We recently had clients ask us whether we thought that either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck are "worth it." For some reason, noone ever asks us about the CLEAR program, really. Well, nevertheless--as for the different security options, we do have thoughts. Between CLEAR, Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, each program is different, and depending on how frequently and where you travel, you might want to choose any combination of these programs. Here are the basics:
CLEAR is a program that allows you to go right past the line for checking travel documentation. When you sign up, they use fingerprint and facial recognition technology to verify your identity and to match it with your travel documents and boarding pass. You go to a kiosk, scan your boarding pass, place two fingers on a pad, and it will verify your identity so that you can bypass the TSA officer who's checking IDs. You just go directly to security. It can be used in conjunction with TSA PreCheck. The fees can be steep, however--$179 per year, and $50 to add a spouse. I got it recently for myself because Delta was offering its frequent flyers a discount, so I only paid about half of that. The other drawback is it's not in every airport, and not at every terminal in some of the airports that have it. It's been helpful to me at LaGuardia in the Delta terminal, where even the PreCheck line can sometimes be long, and I've used it in Las Vegas, as well. Unless you're traveling a lot, though, I wouldn't recommend this for most travelers.
TSA PreCheck is a program that allows you to have expedited security clearance. There's a dedicated line for security, which is usually a lot shorter than the standard screening line, and often even shorter than the line for people who have "elite" status with a frequent flyer program. After they check your ID, you go through a security line a lot faster, where you can:
- leave your light jacket, sports coat, blazer or suit jacket on.
- keep your liquid toiletries in your carry-on bag.
- leave your shoes on.
- keep your computers and other electronic devices in your bag.
PreCheck is good for five years, and it costs $85, though you should check with your credit card company because many rewards cards will refund the fee for either PreCheck or Global Entry. You can apply online, here, and then you'll have to make an appointment where they'll verify that you are who you say you are, and that's pretty much it. It's very easy, and there are interview locations all around the city. When David got PreCheck, he didn't even make an appointment; he just walked right in and waited a few minutes for a drop-in appointment.
Global Entry is a program that lets you speed through immigration when you arrive back in the States after traveling abroad. Basically, instead of waiting in line for passport control at the airport, you go to a kiosk, enter all of your information on a touchscreen, and then you're in! With Global Entry, TSA PreCheck is included, and the fee is only $15 more than PreCheck, alone--$100, and it's good for five years, just like PreCheck. And, also like PreCheck, some credit card companies will refund that fee.
To sign up, you preregister online, here, and then you have to make an appointment for an interview. There are fewer locations for the interview, and you might have to wait a bit for an appointment. Where I live, in NYC, you can have your interview either at JFK or Newark Airport but the waiting times for an appointment in New York are not nearly as long as in other parts of the country.
Between the three, I think that CLEAR is too expensive (if you're paying full-price), compared to the limited conveniences it offers. PreCheck is the most useful, in my view, because you can use it each and every time you go through airport security, and it really does speed up the process, especially if you're the type of traveler who doesn't check bags, and tries to travel only with a carry-on whenever possible. I think it's a must for frequent travelers, especially business travelers, and even those who only travel domestically.
If you travel internationally from time to time, it's worth jumping through the extra hoops to get Global Entry, since it comes with PreCheck, and it's only a little bit more expensive. If you only travel internationally every few years, I don't know that Global Entry is really necessary. The other thing is that if you travel frequently with someone else, I'd strongly recommend that you each get approved through the same program or programs. There's nothing more irritating than speeding through security or immigration, while your traveling companion is stuck in the long line. It kind of defeats the whole point of zipping through, if you still have to wait at the other end!