Signing Up For CLEAR – And Some (Minor) Program Updates

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For U.S.-based travelers, CLEAR can be a pretty easy (and slick) way to bypass some of the more heinous airport security lines. It’s still in (relatively) limited circulation and isn’t offered at my home airport, so up until recently, I never really gave the program much thought.

But after learning that I get a free membership with my Delta Diamond Medallion status (and let’s be honest, I’ll say yes to free anything) I decided to give it a whirl.

So, if you’re thinking of hopping onboard the CLEAR train, here are few things that you should know:

Pricing and other basics

Ben has covered the program basics at length, but here is the Reader’s Digest version.

Essentially, the program is run by a private company that uses biometric scanning as a substitute for traditional I.D. checks, allowing members to bypass traditional airport security lines.

Membership costs $179 a year, and is discounted to $79 a year for Delta Silver, Gold, and Platinum Medallion members, as well as most Delta credit card holders (if you only have the Blue Delta SkyMiles, card, sorry, you’re out of luck). General SkyMiles members pay $99/year, which is an increase from previous years – but still beats the retail price of $179/year.

Considering it costs nothing to be a general SkyMiles member, this price point of $99/year should be attainable for just about anyone.

CLEAR is expanding

Since Ben signed up last August, CLEAR’s operations have expanded to include 24 airports to date (welcome Salt Lake and Love Field!):

  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Austin/Bergstrom (AUS)
  • Baltimore (BWI)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Dallas/Love Field (DAL)
  • Denver (DEN)
  • Detroit (DTW)
  • Houston-Intercontinental (IAH)
  • Houston-Hobby (HOU)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • Minneapolis (MSP)
  • New York – Kennedy (JFK)
  • New York – La Guardia (LGA)
  • New York – White Plains (HPN)
  • Orlando (MCO)
  • Salt Lake City (SLC)
  • San Antonio (SAT)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • Seattle (SEA)
  • Washington, D.C. (DCA)
  • Washington, D.C. (IAD)

Note that not all airports offer CLEAR at every terminal, so you’ll want to double-check which terminals offer the service before banking on a speedy security experience.

CLEAR is not just for airport security

You can now use your membership to enter select Sky Clubs.

I’m not totally sold on the value of this, because you still need to swipe your AMEX Platinum Card if that’s your way of gaining access.

So essentially, the only piece of the process that is saved is the boarding pass scan, which is arguably easier if you are as bad at fingerprint scanners as I am. But it’s a nice concept.

Or three touches, in some cases…

The program has also begun to expand to sports stadiums. While that’s probably not why most of you are here, I could see this being useful if you have season tickets somewhere.

There are only about a dozen stadiums in play to date, but my gut (and inner Shark Tank fan) suspects that this will change with time.

CLEAR ≠ Pre-Check

I actually didn’t realize this until I signed up, but a CLEAR membership does not get you into the Pre-Check line. Rather, it serves as a way to allow you to jump the line to get up to the actual scanning process.

In other words, Pre-Check takes care of everything after they check your I.D., while CLEAR is like your personal chauffeur for everything security related up until you are past the I.D. checks.

This infographic that they created is really helpful:

Obviously, it’s best to stack CLEAR with Pre-Check, but it can potentially be incredibly helpful by itself, especially if you don’t have access to the (hopefully shorter) Pre-Check line.

The enrollment process is (still) a breeze

A few years ago, I signed up for Global Entry, and had to register for an interview about a month out. This involved four hours of round-trip driving to the nearest available location – on Super Bowl Sunday. And this was before the program was popular.

I decided to wait until I had a two-hour layover in Minneapolis before checking out the enrollment process at the Sky Club. As it turns out, the extra time was completely unnecessary, because the whole process is meant to take about five minutes. They take your finger prints, scan your drivers license, ask a few security questions, take your picture, and scan your credit card – and that’s it.

I probably took a few minutes longer than average, but that’s mainly because I have an outdated address on my license and the circulation of Casper (eventually my enrollment rep gave up and inputted everything for me).

All in all, it couldn’t have been much easier if they had brought the enrollment kiosk directly to my house.

You can bring kids

 If you’re over 18, you can sign up for the program, and if you’re under 18, you can go through for free with an adult.

Or, in the words of the representative who signed me up, “You can be a teacher and show up with a whole classroom of children, and everyone goes through with you for free.”

I’ll probably regret sharing that information someday when I find myself behind that teacher, but for now…cool! 

Where there’s a CLEAR, there’s an enrollment center

All airports that offer the program also offer at least one enrollment center, and some have multiple. You can also enroll at sports stadiums, although enrollment typically only opens up a couple of hours before kickoff/first pitch/brooms up. If your plan is to enroll at a sports stadium, I would double-check the hours as they do vary somewhat.

