TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry vs. CLEAR

We’ve all been there. Waiting in a two hour line at customs after a 15 hour flight from Asia, or getting to the airport late only to find an ghastly amount of people in line for security. Congestion and airports go hand in hand. It’s just a fact of life. Thankfully there are three programs, TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR which help reduce wait times and headaches when it comes to getting through customs and airport security (Yes, I realize this sounds like a ShamWow infomercial).

All three of these programs are open to United States citizens (Global Entry allows Canadians to apply) who can pass the required background checks. They all have their own unique selling points, so I want to walk you through each to help you decide which program best fits your needs.

TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is sponsored by the Transportation Security Administration and is designed to do one thing: get you through airport security as quickly as possible with very little hassle. With TSA PreCheck, you can leave your shoes on, keep your laptop in your bag and clear security through a metal detector alone. You won’t receive any special treatment at the border or customs, but if 99% of your travel is domestic, this may be the program for you. The cost is $85 for a 5-year membership and you can enroll at virtually any airport. Click here to find an enrollment center.

Photo Cred: Onemileatatime.com and TSA.com

Photo Cred: Onemileatatime.com and TSA.com

Global Entry

The Global Entry program is sponsored by U.S Customs and Border Protection and provides members with not only a fast-pass through customs when entering the U.S., but you also get the benefits of TSA PreCheck for airport security. The cost of Global Entry is $100 for a 5-year membership. Sounds like a better deal than TSA PreCheck if you travel internationally once in that 5 year period, doesn’t it? Well, the only caveat is that it takes forever to get an appointment. It took my wife 5 months to get in to see someone in Denver.

Photo cred: cpb.gov

Photo cred: cpb.gov

Luckily, some friends on Reddit have written a script to help you identify and book the nearest appointment when a cancellation is made by someone else. I have not personally used this script, but it seems like people have had good results based on the Reddit comments. Some people that I have talked to have had luck just walking into a Global Entry Enrollment Center and waiting for a little while to see someone. I was turned away in New Orleans when I tried to walk-in.

One other thing to mention about the program is that you can also use Global Entry to access the NEXUS and SENTRI lanes at the Canadian and Mexican borders when entering the United States (but not when entering Canada or Mexico). Some have argued that these are separate program and you must sign up to participate in each, but I have personally used NEXUS multiple times and have confirmed with Customs agents that it’s allowed.


CLEAR is a privately held company that contracts with the TSA at select airports in the U.S. to fast-track pre-registered travelers to the front of the line. Basically, CLEAR just gets you right past the point where the TSA agent will take your boarding pass and ID. They can’t, however, get you access to the TSA PreCheck lane if you don’t have either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck already. A subscription to CLEAR costs $175 annually, but there are promo codes out there which can help offset the cost for the first year. You can also add a family member for just $50 per year.

Delta also provides its top tier elites with a free subscription. Rene did a great blog about this benefit a while back as well. I singed up for a 4 month free trial through Trip it Pro, which is offered by Concur (my employers corporate travel software) so stay tuned for that report. You can also visit RetailMeNot for the latest offers and free trials.

Photo cred: HoustonChronicle.com

Photo cred: HoustonChronicle.com

CLEAR + Global Entry or TSA PreCheck = Awesomeness

The TSA Precheck program has grown quite a bit and lines at larger airports such as EWR, LAX, JFK and SFO, are often longer than the standard screening lines during peak hours. The best way to avoid those growing lines is to combine CLEAR with Global Entry or TSA Pre. This combo will get you around the line and straight to the conveyor belt. With all of the travel I have coming up, I plan to use my 4 month free trial a lot.

Getting TSA PreCheck or Global Entry for Free

The Travel Sisters wrote a great post on this. If you have one of these cards, you can get a $100 reimbursement when you use it to sign up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Please note, this credit won’t work for CLEAR as far as I know.

•  Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard (Global Entry only)
•  Citi Prestige Card
•  Citi /AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
•  Platinum Card from American Express
•  Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN
•  Centurion Card from American Express
•  American Express Corporate Gold Card
•  American Express Corporate Platinum Card
•  U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Gold American Express® Card
•  Chase Sapphire Reserve

Final Thoughts

If you travel more than once or twice a year, you should really consider joining one of these great programs. They have saved me countless hours at the airport and made the burden of travel much lighter. Feel free to sound off below if you have any questions about any of the programs.