Is CLEAR Worth It?

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Just under two month ago I signed up for CLEAR, which lets you bypass the ID check at many airports around the country. If you haven’t yet read my previous post about CLEAR, I’d recommend checking that out first.

Instead of lining up to have your ID checked in the regular line or Pre-Check line, you can go to the CLEAR line, scan your fingerprints, and then you’re escorted past the ID checker. With TSA Pre-Check lines sometimes being longer than the regular lines nowadays, this lets you skip to the front of even that line.

Perhaps the biggest limitation on CLEAR is that it’s not available at all airports, so its usefulness is highly dependent on what airports you frequent.

While the normal price to sign-up for CLEAR is $179 per year, CLEAR has a special partnership with Delta, which offers further discounts:

At the time I applied I was just a SkyMiles member (in the meantime I’m a Delta Platinum member), so I paid $99 for my membership. You can add family members for $50 each, and I had no issues adding Ford, so really we’re paying an average of $75 per person per year for our CLEAR membership.

I’ve had quite a bit of domestic travel lately, and I’d I’ve now used CLEAR about a dozen times. I figured I’d report back on my experience, and whether or not I think CLEAR is worth it. The short answer is yes, I’m thrilled with CLEAR, and would recommend it if you travel out of airports with CLEAR with any frequency.

Let me share how much time CLEAR has saved me, and also what I actually like most about it:

How much time has CLEAR saved me?

I don’t think CLEAR is about the time savings as much as it’s about always knowing how long security will take. With CLEAR it’ll never take more than five minutes, while with Pre-Check otherwise I’ve found it can take anywhere from one to 15 minutes, depending on the line.

I’d sum up my time savings with CLEAR so far as follows:

  • For about half of my uses I saved less than a minute; these were instances where there was virtually no one at the Pre-Check ID checkpoint
  • For about 25% of my uses I saved about five minutes
  • For the other 25% of the time I saved maybe 10-15 minutes; these were instances where there were dozens of people at the Pre-Check ID checkpoint

Of course these are estimates, and there’s no way to know for sure, since I didn’t have to wait in those lines. 😉

The way I see it, if CLEAR saves me just an hour over the course of the year, that more than pays for the membership fee (and I think I’m already approaching that amount in time savings). But that’s not even what I like the most about CLEAR.

What I really love about CLEAR

The whole TSA experience frustrates the heck out of me. It’s not the process as such, but rather observing the inefficiency and rudeness of many of their employees, combined with how ineffective the TSA is proven to be. Anything that minimizes my interaction with the TSA does a lot to make my airport experience more enjoyable.

CLEAR employees seem to be trained in exactly the opposite way of TSA employees — they’re friendly and efficient, and it’s an absolute pleasure to use CLEAR. I’m just in so much better of a mood when I have to interact with one less TSA person every time I go to the airport, and in particular, when they’re replaced by a really friendly person.

Also, I’m not going to lie — when there’s a long line, it’s hard not to feel super flossy when you get brought right to the front of it.

Bottom line

Personally I’m thrilled with my CLEAR membership. It’s not so much the time savings (though that in and of itself justifies the membership fee), but rather what great people CLEAR has working for them. It’s such a breath of fresh air to interact with one less TSA agent and one more CLEAR employee every time I go to the airport.

I can’t recommend CLEAR enough, though maybe I shouldn’t, because I don’t want everyone else signing up. 😉

Now if only they’d offer CLEAR at more airports…

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Comments

  1. I love how the site says “LGA / JFK!”, when it’s really just Delta terminals at those airports. Same thing in a lot of other airports.

  2. The bussines model is simple: do the opposite of the usual service (TSA) and people will pay good money for it.

  3. As someone who is…perpetually exactly on time…CLEAR is a lifesaver. Knowing how long security will take means never getting anxious about it.

  4. Yet another example of the current trend in the air travel industry: what out to be free, or used to be free – a professional, efficient, and courteous screening process – is now available only if you pay for it.

  5. I was skeptical. I have Pre and how much time could this really save? But you’re right. It does save time. I mainly fly DL from LGA. And yes, the Clear team is always friendly. I have also had good experiences at IAD and MCO. And with DL owning a stake, it’ll be at more airports soon. I love it.

  6. Just for all you DL diamonds out there, CLEAR is free, as lucky said, and is NOT a choice benefit like Global Entry, so you don’t need to use one of your valuable choice benefits to get CLEAR. Personally, as I primarily fly DL out of SEA/JFK/LGA I love CLEAR. It’s fast and easy, and I’d recommend it to everyone.

