Is CLEAR Worth It Anymore?

CLEAR is a private, fee-based service that takes your biometrics and lets you identify yourself with your fingerprints or retina scan instead of showing an ID. At airports where they’re located you can then skip to the front of the security line – whether PreCheck or regular security.

However at some airports, like Atlanta, the lines for CLEAR can be longer than PreCheck and as a result this confers no advantage. Here’s the CLEAR line for regular security in Atlana:

It’s not surprising to see long lines for CLEAR in Atlanta. Delta owns a stake in CLEAR, and has marketed it to all of its SkyMiles elites with discounts. And everyone in Atlanta is elite. To borrow a phrase from Delta, “When everyone is CLEAR, no one is.”

What’s more, the Amex Platinum card offers a statement credit that covers the full cost of clear. And Delta hub customers find it especially valuable to have Amex Platinum cards, since it confers lounge access when flying their home market’s dominant carrier (this is also a key driver of the long lines to get into many of those clubs).

But CLEAR is still worthwhile in many places, and it’s good to have choices of which line to use based on current conditions. That sometimes CLEAR lines are long doesn’t mean they are always long. If you have a CLEAR subscription you have the option to use CLEAR or another security line. If you don’t have a subscription you don’t have the option. You use whichever is fastest on a given day.

And if you have an Amex Platinum card (and aren’t factoring the price of CLEAR into the value prop that justifies the card’s annual fee) then you’ve got the option for CLEAR at no extra cost anyway.

I should note that United Airlines also owns a stake in CLEAR. American Airlines does not, and American blocks CLEAR from setting up in terminals it controls. In fairness to American the public reason they don’t work with CLEAR in places like New York JFK terminal 8 and several Dallas – Fort Worth terminals is that they don’t see it as a long-term solution, and the long lines for CLEAR in places like Atlanta support that argument.

However a long CLEAR line doesn’t mean that the alternatives are better. Here’s a PreCheck line at Washington National airport from before the reconfiguration of security queues there:

Having access to CLEAR is better than not having access. I wouldn’t want to travel without it, because it frequently saves me time in my home airport (Austin).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My wife tried to get it twice as an advance from Pre-Check. Both times the company screwed up her application and lost the records, then refunded her money. After that she gave up. Since the misery of the TSA seems here to stay I’m not sure there’s any advantage to nibbling around the edges. Pre-check puts things the way they should be for everyone, beyond that who knows.

  2. Funny. I would reverse the question. In my experience, Clear is generally as fast or faster than Precheck since it seems like everyone has Precheck these days. And most of the airports have the new machines (or at least one of them in the standard Clear lane) that don’t require you to take anything out of your bags.

    Of course, some airports like Pittsburgh, Denver and Las Vegas still have premium first-class security lanes that are quicker than Clear and Precheck.

  3. A recent trip from EWR also saw a couple of dozen clear people which was actually more than the precheck line.
    But i still got through in under 10min which is the point of having it. Furthermore in any clear line about 10% of people eventually get weeded out for actually not having clear.

  4. Given how much easier Pre-check is to get, and how often the Pre-check line is far longer (ATL notwithstanding), there’s not much of an argument against CLEAR.

    I always try to avoid ATL anyway, so it’s a non-problem to me.

  5. Clear with TSA Pre has been the magic combo for years for me. I think between MSP, LAS, and MCO I have probably saved several hours of line time between all of these locations. Nothings perfect, but also being in the “game” means I have not paid for clear for years, it’s discounted by Delta and reimbursed by a card. I have added benefit of using it to get into target field for MLB games. Yes, still 100% worth it.

  6. We had to merge our two legacy CLEAR accounts into a family plan to use the Amex benefit, and it took 25 minutes on the phone with a rep. We joked that we might not recover that 25 minutes in the first year of use since the CLEAR line is often longer than PRE at some of our frequent airports.

    Our running joke now is, “Hey we’re a bit early today, do we have time to use CLEAR?”

    In fairness, we’ve seen a few bad PRE lines (e.g., SEA) where CLEAR has saved a few minutes.

  7. CLEAR doesn’t seem like much of a benefit when you have PreCheck, until it is. At least a few times a year it really bails me out. Think airports like MCO & DEN, or at MIA when not flying AA.

