Ugh, I thought, when I first heard about CLEAR, the new airport security clearance system that was supposed to be faster than TSA Precheck. Another way to hoover money out of traveler’s wallets. In my mind, the only way airport security was gonna get faster was if I became the celebrity I was always destined to be (just go with me on this) and my airport experiences consisted of stepping from a limo on the tarmac directly onto a Gulfstream.
But then, one of my credit cards (the AMEX Platinum card, which costs $695 a year, but has TONS of valuable monthly and annual credits) began offering to cover the annual membership as a perk. So, I bit.
And they were right. CLEAR does speed up the process considerably. It only takes seconds, and a representative personally walks you up to the front of the TSA Precheck line. Every time. So, you bypass all the regular travelers AND all the Precheck travelers. You don’t even need to show your driver’s license and boarding pass to the TSA agents – they just wave you through.
I must be a shallow person (for those who know me, this is not an invitation to comment), because I get a small, secret thrill out of the pissed-off looks and the “who is that celebutante?” whispers I get from people who don’t know how or why I’m being ushered in ahead of them.
But aside from those shallow “Smell me!” feelings I get to experience, there are real pluses to CLEAR: if you’re typically in a hurry (like my husband, who likes to arrive at the airport five minutes before the plane takes off), or you fly through large, busy domestic airports, it simplifies the abominable security process and can save considerable time.
TSA Precheck is, of course, the much-needed first step to simplifying the airport experience; so, if you don’t already have that, GET IT, because virtually every airport in the country offers a Precheck lane. Actually, get Global Entry, which speeds you through customs when you return home on an international flight, and which also includes TSA Precheck. It’s only $100, and it gives you Global Entry and Precheck for 5 years. (In other words, $20/year.)
But now that millions of people have Precheck, and the Precheck lines are almost as long as the standard traveler lines, you need CLEAR.
Note: if you don’t have Precheck yet, you can bypass getting it and jump directly to CLEAR, but then you don’t have Global Entry; and CLEAR is not yet available at all airports (although the list is expanding rapidly) whereas Precheck is. Check out the current list of CLEAR airports here:
Here’s how it works: next to the TSA Precheck lane at security, you’ll see a CLEAR lane, with a friendly representative (or two) waiting there. They’ll walk you up to one of the high-tech CLEAR terminals, where you scan your boarding pass and get an iris scan. (These representatives are with you for the whole process, so if you forget what to do or how to do it, they’ll hand-hold you through it.) This literally takes five seconds. They then walk you up to the TSA agents, who take you next regardless of how many people are in the other lines, and you’re waved through. And that’s it. No waiting.
My husband and I live in Palm Springs, which is a small airport, and even it now has CLEAR. Note, however, that CLEAR is NOT an international offering (nor are Global Entry or Precheck), so it’s useless overseas; but for any flight in the U.S., it’s pretty fabulous.
Membership is $189 a year, but if you have a spouse, you can add them for $60, so the cost is only $249 a year for two people.
And because CLEAR is intent on rapid expansion, they’re offering MANY discount opportunities. Several credit cards offer to partially or totally cover the cost; and there are other non-credit card related ones, as well. (Just google CLEAR discount.)
Is this system of bypassing all the other travelers elitist? Yes, sadly, it is. But so is Precheck. And really, what about airline travel isn’t elitist, these days, when only those who can afford it can buy better seats, priority boarding, etc?
People have asked me if I’d pay for it if it weren’t included as a credit card perk. My answer? At this point, yes. They’ve succeeded in spoiling me. Domestically, I fly coach almost exclusively, and let’s face it, there ain’t much about that experience that feels special. So, getting to crash the airport security line is one little moment where I can feel like I’m George Clooney, about to take my private jet to the Maldives.
Of course, Clooney probably doesn’t have a screaming baby seated next to him, but hey, no fantasy is perfect.