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Trusted Traveler Programs: PreCheck vs CLEAR vs Global Entry

Trusted Traveler Programs: PreCheck vs CLEAR vs Global Entry

Long lines at airport security are one of the main reason that people hate airports. The paranoia of the security lines drives many people to arrive for flights hours ahead of time.

This sense of “hurry up and wait” could actually characterize the entire airline industry.

But the "fun" is not over once you're out of line. The checkpoint itself for most people can feel somewhat humiliating.

Made to publicly remove your shoes, belt, coat, and hat, empty your pockets, and hand over your luggage, you then meekly submit to the judgment of airport personnel. If you’re tired of this and desperate for a better experience, consider membership in a trusted traveler program

Have you ever noticed that other security area without much of a line? While your situation is similar to that of ill-treated livestock, travelers in this other area breeze right through security into the terminal. If there does happen to be a line, it moves briskly.

Meet the trusted traveler program. Membership in these allows for speedier passage through lines, security checkpoints, and customs. Though enrollment requires payment of a fee and administrative approval, most people sign up with no problem.

Naturally, it helps to understand more about these programs, how they differ, and what exactly it takes to join.

What Is a Trusted Traveler Program?

If you travel frequently, you have likely heard about at least one of the three programs that expedite airport security. Unless you’ve done the research, though, you might feel confused about how these programs work and what membership requires.

The three programs — Global Entry, CLEAR, and T.S.A. PreCheck — also serve different purposes. Once you understand the features and cost of each trusted traveler program, you can make an educated decision about enrollment. 

Keep in mind, these programs do not compete with one another. Each has its own purpose, and while some travelers belong to all three, other people might see the appeal in only one.

The program that works best for you will depend mostly on your travel routine.

T.S.A. PreCheck: The People’s Choice

Administered by the Transportation Security Administration, PreCheck works wonders for passage through airport security. Members of this trusted traveler program have a designation on their boarding pass that allows entry to the alternate security lanes mentioned above.

Passage at these checkpoints will save you a lot of time and hassle. Aside from shorter lines, the program has other screening perks. As you move through the special checkpoint:

  • You keep your shoes on.
  • Your laptop stays in its bag.
  • You do not have to pull out your liquids.
  • You do not have to take off your belt.
  • You do not have to remove light jackets and similar outerwear.

If you don’t travel very often, these advantages might seem somewhat trivial. For frequent fliers, however, T.S.A PreCheck is like an airport cheat code. Security screenings become much less of a pain, and members save themselves considerable time.

Keep in mind that typical security checkpoints, with their snaking lines and stringent rules, are virtually the only reason that people arrive at the airport far ahead of their departure.

With T.S.A PreCheck, you don’t have to block out two hours before every flight, nor must you stand idle in advance of your turn.

The ability to keep your clothing and luggage intact also matters. No one enjoys the shoeless scramble that follows every security screening. For many people, the ordeal of security accounts for tremendous anxiety around travel.

The fact that T.S.A PreCheck virtually eliminates this ordeal has made it very popular.

More than 200 airports participate in this program, a fact which makes it by far the most widespread of the three. Also, it only costs $85 to enroll, and a membership lasts for five years.

As for requirements, all you must do is submit an online application, then schedule a time for a very brief face-to-face interview, background check, and fingerprinting at a local enrollment center.

The relative ease of this process, low price, and convenient perks have made T.S.A. PreCheck the most popular of the three traveler programs with over 15 million members. 

The CLEAR Alternative

While PreCheck and Global Entry fulfill different functions, CLEAR actually works in partnership with either. CLEAR differs from the other two in that it has no direct affiliation with the United States government. Instead, this private company makes arrangements directly with individual airports to simply bypass the security lines.

That’s right: you don’t trade a longer line for a shorter one, as you do with PreCheck. Instead, you skip right to the front and proceed directly to the checkpoint. This process almost never takes more than five minutes, which makes CLEAR the most consistent of the three as a means to save time.

Unfortunately, as a private company, CLEAR cannot operate its own security screeners. Though they skip to the front of the line, CLEAR members must still remove their shoes and follow normal screening procedures.

This changes if the CLEAR member also belongs to T.S.A. PreCheck. In this scenario, you can use CLEAR to skip the line, then show your T.S.A. PreCheck boarding pass to enjoy the more lax screening requirements.

As such, CLEAR really shines as a complementary service. CLEAR also uses advanced biometric technology to verify identities, which eliminates the need for any membership cards or tickets.

CLEAR’s benefits occur for both domestic and international flights, so pairs excellently with another trusted traveler program. Enrollment is a cinch, with no interview or scheduling requirements.

You simply fill out an online application and complete registration at any airport where the service operates.

Though it costs significantly more than PreCheck at $179 for one year, CLEAR’s total flaunting of all lines has nevertheless made it popular. Unfortunately, CLEAR currently only serves 25 U.S. airports.

Global Entry

The name Global Entry projects all the glamour of international travel. In reality, however, it exists not as an exclusive club for well-heeled globetrotters, but as a U.S. government program, just like T.S.A. PreCheck.

It has nothing to do with security lines, however, and instead provides a way for members to skip the hassle of customs.

Rather than deal with an officer and fill out forms. Global Entry members simply obtain clearance at a kiosk. Only slightly more expensive than T.S.A. PreCheck, Global Entry appears at a respectable 54 airports in the U.S. 

If you’ve ever trudged off a 14-hour international flight, only to find yourself stuck in the customs line for 90 minutes, then you understand the value of Global Entry. Global Entry works for individuals designated as “low-risk,” and costs $100 for a five-year membership.

Similar to T.S.A. PreCheck, Global Entry also requires an online application and in-person interview for approval. As an added perk, a Global Entry member can use their identification number upon the reservation of domestic flights to score T.S.A. PreCheck privileges at no cost.

Which Program to Choose?

Savvy travelers consider it a boon that they don’t have to pick just one trusted traveler program. As mentioned above, the programs do not offer competing services and complement one another very well.

If you just can’t keep your feet on the ground, and find yourself whipping out your passport and driver’s license with equal frequency, then membership in all three makes perfect sense.

CLEAR skips the lines, T.S.A PreCheck makes screening a breeze, and Global Entry renders the slog of customs into a distant memory. 

Of course, each also appeals more to certain people. Domestic travelers who enjoy semi-regular flights and want an affordable perk should lean toward T.S.A PreCheck.

Frequent fliers who tend to travel lightly will appreciate the increased speed afforded through CLEAR membership.

And Global Entry is designed for those compelled to foreign soil.

Regardless of which trusted traveler program or combination you choose, you’ll thank yourself later. Maybe you’ll even spare a glance at the masses trapped in regular lines, and experience a twinge of pity.