  8. @spencer – LOL right up there with Doesn’t Ever Leave The Airport

    It’s sad that our self imposed security theatre results in two ‘pay for’ line programs, neither of which is reliable at some major hub airports

    And at ATL they have those new gen machines and in my one experience they had the same false positive nonsense that gums up Heathrow

    Time to make TSA less staffing dependent

  9. Oh and why does everything Amex touch get ruined, turn into a free for all

    Between Delta vapor ware and Amex false promises of ‘exclusivity’ UNITED is rising every day

  10. Cool – glad you showed a picture of the old security set up at DCA. What does that have to do with anything?

  11. I use the DCA line all the time, it’s wonderful and saves a lot of time.

    I fly to Boston regularly. Annoying that the AA terminal doesn’t have it, but its fine, given that most people flying AA in BOS don’t have Pre-check.

    Will see how my Amex reimbursement goes this year. I hope not to see any issues.

  12. Went thru Clear at JFK 10 minutes ago. The whole process until standing airside of TSA took less than 5 minutes. Yeah, I’m a fan.

  13. We recently returned to the US through Denver Airport on a delayed flight and CLEAR was the only reason we made our connection since we had to clear immigration, customs, recheck our luggage, and then go through security again. I’ve often noticed that there is no great advantage to CLEAR at some airports and some times of the day, but this time it got us home without spending an extra night traveling due to a missed connection. We now get CLEAR for free as a United 1K benefit, but paid for it in the past for just this type of event.

  14. I got it for a year , but mostly for sports stadium entrances which saved significant time.

    Gary I would love to see you do a side by side comparison of Amex Plat vs Delta Reserve. It seems Plat has more benefits than reserve

  15. Not my experience at all. I paid for clear before United gave it to me, and credit card covers precheck. The combo is a no brainer at EWR terminal C, my primary airport. I literally walk from curb to gate with only a few people in the combined clear-precheck line. Sometimes the merge w precheck only line adds a couple minutes , but I think the combination is powerful and worthwhile at most of my designations. Except HNL, sadly.

  16. Like all of the security services, Clear is just another tool in the toolbox when navigating the security lines. I have it and use it whenever I can – unlike others, I have no complaints.

  17. Yeah, it seems pretty, erm, “clear” that CLEAR isn’t actually trying to be anything except a way to mine and sell Americans’ biometric data. I find it rather creepy that so many people have signed up for that, especially since the only theoretical benefit is occasionally maybe saving five minutes in a line.

  18. It works at a place like LAX because we have so many different entry points. In a one or two entrance facility can get ridiculous.

  19. Timely question Gary. I missed my United flight for the first time 2 days ago at ATL as the Clear Precheck line took an hour. They kept putting security on pause every 10 minutes.

  20. 22 comments and only one made any mention of privacy.

    You get one set of eyeballs. One set of fingerprints. You can revoke them, change them, or cancel them.

    Willingly giving away — permanently — a unique identifier for a few minutes of saved time is something I can’t comprehend.

    Think of all the companies that have had their customer databases hacked, exfiltrated, stolen, sold.

    Your eyeball print and fingerprints are in Clear’s hands. It’s an incredibly valuable asset.

    My privacy is worth more than a few minutes of “saved” time.

    I’m saddened that more don’t value their privacy.

  21. CLEAR has been quick and smooth sailing for me every time this year, though thankfully I haven’t needed to pass thru security in ATL. The value really does depend on the airport. Keep an eye on CLEAR lines in the future, as more people are likely to enroll.

  22. Hey @Ex-UAPlat – you are posting on this site so you use the internet with a browser and ISP (having a VPN barely protects you), you probably have a smart phone, email accounts, a passport, facebook/twitter/tiktoc accounts, maybe global entry, possibly have had blood tests (sent to a lab). If you travel internationally then foreign governments have plenty of information on you. Everything you do is already tracked and available to be stolen or used against you. If CLEAR having an eye scan or fingerprints is the thing you can’t comprehend being ok with then you need to seriously reassess your day-to-day.

    Aside from that I agree with the previous comment that CLEAR with Pre-Check makes sense still, but just CLEAR probably not.

  23. Is no one going to point out that the video included in this clickbait post misleading?That’s NOT the Clear Pre-Check line at ATL! That’s the basic Clear line without Pre-Check. How does the “thought leader in travel” not know this?

  24. Amazing how many people are willing to sacrifice their privacy to a company with a track record of selling customer data.

    Our government has an obligation to secure flights in a timely and effective manner. Let’s hold our elected officials accountable for supervising TSA in such a manner that travelers can pass thru security expeditiously, like other highly developed nations.