You can also sign up at select Delta Sky Clubs, like I did. While it’s a total breeze, you do need to have Sky Club access in order to take advantage of these enrollment kiosks.

You can register online, but you don’t have to

 Any data you input can be obtained by scanning your ID/drivers license when you arrive at the enrollment kiosk.

It may save you some time if you fill this out in advance, but I can’t imagine the savings being that significant. In any event, if you show up without having pre-registered, it’s no problem.

Your discounted enrollment is good for a year, regardless of when you sign up

This is probably most relevant for Delta Medallions members who are taking advantage of free or discounted membership thanks to their status. Unlike some other third-party perks, this one isn’t necessarily tied to your Medallion year. Rather, you sign up when you want to, and the fee is waived, regardless of whether you sign up on January 1st or December 31st. Membership is good for one calendar year, starting from the date of enrollment.

So if you’re debating whether you should jump on the CLEAR train now, it might be best to wait until at least your next flight, so that you can maximize your time.

Check your credit card

You do need to provide a credit card in order to sign up, even if you’re getting a free membership, for reasons that will probably become apparent exactly one year from sign-up if they are not already.

A few days after I enrolled, I was checking my credit card balances and found that CLEAR had charged my card for the full $179 amount, so I had to call in to get the charge reversed. It seems like most of CLEAR’s staffing budget is allocated to their physical locations, because it took about 30 minutes to get through to an agent and get it taken care of.

The reversed charge posted to my account two days later, so it’s far from the end of the world, but it’s a good reminder to always double-check your statement balances.

You might feel like a VIP…or you might feel like you barely got into the party

I’ve had a chance to use CLEAR on several occasions now, and it’s bought me the ability to skip as few as two and as many as twenty people in line. The people with whom I’ve interacted have all been really nice, and they essentially shepherd you through the biometric scan and right through the I.D. check.

I did get flagged once to show my I.D. as an extra security precaution, and I’ve seen a few other (very grumbly) passengers experience the same. All in all, the additional check adds about 10-15 seconds of time per passenger, which I suppose could get tedious if this happens to you every time.

In the end, you still get access to a dedicated line, your own personal escort, and occasional access to super-secret doors like this one:

The (very hidden) entrance to the CLEAR line at HPN

Bottom line

 Is CLEAR worth the price? That probably depends on a number of factors, including your point of origin, your “typical” destination, what time of day you fly, and how frequently you find yourself *ahem* jogging through the terminal.

For me, it’s a no-brainer Diamond Medallion benefit, but unless things get significantly worse with Pre-Check lines, I don’t think it’s worth the $179 annual fee. Is the $79-$99 Delta discounted fee worth it? The jury’s still out for me.

Do you use CLEAR? If so, has it been a worthwhile investment?

Comments

  1. If only this could be used with an ESTA to accelerate entry into the USA, rather than queue up for ~90 minutes.

  2. Do you even realise how ridiculously stupid flying in America has become?
    Literally nowhere on the globe does one have to bother with a litany of these kind of weird paid for programmes.

  3. What I value is the consistency in being able to plan how much time to allocate for the checkpoint because before, I had to give a lot of thought to time of day and week. I have been duped though when they’ve had TSA dogs out as the line was funneled all into one including non-preCheck. At MSP, I’ve consistently been asked to rescan my boarding pass and have my ID checked by the TSA agent again which kind of defeats the purpose and I’ve grumbled as you pointed out. I’m with you that the jury is still out on the $79 I spent.

  4. I have been using clear for a few months now. It is convenient however you still need to go through security at the belt which can be very long. This you really only skip 1/2 of the line. It is best to do TSA precheck preferably in addition to… or as an alternative.

  5. I am based in Orlando (MCO) and the lines are terribly long (even pre check) so I got clear not long after it launched. It helps me alot and often their are only 1 or 2 people in line when I go.

  6. Inconsistent at best. Fingerprint scanners leave a lot to be desired, but maybe it is the quality of the operators. When Clear saves time it is great, but in many cases I skip the Clear station and go directly to TSA Pre, rather than get annoyed by the Clear failures.

  7. That ‘Teacher’ remark seems like it will doom Clear…how can they guarantee security if someone is bringing non-family through the line? Sounds like a huge security hole. I appreciate the ability to bring immediate family through but this sounds sketchy

  8. I’ve got Clear and Pre-Check. Since my home airport is Denver, it makes a huge difference on all but the earliest of off-day mornings. My fastest time through security with the two was slower than my fastest time using the underutilized A bridge security, but since I’m usually flying off the B or C concourses, the net curb to gate time is significantly reduced.

  9. Being based in DC it feels like everyone has pre check so CLEAR is a life saver. Before it there were times I went in the regular security line because no one was there and pre check was down the terminal.

