CLEAR Review: How the Biometric Program Saves You Time in Line
Over the past few years, you may have noticed the service CLEAR growing in prominence. Between its recent partnerships with American Express, its Health Pass being employed by several entities during the pandemic, CLEAR kiosks arriving at more locations, and the company going public, CLEAR is kind of having a moment. So, what exactly is CLEAR and how does it work?
To answer that, let’s take a look at the pricing, process, and products of CLEAR as well as my personal experience having used the service for the first time.
What is CLEAR and How Does it Work?
How CLEAR works
CLEAR is a biometric service that expedites certain security screenings. Using CLEAR kiosks, you can quickly confirm your identity, allowing you to reduce time in line at airports, events, and beyond. Currently, CLEAR utilizes facial, iris, and fingerprint biometrics as part of its service.
Where CLEAR is used
The primary venue for CLEAR is at a number of airports across the country. Currently, these include ATL, BWI, BOS, ORD, LAS, LAX, EWR, MCO, and many others. However, it’s important to note that CLEAR services may only be available during certain times of the day and may also not be offered at every checkpoint/terminal.
In addition to select airports, CLEAR is also in use at certain arenas, stadiums, and other venues. Some examples include the Staples Center and Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Globe Life Field in Dallas, and a number of others. Again, at these locations, there may be a specific checkpoint that CLEAR customers will need to use, so be sure to check the site or app before your arrival.
The cost of CLEAR (and available discounts)
As of this writing, the standard cost for a CLEAR membership is $189 per year. Members can also add up to three adult family members to their account for $70 each per year (the price increased from the previous $60 per person as of June 1st, 2023), while children under 18 are free.
There are a number of ways to save on this sum. These include two airline partnerships that offer discounts: Delta and United.
Here’s a look at special pricing for Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus members:
- Any SkyMiles member (no status required): $179 per year
- Silver/Gold/Platinum Medallion SkyMiles members: $149 per year
- Delta SkyMiles American Express Card Members: $149 per year
- Diamond Medallion and Delta 360 Members: Free
- Any MileagePlus member (no status required): $179 per year
- Silver, Gold, Premier Platinum MileagePlus members: $149 per year
- United U.S. Credit Cardmembers: $149 per year
- Premier 1K and Global Services members: Free
Beyond these discounts, the American Express Platinum card now offers cardholders an annual CLEAR credit as does the Amex Green Card. Once enrolled, customers can earn up to $189 in statement credits (with either card) on eligible CLEAR purchases annually. By the way, these Delta and United discounts can be used in tandem with these Amex promos.
The process of joining CLEAR can begin online. To get started, you’ll need to provide some personal information and confirm your identity. This latter part is done using a quiz akin to what you might encounter when applying for a loan or other financial product. After you’ve entered and confirmed the required info, your account will be created and you can then continue the enrollment process at a CLEAR location.
While you can get the ball rolling on your CLEAR membership online, you’ll need to complete the enrollment process in person. That’s because you’ll need to provide the biometric data that CLEAR will use to confirm your identity going forward. This short process can be done at most (but not all) CLEAR locations and should only take a few moments. Additionally (as I learned), you do not need to be flying in order to conduct your enrollment.
CLEAR vs. TSA Pre✓
Perhaps the biggest misconception about CLEAR is that it’s a rival to TSA Pre✓. In reality, CLEAR’s service assists with the identity and document verification step of security screening and not the actual screening itself. Thus, the two programs actually work perfectly in tandem.
Think of it this way: at most airports, you’ll be required to wait in line to have your ID and boarding pass confirmed before you can then join a security lane. In some cases, this first line is even present for those with TSA Pre✓.
That’s where CLEAR comes in as it replaces that ID and boarding pass checkpoint, allowing you to skip that first queue and move directly to the security screening — whether that means joining the general security line or the Pre✓ line for eligible passengers.
The bottom line is that, even if you are TSA Pre✓ member, CLEAR still has the potential to speed up your travel experience. This is especially true at airports where more TSA Pre✓ passengers are present. So while they may seem similar on the surface, CLEAR and Pre✓ are actually quite different, which is why several airports employ both.
Other CLEAR offerings
Up until now, we’ve discussed the main CLEAR services. However, over the past couple of years, CLEAR has expanded its offerings to include things such as Health Pass. With this free service, individuals can add documents, such as vaccination records to CLEAR and generate passes, such as those that were used to expedite entry into select events or the State of Hawaii. A friend of mine recently flew to Maui and he said using the Clear Health Pass saved an hour upon entry since he didn’t have to wait in line to prove his vaccination status.
Even more recently, CLEAR announced a pilot program that will allow individuals and families to make security screening reservation times. This Reservation Lane service is complimentary and does not require a CLEAR membership. Unfortunately, at this time, it’s only being tested at Orlando International Airport (MCO). Still, it’s something to keep an eye on for the future.
My Experience Using CLEAR
Making my Amex credit go further
As I alluded to, it is possible to use your airline partner discount for CLEAR and still trigger the statement credit offered by the American Express Platinum. Yet, you may be asking why you’d bother doing this if the credit is good for up to $189 anyway?
Well, thanks to the SkyMiles Silver Medallion member discount, I was then able to add my wife to my membership for an additional $60 and still come in below that $189 cap. In other words, I basically got a 2-for-1 deal and didn’t have to pay for anything.
