What is the Difference Between Global Entry, TSA Pre-Check, and CLEAR? Some Help for the Confused or the Curious…

Normally, I think I’m pretty quick to grasp a new concept or figure out how something works. I can read the fine print, listen to instructions, and watch carefully. However, there are definitely times when I’m presented with some new information and I feel completely lost. For whatever reason, I just don’t get it. This was the case with Global Entry, TSA Pre-Check, and CLEAR. I’m not sure why these three things were so confusing to me. I think maybe it’s because I learned about all of them at about the same time, so they just became a jumble in my mind. Also, until just recently, I had none of them, so I wasn’t quite sure how they worked and couldn’t tell you the differences between them. And maybe it’s just me. But I like to think that I’m not alone in my confusion. In case you are also wondering about this, I’ve put together a quick “cheat sheet” that highlights the details of each program. Read on to learn more!


Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 4.51.27 PM What benefit is there to having a CLEAR card? With your card, you are able to access exclusive CLEAR lanes at airport security checkpoints, and go straight to screening. In other words, you are fast-tracked to the front of the line and do not need to get your documents and boarding passes checked by a TSA agent. In addition, you are offered “full concierge service,” which includes attendants getting bins for you. However, once you are at the front of the line, you still need to go through the screening process just like everybody else: you need to take off your shoes, remove your computer and 3-1-1 compliant bag, and wait for the people in front of you.

How do you sign up? It’s fairly simple. You sign up online, then visit an Enrollment Center with your driver’s license and passport (or other approved ID) to complete enrollment (they verify your biometrics with fingerprint and iris imaging). If everything checks out, you get your CLEAR card in the mail within 7-10 days.

Do you need an appointment? No.

How much does it cost? The “rack rate” is $179/year, but you can usually find a deal to bring the cost down. You can add a family member for $50. Also, if you have a Visa Signature card, you can get 6 months free CLEAR membership, then you will get $60 off the $179 annual fee when your membership automatically renews.

Are your kids included in your membership? Yes, as long as they are traveling with you.

How long does membership last before you need to renew? 1 year.

Where does CLEAR work? Currently, in Denver, Orlando, Houston, San Antonio, San Francisco, San Jose, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Westchester.

Global Entry

Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 8.46.05 PM What benefit is there to having Global Entry? It expedites the process of standing in line for immigration when you enter the United States. In other words, you are fast-tracked through customs. When you land from an international flight, you proceed to a Global Entry kiosk, swipe your passport, place your fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration. The kiosk gives you a transaction receipt, and you sail through to baggage claim and the exit. How do you sign up? There are a few steps to the process.

  1. Sign up online.
  2. Wait several days for a “conditional approval” notification (via email).
  3. After you get this notification, you can sign up for an interview time.
  4. Attend your scheduled interview and have fingerprints taken (I just had my interview today and will write about the process in a future post). 
  5. If everything checks out, you will receive your Global Entry card within 7-10 days.

Do you need an appointment? Yes. Note that available interview times are few and far between; however, there are frequent cancellations, so check back frequently if you have a flexible schedule and/or really need to make this happen. How much does it cost? $100. However, if you have the Amex Platinum, Amex Mercedes-Benz Platinum, or Amex Business Platinum cards, you can get this fee refunded to you in the form of a statement credit; simply use your card to pay the fee and you will see the refund within a few days. Other ways to get the fee covered are through the Citi Prestige card, or if you have high status with an airline. Are your kids included in your membership? No. Every person, regardless of age, needs his or her own membership. How long does membership last before you need to renew? 5 years. Where does Global Entry work? Here is a list of airports where there are Global Entry kiosks. I counted 44, but there might be more as you read this.

TSA Pre-Check

Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 9.11.07 PM

What benefit is there to having TSA PreCheck? With PreCheck, you can literally breeze through security checkpoints on domestic flights. AND you don’t have to take off your shoes, belt, or jacket, AND you can leave your laptop and small liquid containers in your carry-on bag. I cannot refrain from yelling WOO HOO here. The way it works is that once you get your boarding pass, you can see whether or not you’ve been selected for expedited screening. While odds are good that you will usually get expedited, there is never a guarantee, because TSA needs to have some random checks in the process. If you are selected, your boarding pass will look something like this:

Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 4.24.03 PM

How do you sign up? Another WOO HOO, because if you already have a Global Entry card, you can automatically register for TSA PreCheck! All you have to do is log into your frequent flyer accounts and enter your “Trusted Traveler ID number” (from your Global Entry card) into your profile. If you don’t plan on getting Global Entry, never fear. There are two other ways to get TSA PreCheck:

  1. Buy it. According to the PreCheck website, you can pay $85 either online, or at an enrollment center. TSA expects the vetting process to take approximately 2-3 weeks. A U.S. passport is not required to enroll.
  2. Earn it. Participating airlines contact some of their elite frequent flyers to ask if they would like to opt-in through the airline’s system.

Do you need an appointment? No. Walk-ins are allowed at most application centers, but wait times may be longer. Can you make an appointment? Yes. You can do that here. How much does it cost?

  • It’s free if you are also a Global Entry member.
  • It costs $85 if you apply through PreCheck.
  • It’s free if you are specially invited by an airline.

Are your kids included in your membership? Yes, as long as they are traveling with you. How long does membership last before you need to renew? 5 years. Where does TSA PreCheck work? It is currently available at 40 airports nationwide. Here is a list of participating airports.