    The current system allows terrorists to win by costing America, collectively, tens of millions of hours of wasted time every year; time that could be used more productively than waiting in line.

  25. That tweet is definitely the Clear/regular security line. The Clear/PreCheck line is down a little further. PreCheck & Clear/PreCheck lines are next to each other. Sometimes the non-Clear is faster, but normally it isn’t. The Clear line backs up because everyone goes to the baggage scanner right by the Clear machines. Once you’re past the TSA agent, you can use any line. The one furthest from the Clear machines is typically the fastest (it’s used to screen crew). If you aren’t checking a bag, the best solution is to go to the international terminal. There’s no Clear, and dedicated PreCheck lanes have limited hours. But the lines are almost always shorter. Don’t think it’s fair to judge any of the screening programs by ATL. The lines are terrible.

  26. Flew out of Midway this afternoon, and having Clear and PreCheck meant no waiting in line. We were the only people. The preCheck line had probably 30 people in it.

  27. I still think Clear + Precheck is a great combo, and the entire company shouldn’t be written off because ATL security is a perpetual dumpster fire.

  28. Glad I fly American and don’t have to worry about another pay-to-play program at the airport. I cannot remember the last time it took me more than 15 minutes to get through the precheck line (including extensive travel through most of 2021 and this year). New Orleans back in June was probably as close to 15 min as I’ve gotten. Mostly flying in/out of LGA, PHX and ORD, on average I would guess I stand in line for 2-3 min. In PHX there are times where there are 3 of us in the pre-check line and one CLEAR walks up, and by the time they are done at the CLEAR kiosk and dealing with the always-over-eager CLEAR reps standing there, I’m already past the TSA agent.

    Sounds like CLEAR works for a lot of people which is great, but to me they just created an inconvenience (devalue TSA pre-check by letting people cut you in line) that can be fixed by paying to join. I will gladly sit in my arcane TSA pre-check line in the AA terminal, hope AA doesn’t start working with them anytime soon.

  29. Clear at DCA is phenomenal. The longest line I’ve experienced is 3 people in 20+ trips. You can get off the Metro, use Clear and PreCheck, and be on your way to you gate is less than 10 minutes. It’s unbeatable.

  30. TSA pre-check or Global Entry are both a better value and get you through security just as fast. I never understood how Clear got people to sign up or how it made money (I question if it actually does). Getting the AA Executive card gets you TSA pre-check paid for and Admiral club access plus earnings of points. . .that is a much better deal then $29/month to get through security.

  31. It all depends upon the airport. For SFO, SMF, EWR, SLC, SEA, and a few more, CLEAR was no faster- maybe a bit slower. Now DEN is a whole different story. It’s pure chaos there, even with Pre-Check- that line went on forever. We used CLEAR there (as a trial membership) and were through CLEAR and the carry-on and body scanning in well less than 10 minutes. Pre-Check must have taken 30-45 minutes- the line was incredible. I can only imagine how long it took for those with neither service.

  32. The CLEAR line at DEN is a total disaster. Debatable whether it’s understaffed, but what’s not in question is that TSA doesn’t make enough lines available to get all the travelers and their bags through. Doesn’t matter who is at fault, it just isn’t worth the money anymore when you can literally get through faster in ANY other line.

  33. The whole point of pay-to-play programs like Pre-Check, Global Entry, Clear and even club access is that there are going to be people who are willing to fork out some extra money for added access, convenience, efficiency, whatever. For folks like @Lynne_Strasenburgh and @Clark some of these programs do not add enough value to justify the investment. For others they do. That’s the whole point of these programs…until companies like Delta and AMEX dilute the value by commoditizing it any giving everyone access (Clear, their clubs, etc.)

    Using ATL and DEN as examples of why Clear doesn’t work demonstrates a lack of understand of the root cause of Clear’s issues at those airports. Both airports are notorious for horrible security lines. They are outliers and not reflective of most airports. At ORD, I save time every time I use Clear…even if I go over to T2 to use it and then walk to T3 when flying AA (and I get some exercise in).

  34. Flying out of a smaller airport (CVG) on a regular basis, I’m HUGELY annoyed by Clear. They don’t generally have their own TSA line, so they’re walked over, and put in front of you in line. We’ve all been taught since we were children, that cutting line makes you a bad person, and now you’ve paid to do it. No, I DON’T think I’d like you to cut in front of me, thanks

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