  10. I got Clear on a “family” plan with my parents years and years ago. It was a $50 promotional price, and somehow they’ve never increased it. Each year, I get charged $50 and I keep my Clear membership. I live in Orlando so any time I fly, I get to take advantage. I typically only fly a few times a year, but I’m starting a job that will require a lot more travel. So basically, for the $50 promotional fee, it’s always been absolutely worth it, but I might have reconsidered if I had to pay the $179. Now that I’m going to be traveling more often, $179 is totally worth it…especially since every flight I take leaves from one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world.

  11. I’m DEN based and have been a Clear member for 2 years. I typically fly out on Sunday afternoons or Monday mornings, which can be nightmarish, even with PreCheck. I’ve found that Clear consistently gets me from curb to concourse train in under 10 minutes. Usually it’s in the 3-5 minute range (depending on how many seniors or children made it into PreCheck). There was one time in particular that it did save me from missing a flight due to hour long waits for TSA.

    I’ve only used Clear twice on return legs in the last 2 years, which makes it tough to budget for. They really need to expand and do it quickly. The value is fantastic to get me out on trips in a reliable manner, but if they don’t expand to more areas in the next year, I’ll probably cancel.

  12. CLEAR in ATL is great. Still need to do the bag thing of course but the ID/boarding pass queues at the South checkpoint are nightmarishly long. Taking the kids thru is a nice perk.
    Works well at LAS too.

  13. I signed up last fall and have used it a few times. It definitely saves time in Atlanta where the TSA lines can be long. In Detroit the lines weren’t long so the time saved was minimal. I was also able to use it at the Atlanta baseball park, although once again the main line wasn’t long.

    I think it will continue to be useful so long as the number who sign up is reasonable. In Atlanta, the line to pass is usually 20 people at most, but it tends to move slower than the TSA line because people need assistance with the terminals.

  14. CLEAR is great most of the time… but I agree with others thoughts that it is ridiculous to have all these different tiers of getting through security. Plus CLEAR is getting much busier – one line in Atlanta recently was 30 mins long. Maybe time for CLEAR Premium or CLEAR Super Plus – only $500 a year! 😉

  15. I fly out of DC. CLEAR is a no brainer. As someone else said, everyone here has precheck. Sometimes the precheck line is just as long as the regular line. CLEAR saves me at least twenty minutes. I just wish they would get it at the international terminal at JFK. But I’m not holding my breath for that one.

  16. @Alan, Clear doesn’t claim to “guarantee security,” that’s still TSA’s job. Clear is just a paid line jump.

  17. I will note for those claiming the US somehow has more paid security programs than others, that in most other countries fast security is simply something reserved for first class and business class fliers. BA’s First Wing, Lufthansa’s whole separate terminal, Air Frances premium service, all of the Gulf Carriers. Other countries have “premium” security options, they are just almost always tied to specific airlines.

  18. Clear was great when I was in DEN and I knew once I got to the airport I could be to my gate in about 10-15 minutes every time. Now AUS is home, and I know with clear I can be from the front door of my house to my gate in 15 minutes. Love it.

  19. Clear is GREAT for LGA (but note for LGA clear is only available in terminals C and D which are Delta’s terminals.) Whenever I go to LGA I bypass at least 70 people in the regular TSA and maybe 10 people in the precheck line by using clear.
    For JFK, only terminal 2 uses clear but if I only have a carryon and flying Delta, I’d use my mobile boarding pass and use security in JFK terminal 2 and then use the Jitney bus to transfer to terminal 4.

  20. @OleGunnar – Too bad you’re not under 18, anyone from anywhere can just find some random teacher and walk with the group…

  21. Similar story to tell – I’ve been a CLEAR member for 5-6 years, and I still recommend it. As others have noted, CLEAR ensures I clear the ID check consistently quickly. (I can’t speak for ATL – I had a friend of mine get stuck in that 30-minute CLEAR line a couple of weeks ago, @khatl!)

    Of the major airports in the US, I can’t believe CLEAR hasn’t made it to ORD or MDW yet. I still have to budget extra time when I’m flying out of ORD, like I did this past Monday. In DEN, IAD, DCA, MCO, and others places I fly, it’s great.

    My only suggestion, especially given @playalaguna’s comment… CLEAR’s fingerprint scanners never work for me, so I always do the iris check instead.

  22. Why for the love of god is Clear not available at ORD? Is it because of the relationship with Delta?

  23. Giving up your biometric data to anyone, let alone a private company, simply to jump a line is crazy. They can – and will – sell that data. They will also lose that data. Think it’s hard to get a new SSN? Try getting new fingerprints.

  24. Love Clear. Flew out of DCA at 6 AM this morning and, as usual, security was a mess in both TSA- and non-TSA-pre lines. I’m guessing between 100-125 people in precheck by 5:05 AM.