  7. @ snic – Clear is really an evolutionary step towards broad biometric security integration at US airports. I can practically guarantee some form of biometric authentication will be used on a large scale by TSA (likely free to the traveler) in the next 10 years. Think of clear almost as an alpha software preview on a large scale.

  8. I have yet to find CLEAR at JFK.

    One word of caution – I signed up for clear years ago. They took my money and….went bankrupt. I can’t see how they are making any money now so be aware that they could go belly up any day like they did before.

    I finally rejoined Clear when they told they would give me my remaining 10 months (from bankrupt Clear) to use for free. I admit I love it even though it is not very widespread nor does it save me much time since I tend to fly very early in the AM. I’m going to come up on a renewal soon – anybody know their financial status?

  9. I think it is on the verge of illegal that the TSA or airports can put CLEAR into place. You know money exchanged hands and at the cost of the average tax paying public passenger. That being said I’m TSA PRE and I have CLEAR. My experience have been about the same as you post here. Where the real value is using CLEAR if there is no TSA PRE or you don’t have it. CLEAR works with our without TSA PRE so you’ll cut the line either way.
    Eventually once a huge number of people have TSA PRE it will help more but then eventually too many will have CLEAR and it won’t be the time savings it is today I’d think. If you’re Delta elite there is not much reason not to have this feature. I would like to see Delta credit cards offer to pay for this as a benefit.

  10. I use Clear just about weekly in ATL and love it – I know I would miss it if it went away. My family is also signed up as we travel to MCO often and I have found it to be very useful there as the Pre lines can move so slow with in-frequent fliers.

    It helped me make a flight one early morning in HPN when I arrived less than 30 minutes from departure and the security line wrapped through the stanchions. Took less than 4-5 minutes to “clear” security and walk on during final boarding call.

  11. Got CELAR for free from Delta. It was a total pain to get myself enrolled as their system could not understand I had 2 last names (the system automatically had my first last name as middle name). After almost 2 months of calls and visits to different airports they got it to work. I use all the time and it has saved me time believe it or not on weekdays before 6AM when TSA lines at MSP are insane. Three things I noticed lately: First, customers on TSA-Pre line give me the evil look every time I am placed in front of the line. Don’t really care but it happens all the time. Second, when I was at SEA last week the CLEAR guy told me I had to present my documents and boarding pass to the TSA agent even after CLEAR since TSA was auditing CLEAR to ensure they were doing their job correctly. Last, I think this has nothing to do with CLEAR but since I started using it more than 50% of the times I go through the x-ray machines it beeps and sends me to a secondary screening. No, it is not a beep because I am carrying any metal but the agent specifically says I was “randomically” selected for secondary screening and they swipe all my things to search for explosives. I am not sure if the machine does that at random or an agent just pushes the button so I am selected. It has been happening too often to just be random. In sum, it saved me couple minutes, agents are very nice and polite and while it is free from Delta I will take it.

  12. Sorry but for me paying $99 or more to save a few minutes simply makes no economic sense. (IAD is my home airport). Even you state the 75% of the time you saved 5 minutes or less. I would rather use the money for something else.
    As an aside the longest I have ever waited in pre-check is 10 minutes.

  13. @rjb CLEAR is in Terminal 2. The signup area and then the admittance area are a little down the hall to the left (right before the screening area) on the departures level.

  14. I am debating … I use DCA/ IAD /BWI and they all have clear. It has saved me a significant amount of time twice. The other times the line was not long at all and once it would have taken longer to use clear because there was no line and the clear agent was no where to be found! My renewal is up next year and I am doing lots of flying in the next few weeks so tbd.

  15. One thing I think a lot of travelers don’t understand is that airport security is essentially a 2 phase process (each consuming time):

    1) ID/Authentication
    2) Screening

    PreCheck and CLEAR DO NOT OVERLAP. Pre is for Screening. CLEAR is for Authentication.

    I love CLEAR. First time I used it my wife, daugher and I shot by about a 20 min PreCheck ID/authentication line at SFO (on a Tuesday morning oddly). 20×3 is like an hour of our time saved right out of the gate. A passenger actully jumped out of the line to block me before being restrained; that cost me about 15-20 seconds. I don’t think that will happen too often.

    Like Lucky said the people who work for CLEAR are all friendly and seem to enjoy their jobs.

  16. CLEAR is really useful when flying out of the International Terminal at SFO, especially when you’re on a foreign carrier that doesn’t work with PreCheck. I’ve waited in TSA ID-check lines for 30 minutes or more. CLEAR gets you right to the front of the line, and you can enjoy your Lounge instead of waiting in queue.

  17. For myself, I’ve never waited more than five minutes at PreCheck at any of the airports I use. If long lines start forming, I might consider it.

