TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry vs. CLEAR, Which Is Right for You?

Airlines, Deals & News, Product Reviews, Travel Tales 25

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TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR are membership programs that help expedite and make your airport experience more pleasant, especially at security checkpoints. Since having one of these program memberships I have saved numerous hours at the airport and can spend more time in airport lounges. Each program has it’s own selling points, let’s take a look at these points and help you decide which program is right for you.

UPDATE: Click here to learn about which cards offer a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

TSA PreCheck

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) offers TSA PreCheck and focuses on getting you through security as soon as possible. TSA PreCheck is the recognized gold standard for those wanting to breeze their way through airport security. With PreCheck, you get to keep your shoes and light jacket on and your laptop in your bag. You also get to leave those full body scanners behind and settle for an old school metal detector.

TSA PreCheck costs $85 for a 5-year membership.

If you travel only domestic, I recommend TSA PreCheck over the competition.

TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck Flickr photo by EasySentri shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

 

Global Entry

The U.S. Customers and Border Protection (CBP) offers Global Entry and provides expedited customs when coming back in the United States plus TSA PreCheck. With Global Entry you won’t have to wait in line at customs or the security checkpoint!

Back in August 2016, Global Entry saved me hours of waiting at Customs in Atlanta when returning from St. Lucia. In fact, I heard of people missing their connecting flights due to the long lines to clear Customs.

Global Entry also grants you access to the NEXUS and SENTRI lanes. With Global Entry, Customs and Border Patrols offer expedited processing when entering the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Global Entry costs $100 for a 5-year membership, only $3 more per year than TSA PreCheck.

As a head up it can take months to get a Global Entry interview. I got lucky, but I know others who have waited 6+ months for their interview. Even Lee’s kids (Timmy and Scarlett) have Global Entry.

If you plan on doing ANY international traveling, I recommend Global Entry over the competition. 

How Global Entry members clear customs

How Global Entry members clear customs. Using Global Entry Kiosk Flickr photo by EasySentri shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

 

CLEAR

CLEAR is a private company that contracts with the TSA at certain airports around the United States. Think of CLEAR as a security agent who walks you to the front of the line.

Since CLEAR doesn’t have their dedicated employees or security lines, you still have to go through general security unless you also have a TSAPreCheck or Global Entry membership.

CLEAR costs $179 annually and you can add an adult family members for $50.

If you enjoy skipping to the front of lines, but like going through general security, and waiting at U.S. customs for hours on end, I recommend CLEAR over the competition.

Clear- Orlando Airport Flickr photo by Josh Hallett shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

 

The Bald Thoughts

The advantage of TSA PreCheck and Global Entry include dedicated security lines not accessible by the general public. All CLEAR does is put you in the front of the general security line… I don’t see the appeal of CLEAR considering you must go through general security checkpoints, wait in line at Customs AND it costs 895% more than Global Entry and 1052% more than TSA PreCheck.

If you plan on doing any international traveling, I recommend Global Entry as it expedites the Customs process and includes PreCheck! If you don’t do any international traveling TSA PreCheck is your best option.

Based on your travel habits, which program is right for you? Who has a membership to the above-mentioned programs?

The opinions expressed here are the author's alone and have not been reviewed or endorsed by any company or third-party, unless clearly stated otherwise. The comments on this page are not provided, reviewed, or otherwise approved by the advertiser. It is not the advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


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About the author / 

Tyler Beels

Tyler Beels is a points collector who earns most of his points without flying. While he has redeemed hundreds of thousands of points for flights around the world, he finds just as much enjoyment in the accumulation process. Tyler writes with the intention of teaching others how to leverage points and frequent-flyer programs to complete their travel wish list.

25 Comments

  1. Rick March 19, 2017 at 9:36 am -  Reply

    You can get Nexus for $50 and it includes Global Entry and TSAPrecheck

    • Tyler Beels March 19, 2017 at 12:35 pm -  Reply

      Rick,

      Thanks for your feedback. While that is correct, Nexus enrollment centers are in less than 10 U.S. states. In a lot of cases, it’s not worth the extra travel to save $35-$50. Also, if you have the American Express Platinum Card, Nexus is not eligible for the fee credit, only Global Entry, and TSA PreCheck.

  2. Peter March 19, 2017 at 2:35 pm -  Reply

    One problem with TSA PreCheck is that not all airlines are linked in. I fly BA out of Phoenix. BA states that they are not part of the PreCheck set up.

  3. Cesar March 19, 2017 at 7:49 pm -  Reply

    I applied for Global Entry. In my opinion it’s the best choice since it includes TSA Pre. Also, even if you don’t travel abroad, global entry makes it easier to go to Mexico or Canada. Only down side is the wait but luckily you can do your interview anywhere in the country. I live in Southern California and the nearest date was July, so I booked an appointment in Austin, Tx and knocked it out while visiting family. They had appointments as close as one week.

    • Tyler Beels March 19, 2017 at 11:58 pm -  Reply

      Cesar,

      Glad to hear you had a positive experience with your Global Entry interview. I was able to knock mine out while visiting Michigan last May, the timing was perfect!

  4. Pablo March 19, 2017 at 8:29 pm -  Reply

    I use both clear and global entry, because the Precheck lines at my home airport of MCO tend to be lengthy. Clear always puts me at the front of the line, global entry gets me back in the country quickly, and Precheck (that comes w global entry) lets me keep my shoes and belt on.

    • Tyler Beels March 20, 2017 at 12:01 am -  Reply

      Pablo,

      CLEAR takes you to the front of the PreCheck line yes? It seems like you have a system that works great for you.