Unfortunately, this deal isn’t quite as good anymore as, on February 1st, 2023, CLEAR severely cut the discount that Delta and United flyers can get (except for top-tier elites who can still get the service for free). Now, what was $109 for me is $149. What’s more, on June 1st, 2023, they also hiked the price to add a family member. So, after adding my wife for $70, the total would be $219 — meaning I’d be paying $30 out of pocket. Meanwhile, Delta or United customers without status would pay $179 for the main account plus the $70, for a total of $249.
Even though the discount for basic SkyMiles and MileagePlus members is now only $10, it’s still something. Meanwhile, if you have any status with either airline, the discount can still go a long way toward offsetting your second member fee… even if it doesn’t completely cover it like it used to.
Adding my biometrics
Since there isn’t a CLEAR location near us, while we were in Orlando, we made a point to stop by the airport to complete our enrollment (we had driven to Florida and were heading home). Despite not being entirely sure if we could complete this process without then catching a flight, it turns out that this was not an issue at all.
After confirming our info, we went through a few steps such as scanning our faces, fingers, etc. After this, we were good to go! In total, the whole thing took about 10 minutes for the two of us but could have been faster if we each used our own machines. But we weren’t in any rush so we opted to just go one after another and leave the other machines for our fellow members.
My first time using the service
At the time that I completed my enrollment in Orlando, I didn’t know when I’d have a chance to actually try the service for real. But, as it turns out, Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport offers CLEAR, so my time arrived just a couple of weeks ago. I’m actually not sure how long they’ve been there because the machines are located a bit back from where the checkpoint queue is, making it easy for me to miss on previous visits.
In any case, we initially arrived at the CLEAR machines near Gates A&B at Terminal 1 as this was nearest our gate. With a tap, one of the employees engaged the retinal scan and, once that was completed, I scanned my boarding pass. Confirmed!
However, once my wife and I were approved and were ready to be escorted to the main security line, we were informed that TSA Pre✓ was closed. Apparently, this meant that we’d be able to keep our shoes on but would have to remove our electronics. Seeing as I was carrying several devices, this sounded like a bit of a pain. So, I inquired about whether the TSA Pre✓ was open at the Gate D checkpoint since we wanted to go visit the Centurion Lounge anyway. After being told that it was, they gave us directions and sent us on the short walk.
Over at this checkpoint, the CLEAR machines were located just to the right of the main queue. The process of scanning in was identical but, upon seeing our Allegiant boarding passes, the CLEAR team member said, “Pre✓ closed over there?” Once I confirmed as much, they apologized, even though this really isn’t their fault at all.
This time, once we were done scanning, we were escorted past the TSA agent at the podium and right into the (very short) Pre✓ line. Moments later, we were on our way — without having to remove anything from our bags in the process. From there, we made our way onto the tram and over to the Centurion before heading to our gate closer to our flight time.
Now, could I have potentially explained to the TSA agent that we were knowingly going through a different checkpoint in order to go to the lounge? Probably. But, I really appreciated that this wasn’t even an issue thanks to CLEAR. In fact, had I not been informed by the CLEAR staff about the closure over at the A&B gates, I probably would have gone through the regular queue and been annoyed the whole time. Instead, despite having to go a short distance out of our way, CLEAR allowed me to start off our return trip on the right foot.
That said, in terms of time savings, We didn’t have much simply because the Pre✓ line wasn’t that bad when we arrived. Of course, having experienced decent Pre✓ lines at LaGuardia and other locations before, I do see where having a pass for this can indeed increase your efficiency. Either way, I count it as a win — especially since it’s included with my Platinum card.
Before I go, I also wanted to mention my experience using CLEAR Health Pass. In this case, I used it to show proof of vaccination in order to attend a Lady Gaga show in Vegas. Incidentally, since I had already created a digital vaccine card in the CLEAR app, the process of creating a Health Pass was pretty much just selecting the event or venue it was for. A couple of taps later, my QR code was ready.
However, when I scan said QR code, it just shows my image and says Health Pass — so I’m not entirely sure that I did it right. Regardless, I got in and that’s all that matters. I followed very similar procedures for CES (also in Vegas) this year. By the way, adding booster doses to my record also proved easy.
Although the use of this Health Pass feature is now beginning to wane, I figured it was worth going over anyway.
I’ll admit that, prior to reading more about CLEAR, I too thought that it was an alternative to TSA Pre✓. Fortunately, I now fully understand how this additional service can be beneficial to travelers, as well as sports fans and other event-goers. Plus, given my initial experience, I can confirm that the service can help save you time and make your life a little easier.
On the other hand, the price of CLEAR can be a downside as its $189 standard price tag for one year makes it more than double the cost of Pre✓ for one-fifth of the length TSA Pre✓ . But, if you’re a Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus member, the discount you get may make it a bit more justifiable. Meanwhile, if you have an American Express Platinum card, you might as well sign up since you can have your full membership fee reimbursed. Personally, even though I will now have to pay a bit out of pocket for the service (following the discount reduction for Delta and United customers), I’ll continue to use CLEAR as long as the bulk of the membership price is provided to me. Yet, I may need to more closely consider it if it’s ever time to pay up.