    As for those terrible TSA people, they apparently don’t work at airports I transit. I have honestly never had issues with any of them. My only complaints are about fellow clueless passengers who somehow can’t seem to understand how to pack and dress to get through metal detectors. One would assume that folks with PreCheck would have that part figured out.

  18. Clear out of SFO and DEN is a life saver which is my weekly commute.

    But, DFW – what a joke to list it – not only is it only in Terminal E but it also is only for regular screening not on the pre-check side! So your option is to go through quicker ID check to be stuck in regular security with everyone flying Spirit or to wait an extra 5 mins in the Pre-Check line to actually get through security faster. Surprised they even find it worth offering there.

  19. Hmmm…dont know that I see the worth. 75% of the time, it saves 5 minutes? Unless every airport I traveled to had it (in every terminal), pass. I’d rather use the money elsewhere. While I am *all* for an alternative to TSA, I just dont see CLEAR being for me.

  20. Anyone who flies through DEN, where there is often a queue 2-people across to get to TSA Pre, needs Clear. One of the better $79 purchases I’ve made

  21. As mentioned by someone else regarding international airlines, CLEAR has been a lifesaver at LAX when flying TATL or TPAC out of TBIT. My partner and I just use CLEAR at T4, jump to the front of the TSA-Pre line, and we’re in the T4-TBIT connector in under 5 minutes. We spend more time walking to the QF F or *A and OW lounges than we do in security. It’s great.

    As for valuing your time based on the fee, I considered it from a stress perspective. Clearly i don’t truly value my time at $500+/hr, but I absolutely value not wanting to strangle Ma and Pa Kettle who somehow ended up in the TSA-Pre line but haven’t flown since the days of PanAm and are completely clueless. Or getting stuck behind the family of six using one parent’s TSA-Pre to smuggle everyone through. The stress-reduction benefit is worth it alone.

  22. i used to have clear, way before tsa precheck and it was great for several years.
    then the owner called to offer me a ‘special’ 3 year deal. sounded good so i agreed to take the offer, then a week later they filed bankruptcy. All that money down the drain.

    total scam, i will never give them another penny.

  23. I find it to be entirely offensive that clear gets to jump the queue for pre check as it just makes the wait longer. So what’s next after everyone signs up for clear, super clear for another $200 to let you skip past the clear people?

    The answer should have been an additional priority/first class lane that feeds into pre check, rather than the clear service.

  24. Once flew out of MCO. I have global entry/ TSA precheck. Every once in a while you will randomly not be assigned precheck on your boarding pass and that was one of the times. The lines were atrocious and CLEAR at least put me to the front of the line saving me at least 20-25 mins of waiting. all had to take shoes off etc. but it was for sure a good experience.

  25. As I understand it, CLEAR only handles the identity check part of the security process, and then the passenger still has to pass through the normal TSA-managed x-ray process. Most of my complaints about airport security have to do with the x-ray process, not with the identity checks, so CLEAR doesn’t provide me with much value. If they could take over one of the x-ray lanes from TSA, that would change the whole value equation for me.

  26. @Lucky just wait until you need to go through security at ATL. My home airport is SEA. I signed up for Clear because I’m a Delta Diamond. Didn’t make a huge difference at SEA and I was starting to think it was really worth it. Until I had to fly out of ATL.

    I walked into ATL on a Friday morning around 6 AM. the regular security lines were about 90 minutes long, according to the airport help folks. And the TSA Pre lines (which I’m Pre/Global Entry) were about 45 minutes long. I walked over to the line with the sign for Clear.

    Clear took me about 3 minutes to get through. And they took me to the front of the Pre line, which took me another 5 minutes to get through X-Ray and such.

    So, instead of the 45 minutes that morning that folks with Pre were dealing with, I spent less than 10 minutes in all of my security lines, total. Totally worth it just for that.

  27. I do many flights SLC-DFW on Delta, and Clear is in terminal 2 security at SLC, E16 security at DFW, right on my way both sides. Wife and I love it.

  28. CLEAR is great, but lately the crew at SFO seems to have been neutered by the contract TSA people. CLEAR is no longer any faster for me than TSA-Pre (unless there’s a long line) because their staff seems so new, so while I maintain it, I usually just walk up to TSA-Pre.

    SFO Clear now has problems with name matches (never a problem in the past, now they seem to need to call a supervisor to verify your non-standard name) and never escorts you to the actual scanning machine anymore— you are just placed at the back of the line behind the ID officer….

    Thanks, but it is just as fast in the standard TSa-Pre line.

  29. I have been a Clear member from the beginning. I now mostly use it on business travel to Atlanta. Even when the Precheck line is not long in Atlanta, it is still beneficial because Precheck travellers are forced to walk through an endless maze of stanchions…

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