Clearly, Global Entry is the way to go. For $100, you can enjoy all the benefits of both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. While CLEAR is probably quite helpful in many situations, its scope is limited and its benefits don’t really compare. Hopefully this was helpful. Anyone inspired to apply?


  1. I have to say…. I LOVE THIS POST! It is quite timely for me as on a biz trip about a month ago in & out of SFO, I noticed my boarding pass said TSA Precheck. I asked the attendant how one gets in the program, and they replied that you have to sign up & pass the application review. “Hmm strange. I’m sure I never did that”, I thought to myself. Nonetheless off I went, where I was told, and breezed to the front of all lines and swiftly thru security. How easy! I was still mystified, surely this must be a mistake of some sort. However on my next leg out of Seattle, same thing. Someone suggested to me that it might be due to airline status – though I’ve had status for couple years and had never seen this. I wonder if I now have it for 5 yrs or if I just qualify on random flights? IOW does the airline randomly “give” memberships, or is it a random benefit of having status? Is there a min level of status one must have? If I downgrade to Star Alliance Silver next year, will TSA precheck go away? these are the questions going thru my mind! 🙂

    • I have flown frequently lately and randomly had TSA-Precheck on my boarding passes. I repeat, randomly. I was told that this random assignment was airline specific (not all airlines) and that it will be going away soon and you must apply for TSA-Precheck for the service. I did apply a few months ago and it took 2 months for my appointment after I submitted my application! Then it took roughly 2 weeks to receive my approval letter with my KTN (known traveler number) on it. It’s definitely worth the trouble, PARTICULARLY, when you are running later to catch a flight.

  2. Mr. Ginger says

    GOES application submitted! Thank you for the research that I never got around to doing for myself. It was an extra bonus to learn that TSA Pre-check is “included” in the Global Entry. Once I go through that interview process (presuming I’m approved), I’ll be sure to add it to my FF profiles.

  3. Points Pixie says

    Rebecca – Sounds like you do qualify for TSA PreCheck because of your status. Maybe I’ll do a future post on this!

    Mr. Ginger – Great! Now you just have to convince Mrs. Ginger that this is worthwhile 🙂

  4. THANKS! I have gone to the websites several times and get interrupted with calls or people coming in my office only to give up on the research and tackle another task. This is very helpful!

  5. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE EXPLANATION ON ALL THREE. I JUST RECEIVED MY GLOBAL CARD. It does not help me to the front of the line like my Clear Card does. I might just keep both cards active. Clear is not used everywhere, but where it IS, it is SO nice. They literally escort you to the front of security lines. So if i combine the two, i dont have to strip down AND i go to the front. Sweet.

    • Points Pixie says

      Linda – I’m so glad that this info helped you!

    • Required crap says

      You Global Entry card alone will not get you to the front of the line. Once you have signed up for Global Entry, you are already entered into the TSA Precheck program which DOES get you into the TSA precheck line (in front of everyone else). The catch to that (and I’m guessing you missed this step) is that you simply need to log into all of your frequent flyer accounts and add your PASS ID into the known traveler ID section. This only has to be done 1 time for each airline. From then on, any time a flight is booked using your frequent flyer number, it will print TSA Precheck on your boarding pass.

      Clear is a waste of money in my opinion. It costs 15.00/month and essentially does the same thing precheck does. The difference? Global Entry costs 100.00 for 5 years (TSA precheck is free with that) and Global Entry also helps when coming back into the country from abroad.

  6. THANK YOU!!! We spoke about this at dinner the other night and here is the answer – at our fingertips and thoroughly explained!

  7. Andrew Emmons says

    This post was a major bummer for me, but it’s not the author’s fault. I actually applied for my wife and I to get into the Global Entry program last week and am waiting to hear back. Unfortunately, my brain must have been half off while applying because even though we live in Michigan, we are flying in and out of Toronto, Canada – so Global Entry will do us exactly zero good. I didn’t think about that until I read this post. :/

  8. Hey, GREAT post and really helped “clear” things up for me – however, I have one update – the CLEAR website and current marketing literature says they DO offer the ability to keep shoes and jackets on, and to keep PCs and toiletries in their bags. The email I got from them after signing up for the trial plus a recent press release mentions it. And, I just flew from san jose to san diego and back and both times I flashed my CLEAR temp card and got into the TSA Pre line (even though San Diego doesn’t have a CLEAR line!) and left my shoes and jacket on. Just an FYI!

  9. Oldie-but-goodie post. Just saw MileNerd’s post on Clear and when I googled “tsa precheck vs. clear” your post is the first one! And it told me just what I wanted to know. Good show!

  10. CLEAR is USELESS. Period.

  11. So glad I finally drilled down enough to find this post/website. Spent much time this evening trying to analyze all of the options as I am now travelling intermittently internationally. You saved me USD money! thanks.

  12. This was so helpful! Especially the links to information. I was really confused by all of this, too, and your post is so clear. Thank you!!

  13. Jennifer Park says

    Thank you–super helpful!

  14. K. Subramanian says

    Fabulous post and excellent comments that follow – all help to clarify an an otherwise confusing situation.
    I thought TSA was supposed to be for safety and protecting travellers. Why are they in this CLEAR business?


  1. […] pay extra for something called TSA precheck. CLEAR is offering a free trial membership as well. These memberships can cost upwards of $80 for precheck and $50 for 6 months of CLEAR. Not all airports honor these […]

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