    With Clear, I was thru security by 5:09. Amazing.

    Plus, $79/$99 pricing for ANY Delta status and $50 per family member. Unless one rarely flies or only starts and ends trips at midsize and small airports, it’s the best $100 I’ve spent the past couple years.

  25. @ME! Exactly, so many regular business and political travelers that having TSA-pre isn’t all that useful.

    The best part is just overall reduction in stress…I know it’s never going to take more than 6-7 minutes once I’m out of the cab at DCA.

  26. DC flyer here as well, and I’ll also add that I LOVE Clear. LOVE IT. Both at DCA (great airport except for the mess as they build out the new security screening section) and IAD (disgusting pithole airport – hey, maybe they should change the IATA code from IAD to DPA!). LOVE IT.

  27. @Ole Gunnar:

    No you dont have to be a citizen or permanent resident of the US to be eligible for clear; However you MUST be resident in the US with a valid US driver’s license if you are not a citizen or a permanent resident.

  28. PreCheck has been reliable for me, never more than 10 minutes wait and very very rarely more than 2-3 minutes wait. So I haven’t bothered with Clear.

    It occurred to me that the greatest value would be for frequent travelers who can’t get PreCheck. Clear would still get you to the front of the regular security line which could be a big savings in time.

  29. @Brett. Not sure, and someone correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t one need to have TSA PreCheck in order to get Clear.

  30. @Donna, read the post again, and look at the infographic. You do not need to have TSA Pre to get/use Clear. It gets you past the TSA ID check, which is one of the bottleneck points. If you have TSA Pre, you go through the TSA Pre screening. If you don’t have Pre (or are flying a non-participating airline), you go through the regular screening.

    @Scott, as Steph mentioned in the post, there is absolutely no need to pay the $179. As long as you’re a DL member, you get a discount, so you should be paying $99 at most.

  31. @Chris

    “Giving up your biometric data to anyone, let alone a private company, simply to jump a line is crazy. They can – and will – sell that data. They will also lose that data. Think it’s hard to get a new SSN? Try getting new fingerprints.”

    +1 million. I can’t believe the same blog that worries (correctly) about posting photos of boarding passes with the bar code so easily advocates entrusting so much personal information to a private company in return for the privilege of jumping a queue. After both the wilful and the negligent data breaches that we’ve seen recently from private companies it’s reckless to entrust biometric data, your driver’s license, credit card and fingerprints to a private company. What’s their business model? They’re not making tons of money from those fees. If you think they’re not tracking (and monetizing) your every use of the system, at every airport security queue, every Delta lounge, every sports stadium, and all those other places they will sign up, guess again. And even if they don’t plan on selling your primary personal information, how do they guarantee against a data breach, whether by a hacker or a rogue employee? Can you say “identity theft”? (Yes, Chris, I know YOU can.) This cavalier attitude toward personal information is very disturbing.

    If security queues are a problem, surely the solution isn’t to give some people a way to pay to jump them. Jumping the queue simply makes it worse for everyone else. And when enough people buy into this system, Clear lanes will get clogged, too. Just like Pre-Check.

  32. thank God u dont have to be a citizen or green card holder! not having pre check makes me jealous, but now i can get clear! im excited

  33. As usual with the stunningly arrogant Trump administration, excludes foreigners who choose to spend money visiting the country, but would include those baggage handlers offering to fly explosives and drugs.

  34. FF in Seattle here; I’ve stacked Clear with my TSA Pre for the past year and it is wonderful for me; it’s completely changed my departure experience. Our lines are verrrry long, even in TSA Pre, on a regular basis. Now I just whiz past it all with no fuss and no stress.

    I do NOT use the fingerprint scanner, as I can’t seem to press the pad hard enough to make it work properly; instead I just tell them “eyes” as I step up, and that scan works relatively well.

    The downsides: still limited to a relatively small number of airports, and in some airports (DFW) it’s only available in certain terminals. At SEA, 1 of the 2 Clear lines can be inconveniently placed when there’s no one manning the TSA entry checkpoint for D gates, so you end up having to use the C checkpoint where both Clear and TSA are available. But that’s an issue with how SEA staffs the TSA security points, rather than something Clear controls.

    TBH, given how often I fly and how busy SEA has become I’d even pay $179/year, but I’d wince while doing it. At $79-$99, I find it a must-have for stress-free travel. I’ve shaved 30 minutes off security waits on really busy mornings, and several times managed to beat the clock on flights I had NO hope of making thanks to these 2 programs.

  35. Regretted not having CLEAR recently when connecting in Denver on way home to Miami. TSA Pre Check was slammed, lines spilled over into retail areas while there were only about 2-3 people in the CLEAR line.

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