In the past two to three years, I must have traveled more than I had in my entire life. At one point, I almost accrued enough frequent flier miles for an upgraded account status. It’s nowhere near the amount of jet-setting that some people do but, for me, it has been a crazy ride. The most stressful part of any trip, hands down, is when you get to the airport security area. The mind-numbing wait and tedious screening process take so much time. Plus, there are often people to don’t travel much and who have no idea how things work, making the lines even longer. Fortunately, I found a way to zip through airport security in about five minutes, literally. (Yes, I actually timed it).
There are two key things you need to speed through airport security screening at record times — TSA PreCheck and CLEAR. Both of these are paid services. But, when you take into consideration the time and frustration they can save, they are more than worth it. I’m sure you’re wondering how much each service costs, what is involved in signing up, how to use them, and whether you travel enough to justify the expense. Let me share a bit more about both so you can weigh the pros and cons.
TSA PreCheck (aka TSA Pre✓®) Will Be Your New Best Friend
Now, I fully recommend TSA PreCheck (also written as TSA Pre✓®) to everyone that flies at least once a year. Not only will it get you through airport security faster, but it takes away the stress of removing items from your person and from your luggage. That’s right. If you qualify for TSA PreCheck, you get to leave your shoes, belt, and light jacket on and don’t have to remove your laptop, tablet, or toiletries from your bag. This is so nice! The only thing I do at security is check my pockets, remove jewelry, put my phone in my bag, and walk through.
TSA PreCheck lines are generally shorter and move quicker. TSA agents used to randomly select people to fill up the lines but, now, only people pre-approved for PreCheck are allowed. Since these people know the drill, the line moves without delays. TSA PreCheck is $85 but is good for five years. That breaks down to only $17 per year, which is piddly cash compared to how much easier and quicker it makes the screening process. If you travel internationally on a regular basis, then you might want to get Global Entry instead. That costs $100, has the same benefits of TSA PreCheck but expedites some international security, and is also good for five years.
To sign up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, you have to apply online. When that is done, set up an appointment at the nearest enrollment center. At the in-person interview, an agent will review your information, have you confirm the accuracy of it, ask a few questions, take your fingerprints, and file the information. Then, you pay the $85 fee and wait for approval. Written notification will come within three weeks but you can check online for the current status of your application. For us, it only took a week or less.
When approved, you will receive a Known Traveler number. Keep this handy. You will need to add this number to your airline accounts and any upcoming flights. If entered correctly, your PreCheck status should clearly show on your paper or mobile boarding pass. If it is not there, you will have to visit the airline counter to add the Known Traveler number to your flight. Children 12 and under can accompany their parents in the PreCheck line. But, if they are older, they will need to apply for their own PreCheck or Global Entry Known Traveler number.
Get “Front of the Line” Treatment with CLEAR
CLEAR is a separate entity from TSA and is a standalone company. It works in conjunction with specific airports and venues. When you have CLEAR, all you have to do is walk up to a kiosk, scan your boarding pass, put two fingers on the touchpad, and the agent will verify it. He or she will then personally walk you to the FRONT of the airport security screening line. That’s right — front of the line, baby! You even bypass having to show your ID. And, if you have TSA PreCheck and they walk you to the front of the PreCheck line. It is a little embarrassing because you feel all snobby and like you’re cutting. But, with the agent personally escorting you and the security person giving approval, no one has any problems with you going in front of them. In fact, they’re usually jealous and want to know how they can do the same.
At this time, CLEAR can be used at almost 25 airports and new locations are being added all the time. That said, paying for CLEAR only makes sense if you travel more than six times a year and if you have a CLEAR lane at your home airport. Otherwise, it’s pretty pricey. The good news is that kids under 18 are free and there is a CLEAR Family Plan. Additional family members living in the same home are only $50 each. As an extra perk, several venues now have dedicated CLEAR lanes as well. See if your home airport (where you usually depart from) is below and if kiosks are at all airline terminals.
- Atlanta (ATL)
- Austin (AUS)
- Baltimore (BWI)
- Dallas (DAL, DFW)
- Denver (DEN)
- Detroit (DTW)
- Houston (HOU, IAH)
- Las Vegas (LAS)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Miami (MIA)
- Minneapolis (MSP)
- New York (HPN, JFK, LGA)
- Orlando (MCO)
- Salt Lake City (SLC)
- San Antonio (SAT)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- San Jose (SJC)
- Seattle (SEA)
- Washington, D.C. (DCA, IAD)
Sign up online, visit a kiosk (no appointment needed), finish the application in person (only takes a few minutes and includes fingerprint and retina scans), and you’re good to go. The normal cost is $179 per year BUT there are ways to get it for less. If you are a VISA Signature credit card holder, you can get six months free and then renew for $60 less ($119/year). There is a new, and even better, deal thanks to the partnership with Delta last year.
General SkyMiles Members can save $80 and sign up for $99/yr. Platinum, Gold, Silver Medallion Members and SkyMiles Credit Card Members get the rate of $79/yr. Diamond Medallion Members receive a complimentary annual membership. If you are not a Delta SkyMiles Member, membership is free. The ONLY way to lock in this pricing is by signing up at https://www.clearme.com/delta. While I would love for you to sign up with my referral link and we both get two months free, you can’t take advantage of the Delta discount using that. I’d rather you save the extra money. 🙂
Zip Through Airport Security in 5 Minutes
So, now you know my secret to breezing through airport security screening in about five minutes. I use CLEAR to walk me to the front of the TSA PreCheck line and I’m in and out like no one’s business. I wish CLEAR was at every airport but even just the PreCheck saves a ton of time and headache. It even helped us on family vacations as all three of us have PreCheck and Frans is on my CLEAR Family Plan.
If you’re looking for ways to lessen the stress of air travel, these two services will definitely save your sanity. Just sign up online, visit a kiosk (no appointment needed), finish the application in person (only takes a few minutes and includes fingerprint and retina scans), and you’re good to go. Happy traveling!
I recently got Pre-check (I’ve been doing a ton of work travel) and it is AWESOME. I saw signs for CLEAR and was wondering what that was, too. Thanks for the post!
I agree — Pre-check is the bomb! I’m glad I could help “clear up” what CLEAR is. It’s not for everyone but, if it’s in your home airport and you travel fairly often, it’s a crazy amazing service!
The issue I have with PreCheck is that the line isn’t always open and they still asked my husband to remove his very light jacket!
There are hiccups sometimes, esp. at smaller airports. But, it still beats having to be in the standard line every.single.time though!
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