are going through the CLEAR check-in process. Payment is taken care of through the program so all you have to do is pick up your items at the CIBO Express Market counter nearest your gate.
CLEAR offers Fast Access Service at regular season home games for some major league baseball stadiums.
Not only can you save time in the airport, but if you attend San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, or New York Yankees games you can expedite your way through the entrance. You can even bring one adult and unlimited minor guests with you. I’ve yet to take advantage of this offer but look forward to it!
So far, CLEAR has definitely saved me time traveling. I’d say it’s even saved me money. If your home airport is IAH, MIA, DEN, or one of the other CLEAR locations, you may find membership to be worthwhile. If you rarely fly out of a CLEAR location, you may find PreCheck a better option. Either program will save you time, and together they provide an even more seamless travel experience. Happy travels!
Photo credits: Shutterstock. Empty lanes at Denver International: Arina P Habich / Shutterstock.com