For U.S.-based travelers, CLEAR can be a pretty easy (and slick) way to bypass some of the more heinous airport security lines. It’s still in (relatively) limited circulation and isn’t offered at my home airport, so up until recently, I never really gave the program much thought.
But after learning that I get a free membership with my Delta Diamond Medallion status (and let’s be honest, I’ll say yes to free anything) I decided to give it a whirl.
So, if you’re thinking of hopping onboard the CLEAR train, here are few things that you should know:
Pricing and other basics
Ben has covered the program basics at length, but here is the Reader’s Digest version.
Essentially, the program is run by a private company that uses biometric scanning as a substitute for traditional I.D. checks, allowing members to bypass traditional airport security lines.
Membership costs $179 a year, and is discounted to $79 a year for Delta Silver, Gold, and Platinum Medallion members, as well as most Delta credit card holders (if you only have the Blue Delta SkyMiles, card, sorry, you’re out of luck). General SkyMiles members pay $99/year, which is an increase from previous years – but still beats the retail price of $179/year. In the meantime CLEAR also has a partnership with United.
Considering it costs nothing to be a general SkyMiles member, this price point of $99/year should be attainable for just about anyone.
CLEAR is expanding
Since Ben signed up last August, CLEAR’s operations have expanded to include 24 airports to date (welcome Salt Lake and Love Field!):
- Atlanta (ATL)
- Austin/Bergstrom (AUS)
- Baltimore (BWI)
- Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
- Dallas/Love Field (DAL)
- Denver (DEN)
- Detroit (DTW)
- Houston-Intercontinental (IAH)
- Houston-Hobby (HOU)
- Las Vegas (LAS)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Miami (MIA)
- Minneapolis (MSP)
- New York – Kennedy (JFK)
- New York – La Guardia (LGA)
- New York – White Plains (HPN)
- Orlando (MCO)
- Salt Lake City (SLC)
- San Antonio (SAT)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- San Jose (SJC)
- Seattle (SEA)
- Washington, D.C. (DCA)
- Washington, D.C. (IAD)
Note that not all airports offer CLEAR at every terminal, so you’ll want to double-check which terminals offer the service before banking on a speedy security experience.
CLEAR is not just for airport security
You can now use your membership to enter select Sky Clubs.
I’m not totally sold on the value of this, because you still need to swipe your AMEX Platinum Card if that’s your way of gaining access.
So essentially, the only piece of the process that is saved is the boarding pass scan, which is arguably easier if you are as bad at fingerprint scanners as I am. But it’s a nice concept.
The program has also begun to expand to sports stadiums. While that’s probably not why most of you are here, I could see this being useful if you have season tickets somewhere.
There are only about a dozen stadiums in play to date, but my gut (and inner Shark Tank fan) suspects that this will change with time.
CLEAR ≠ Pre-Check
I actually didn’t realize this until I signed up, but a CLEAR membership does not get you into the Pre-Check line. Rather, it serves as a way to allow you to jump the line to get up to the actual scanning process.
In other words, Pre-Check takes care of everything after they check your I.D., while CLEAR is like your personal chauffeur for everything security related up until you are past the I.D. checks.
This infographic that they created is really helpful:
Obviously, it’s best to stack CLEAR with Pre-Check, but it can potentially be incredibly helpful by itself, especially if you don’t have access to the (hopefully shorter) Pre-Check line.
The enrollment process is (still) a breeze
A few years ago, I signed up for Global Entry, and had to register for an interview about a month out. This involved four hours of round-trip driving to the nearest available location – on Super Bowl Sunday. And this was before the program was popular.
I decided to wait until I had a two-hour layover in Minneapolis before checking out the enrollment process at the Sky Club. As it turns out, the extra time was completely unnecessary, because the whole process is meant to take about five minutes. They take your finger prints, scan your drivers license, ask a few security questions, take your picture, and scan your credit card – and that’s it.
I probably took a few minutes longer than average, but that’s mainly because I have an outdated address on my license and the circulation of Casper (eventually my enrollment rep gave up and inputted everything for me).
All in all, it couldn’t have been much easier if they had brought the enrollment kiosk directly to my house.
You can bring kids
If you’re over 18, you can sign up for the program, and if you’re under 18, you can go through for free with an adult.
Or, in the words of the representative who signed me up, “You can be a teacher and show up with a whole classroom of children, and everyone goes through with you for free.”
I’ll probably regret sharing that information someday when I find myself behind that teacher, but for now…cool!
Where there’s a CLEAR, there’s an enrollment center
All airports that offer the program also offer at least one enrollment center, and some have multiple. You can also enroll at sports stadiums, although enrollment typically only opens up a couple of hours before kickoff/first pitch/brooms up. If your plan is to enroll at a sports stadium, I would double-check the hours as they do vary somewhat.
You can also sign up at select Delta Sky Clubs, like I did. While it’s a total breeze, you do need to have Sky Club access in order to take advantage of these enrollment kiosks.
You can register online, but you don’t have to
Any data you input can be obtained by scanning your ID/drivers license when you arrive at the enrollment kiosk.
It may save you some time if you fill this out in advance, but I can’t imagine the savings being that significant. In any event, if you show up without having pre-registered, it’s no problem.
Your discounted enrollment is good for a year, regardless of when you sign up
This is probably most relevant for Delta Medallions members who are taking advantage of free or discounted membership thanks to their status. Unlike some other third-party perks, this one isn’t necessarily tied to your Medallion year. Rather, you sign up when you want to, and the fee is waived, regardless of whether you sign up on January 1st or December 31st. Membership is good for one calendar year, starting from the date of enrollment.
So if you’re debating whether you should jump on the CLEAR train now, it might be best to wait until at least your next flight, so that you can maximize your time.
Check your credit card
You do need to provide a credit card in order to sign up, even if you’re getting a free membership, for reasons that will probably become apparent exactly one year from sign-up if they are not already.
A few days after I enrolled, I was checking my credit card balances and found that CLEAR had charged my card for the full $179 amount, so I had to call in to get the charge reversed. It seems like most of CLEAR’s staffing budget is allocated to their physical locations, because it took about 30 minutes to get through to an agent and get it taken care of.
The reversed charge posted to my account two days later, so it’s far from the end of the world, but it’s a good reminder to always double-check your statement balances.
You might feel like a VIP…or you might feel like you barely got into the party
I’ve had a chance to use CLEAR on several occasions now, and it’s bought me the ability to skip as few as two and as many as twenty people in line. The people with whom I’ve interacted have all been really nice, and they essentially shepherd you through the biometric scan and right through the I.D. check.
I did get flagged once to show my I.D. as an extra security precaution, and I’ve seen a few other (very grumbly) passengers experience the same. All in all, the additional check adds about 10-15 seconds of time per passenger, which I suppose could get tedious if this happens to you every time.
In the end, you still get access to a dedicated line, your own personal escort, and occasional access to super-secret doors like this one:
Is CLEAR worth the price? That probably depends on a number of factors, including your point of origin, your “typical” destination, what time of day you fly, and how frequently you find yourself *ahem* jogging through the terminal.
For me, it’s a no-brainer Diamond Medallion benefit, but unless things get significantly worse with Pre-Check lines, I don’t think it’s worth the $179 annual fee. Is the $79-$99 Delta discounted fee worth it? The jury’s still out for me.
Do you use CLEAR? If so, has it been a worthwhile investment?