  5. Carol Warner March 19, 2017 at 8:36 pm -  Reply

    TSA precheck is best for people who travel frequently. And at SFO you can use Precheck in the International terminal also. As a United 1K it is invaluable.
    Global Entry is also for those who travel overseas more than every other year. It is not airline dependant as is Precheck. But it does require a face to face meeting at one of the airports where these take place such as SFO.
    Enrolling in either of these programs take effort and cost money so not for everyone.
    Why anyone would bother with Clear is beyond me. It just popped up again at SFO but don’t know if anyone is using it.

    • Tyler Beels March 20, 2017 at 12:04 am -  Reply

      Carol,

      For frequent travelers, I recommend Global Entry over PreCheck every time. While you must do the in-person interview, it only costs $3 more per year and pays off your first time clearing Customs when returning to the U.S.

  6. Mike March 20, 2017 at 3:01 am -  Reply

    Global Entry is not that great for those with children since it’s it’s membership does not cover the kids en ty wrong the country.

    I I were to do I again I would pay for the TSA precheck and use the free program Mobile Passport which is available at most main US airport s

    • Lee Huffman March 20, 2017 at 7:53 am -  Reply

      We found this out the hard way when coming back from Cancun with my daughter when she was 6 months old. The lady at Global Entry gave us a hard time. Scarlett is blond as can be, so she’s hardly being smuggled back from Cancun. But, I understand her position. She had to treat everyone the same. I was waiting as long as possible before getting Scarlett’s Global Entry membership using the $100 reimbursement from one of my credit cards.

      To me, it is worth paying the extra $15 ($3 per year) to have Global Entry and needing to pay for kids’ GE membership. The lines can be so long when coming back from an international trip, I would gladly slip someone a $20 to skip the line. Since GE is $20 a year, that’s the equivalent of the Vegas $20 handshake to skip the line to enter the club. Totally worth it!

  7. John the Wanderer March 20, 2017 at 6:32 am -  Reply

    I see Delta highly promoting Clear memberships. Depending on your status you can get a discount off of the membership. It is new at MSP so there are still no lines for it. I know some people that have really gotten a great benefit from using at at airports like Orlando. The regular annual fee is pretty steep though.

    • Lee Huffman March 20, 2017 at 7:55 am -  Reply

      I think Clear can be worth it for frequent travelers, especially those traveling for business where time is of the essence. I’ve seen Clear at a handful of airports, and there is never a line… mostly because few people are willing to pay the larger annual fee. That’s great that Delta is offering a discount. How much is the discount?

  8. Adam March 20, 2017 at 7:36 am -  Reply

    CLEAR combined with precheck is amazing. Typically precheck lines are long now, clear puts you at the front of the precheck line. Takes me 30-45 seconds to get through security.

    • Lee Huffman March 20, 2017 at 7:58 am -  Reply

      That’s a great combo Adam! Is this something you find useful to pay on your own, or is work paying for it? So far, Clear isn’t at enough airports for it to be worthwhile to even bother with the promo trials I’ve been offered. For example, I saw it at Denver during a recent trip and the PreCheck line was 4 deep vs. an empty Clear line. In that situation, Clear wouldn’t have been much of a benefit to justify the fee.

  9. LisaE March 20, 2017 at 11:03 am -  Reply

    Correction, Global Entry does not grant you access to the NEXUS lines at US-Canada boarder crossings. You have to have the NEXUS card with the RIFD chip. If you live in a border state and can get to a processing center, NEXUS is worth the much longer initial application pre-approval time over GE, also saves $50. Be sure to choose a processing center that offers the iris scan if you plan to use in Canadian airports.

    • Lee Huffman March 20, 2017 at 11:14 am -  Reply

      Lisa, thanks for the clarification and suggestions. We live in CA and AZ so the Canadian border is quite far away. As you said, for people that live along (or traveling to) the northern border, NEXUS is a great option.

  10. Susan fry April 18, 2017 at 12:58 pm -  Reply

    In the comments above, you seem to be referring to some kind of rebates or benefits (from credit cards?) for purchasing Global Entry — but I don’t see any details. Can you explain (I am just filling out my application). Also, I read in another article from late in 2016 that the writer knew of some people just showing up at the airport without an appointment and being able to get an interview (sorry, I’d give you a citation, but I looked at it a couple of days ago and don’t know where it is now). Writer said that it is, of course, totally random. Without an interview, you have NO right to expect to be given the time of day (let alone an interview) — but I guess he knew people who went at a slow time and managed to find nice and accommodating people.

    • Tyler Beels April 18, 2017 at 2:31 pm -  Reply

      Susan,

      There are multiple credit cards that offer a PreCheck or Global Entry credit as a benefit, this means you can get it for free! The most popular cards that offer this benefit are the Amex Platinum (both personal and business), Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Prestige. Here you can find more information about the benefit offered by the Amex Platinum (the card I used to get Global Entry for free). If you are interested in applying I’d really appreciate it if you’d use my affiliate link.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

      • Sue Fry April 18, 2017 at 4:33 pm -  Reply

        Hi Tyler, Was happy to find your blog and would be pleased to use your affiliate link. Having worked for Visa and Wells Fargo over the years, I have a strong hunch that the cards you mention are for “frequent/biz” travelers and thus have an annual fee that doesn’t make sense for a user like me (who flies about once or twice a year) — but I will check them out!

        • Lee Huffman April 19, 2017 at 7:09 am -  Reply

          Hi Sue, the cards that offer the best benefits usually charge the highest fee. It is a common misconception that people shouldn’t pay annual fees. With the large sign-up bonuses these cards offer, the first year is almost always very profitable for the consumer. Now, when it comes to paying the annual fee in the 2nd year and beyond, that’s when the decision becomes more difficult. You have to weigh the benefits vs. what you’re paying to determine if paying a fee is worth it for you going forward. If you’d like to schedule a free 30-minute travel consultation with us, we can help you do the math and determine which card is best for your situation.

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